March 22, 2017

Punch Drunk Love

Punch Drunk LovePaul Thomas Anderson has done the impossible; he has written a romantic leading role for Adam Sandler that functions well on a dramatic level. Sandler’s on-the-spectrum character Barry Egan is a bundle of social anxiety thanks to a long history of abusive treatment by his seven sisters. He has a furious temper thanks to his sisters’ relentless bullying about a childhood episode wherein he broke a plate glass door with a hammer in response to their repeatedly calling him “gayboy.”

Note Anderson’s reference to Lina Wertmuller’s film “Seven Beauties” (1975), which follows the wartime adventures of Pasqualino (Giancarlo Gianini), a henpecked Italian dandy who murders one of his sister’s lover. Audiences can have a field day picking out Anderson’s subtle nods to films by other directors (“Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” “The Bandwagon,” and “The Graduate” for example), as well as to his own (“Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”).

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“Punch Drunk Love” is a squirmy love story about a guy with a good heart in need of romantic rescue. Anderson’s inspired casting of Emily Watson as Sandler’s savior works like a charm for a minimalist character study with a dash of magical realism. It may only be a minor chamber piece, but “Punch Drunk Love” sticks with you.  

Rated R. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)

February 26, 2017

GET OUT

Get OutJordan Peele’s directorial debut isn’t as much a horror movie as it is a scathing social satire. The film is more “Stepford Wives” than it is “Rosemary’s Baby.” The shocks and scares that come at the audience are more related to taking out the garbage on Obama-bot liberals who discovered their asses hung out to dry by Hillary Clinton’s Bernie-directed skullduggery that allowed Donald Trump’s team to win over swing-voters who have also been equally duped by a data-mining system that makes America’s bologna form of democracy obsolete.

Get Out” achieves something that no other film has so eloquently done before; it gives its audience the sense of what it is to be a black adult in a country where the liberals who pretend to stand up for blacks are just as guilty of exploiting them as their racist counterparts. There are stunning moments when Peele’s dialogue strikes unmistakable targets as when this film’s villainous white patriarch (played by Bradley Whitford made up to look strikingly like David Fincher) proudly announces that he would have “voted for Obama for a third term.” Peele is the first black person I’ve heard call out Obama as the Uncle Tom his presidency represented from the first second he took office.

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While the pacing lags where it should escalate, and Peele all but abandons his film’s most fascinating aspect (the relationship between his black protagonist Chris and his white girlfriend Rose), “Get Out” is a delightful satire that knows enough to not take itself too seriously. Brain transplants give the movie an appropriately B-movie edge.

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Actor Daniel Kaluuya’s pitch-perfect performance arrives alongside Jordan Peele’s breakout as a talented filmmaker. Social satires rarely strike as cold and deep as “Get Out.” Peele’s message is clear; America is not a hospitable place for the black people it exploits from both sides. With friends like Obama-liberals, none of us need any enemies, much less the likes of the Trump administration and its legion of racist thugs. We may all need to “get out.”

Rated R. 108 mins. (B) (Three Stars — Out of five / no halves)

February 25, 2017

KEDi

KEDICeyda Torun’s filmic love letter to the feral cats of Istanbul, and to the community of local residents they inspire, is cinematic ice cream for the soul.

Cat-level roaming photography contrasts with helicopter-views of this beautiful old port city to give audiences a visual sense of how seven feral cats command their territories with agility, charm, and persistence. Generous fishmongers make for prime stalking.

Local shop owners keep a running tab with multiple vets that they frequently visit for the sake of their feline pals. The community’s willingness to care for the cats that share their streets, apartments, and shops, speaks volumes about the culture and people of Istanbul.

The filmmakers make spritely connections between cats such as the charismatic Gamsiz, a black-and-white smooth slinky operator who keeps more than a few humans at his beck and call.

There are even a husband-and-wife couple of cats whose female counterpart keeps her male partner under close watch, lest he be tempted away by the charms of another cat.

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The film’s insights come from locals who have a lot to say about their cat companions.

“People who don’t love animals can’t love people either” makes sense on a fundamental level. “Kedi” is an ideal family documentary that captures the beauty of Istanbul from a cat’s eye perspective. And yes, there are plenty of kittens bouncing around in various predicaments for survival in the crevices of Istanbul’s (mostly) welcoming streets.

