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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

September 25, 2018

COLETTE

ColetteTry though it does to tell the tale of French fin de siècle novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s troubled marital journey, Wash Westmoreland’s brief biopic suffers from a clunky narrative form that never allows its characters to exist beyond two-dimensional qualities. In life, Colette was a novelist, actress, journalist and bi-sexual woman; in this film she is reduced to playing martyr/victim of a greedy man.

A by-committee screenplay (by three writers) is to blame. Two screenwriters can work exquisitely together because they each have to stand up for their beliefs, but must also be able to compromise responsibly. With three writers, two are always going to gang up on one; it’s not a healthy environment for creativity.

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It is frustrating to watch Kiera Knightley struggle with a role to which she seems so well-suited. More irritating is Dominic West’s weakly overbearing portrayal of Colette’s roustabout author husband Willy. West gets caught “acting” on more than one occasion, perhaps because his character’s motivations are so muddy. It would be a tall order for any actor to elevate such dramatically flat source material.

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“Colette” fails even as a generic period drama because it doesn’t dare show what truly drives its characters’ carnal passions. Willy is a selfish horndog, Colette is a gifted author with lesbian leanings. Colette’s would-be girlfriend has the charisma of a piece of wood. There you have it, a movie that was doomed before the first day of filming began. Tragic.

Rated R. 111 minutes. (C) Two Stars

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September 11, 2018

FREE SOLO

Free_soloTerrifying, invigorating, and heart-pounding describe this unforgettable documentary about free climber Alex Honnold and his efforts to climb Yosemite’s daunting 3,200 foot El Capitan Wall.

Co-directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (“Meru”) delve into Alex’s guarded personality as he prepares for the treacherous climb that will define his life, whether or not he lives or dies attempting it.

We get a sense of the childhood elements that contributed to Alex’s obsession with free climbing even as he enters into a romantic relationship that threatens to derail the strict focus and discipline essential for him to accomplish his goals. Every millimeter of Honnold's mind and body must be diamond-sharp to execute the climb.

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Significant is the filmmakers’ willingness to delve into Alex’s meticulous rehearsal process using ropes and the help of master climber Tommy Caldwell to prepare for the solo climb. As Caldwell puts it, “Imagine an Olympic gold medal-level achievement where if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die.”

Placing cameras along various places on Alex’s path up the behemoth mountain allow him to climb without being distracted by buzzing drones or cameramen.

Alex Honnold

With his large dilated brown eyes and wiry frame, Honnold resembles a young Iggy Pop at the height of his powers circa the Bowie-produced “Lust for Life” era. Honnold’s easy charisma masks onion layers of emotional armor that his doting girlfriend Sanni McCandless pokes and prods at to varying levels of guarded verbal responses from our brave protagonist.

El Capitan

Alex Honnold carries the spirit if a samurai warrior with him. Hearing him describe the grips, holds, and complex maneuvers necessary to climb El Capitan’s sheer face, convince the viewer of his amazing climbing abilities that most of humanity hasn’t the first clue about. Here is a man who knows his limitations and how to push them right to the edge of existence.

To watch “Free Solo” is to take a journey into an incredibly dangerous if joyful world of free physical expression. Go on the adventure of a lifetime. The rewards are enormous.

Not rated. 97 mins. (A+) 

Five Stars

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THE PREDATOR (RE-BOOT)

PredatorOh how the mighty have fallen. Shane Black, the screenwriter for such instant classics as “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” has written a script that never should have gotten a green light. Nevermind that John McTiernan’s 1987 Schwarzenegger war action fiesta is hardly a movie in need of a remake, or “reboot,” or whatever lame term Hollywood is using to mask its desperation for the next blockbuster multiplex thingy. Insult to injury, Black also takes on directing duties for this cinematic atrocity.

Riddled with dogeared post-modern cynicism, this franchise reboot falls into Hollywood’s sustained attempts at normalizing brutal, mindless violence involving children as witnesses if not active participants.

Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) plays 12-year-old Rory McKenna, the son of a U.S. war hero (played by Boyd Holbrook). Rory is on the autism spectrum, as are the band of war criminals that Holbrook’s Quinn McKenna character teams up with to battle an alien predator (or two) on a mission to extract human DNA for some MacGuffin reason relating to Global Warming. "The Man Who Fell to Earth" this film is not. This predator has lost its freaky deaky militarized armor, and wants it back. Naturally, Rory is in possession of said armor.  

The result is an orgy of violent blood-and-guts-spewing spectacle for our young would-be protagonist Rory to witness at close-up and personal range. Shane Black’s irreverent sense of ribald, if not openly misogynist humor, comes out of left field with unfunny lines about “eating pussy” and “growing a dick