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Not Rated. 80 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

February 14, 2017

BARTON FINK

Barton FInkJohn Turturro plays a Clifford Odets-styled playwright with a mean case of writer’s block after moving to LA to his first screenplay for a big Hollywood studio. Part “Eraserhead” and part “Naked Lunch,” “Barton Fink” is like whitefish on sand.

The neo-noir-styled story takes place around the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. If that little factoid is lost on most audiences, it nonetheless provides the Coens with a sense of societal dread that comes through in every frame of the picture. 

It's telling that the Coens famously wrote the script for "Barton Fink" while working through a troubled process during the writing of "Miller's Crossing." Written in just three week's, "Barton Fink" is a minimalist black comedy that relies on John Turturo's nerdy portrayal of the title character to keep the audience on the side of an ostensibly unlikable writer. Turturro's keen sense of comic poker-faced physicality — think Harold Lloyd — runs counterpoint to the lurking evil of John Goodman's insurance salesman Charlie, who occupies the hotel room next to Barton Fink.

Made on a relatively small budget of $6 million in 1991, "Barton Fink" was a box office flop in spite of winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes that year. You couldn't call this movie a polished filmic work of art, but it is a diamond in the rough that kept the Coens creative juices flowing. "Barton Fink" falls into the category of misses that the Coen Brothers have vacillated between for the whole of their career. It's still better than "Intolerable Cruelty" and "Hail, Caesar!" combined.  

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Rated R. 114 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)

February 13, 2017

The Decline of Western Civilization

Decline-of-Western-CivilizationPenelope Spheeris’s infamous documentary of L.A.’s hardcore early ‘80s punk scene was banned by police chief Daryl Gates after the film’s premiere.

If that isn’t reason enough to watch this essential punk document, seeing staged performances by The Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline, Fear, Germs, and X will surely do the trick. Spheeris captures the humor, energy, and mindset of L.A.'s short-lived punk scene between interview clips and live music footage.

You can't put a price on a filmic document such as this one. Also, you can plainly see and hear how much better X was than most of the other bands in the film. 

“We’re desperate, get used to it.”

Not Rated. 100 mins. (A-) (Four stars - out of five / no halves)

EATING RAOUL

Eating RaoulWriter/director Paul Bartell plays a (possibly closeted gay) L.A. wine collector with plans to open a restaurant with his hot-to-trot nurse wife (Mary Waronov). The platonic pair blunders into an unusual way of capitalizing on the early '80s swinging lifestyle of copious sex and drugs when they run BDSM ads in the local smut rag to attract wealthy perverts that they murder for their cash and cars. Cannibalism beckons.

Eating Raoul” is an hilarious black comedy loaded with transgressive elements — Nazi-themed BDSM sessions, you bet. Paul Bartell is clearly cut from the same weird wood as John Waters. The vibe here is identical to "Serial Mom." What fun.

Who is "Raoul," and does he get consumed, you might ask. Well, you've got to watch the movie to find out the answer to that little buried lede. 

Made on a non-existent budget, here is a kick right in Hollywood’s bloated butt. There is noting politically correct about this comedy, and that’s exactly why you should watch it right this minute, that and because Mary Waronov is out of this world.

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Rated R. 90 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

February 12, 2017

LION

Lion_ver9“Lion” is a one-note movie that works in spite of its simplistic treatment of a story that sounds better on paper that in it does in the hands of newbie feature director Garth Davis.

Dev Patel carries the picture once his character arrives in a lightweight film that nonetheless hits every tear-jerking mark of Saroo Brierley’s journey to find his home. If nothing else, the picture should help propel Patel’s career.

Based on Saroo Brierley’s book “A Long Way Home,” Patel plays Saroo, the young adult version of a five-year-old Indian boy lost in the mean streets of Calcutta while walking near railway tracks at night.

The concept of home, as a place of nurturing importance, resonates across the film even if the narrative leans toward shaky melodrama regarding subplots about Saroo and his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), and Saroo’s problematic home life with his adoptive parents and his mentally disturbed (also adopted) brother.

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Alexandre de Franceschi’s editing shares blame in creating a film that suffers from clunky construction. The flow of the story keeps skipping gears. “Lion” is a mediocre movie that should have been a good one. That still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, especially if you need a good cry. Get out your handkerchiefs; you’ll need them.

Rated PG-13. 118 mins. (C+) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

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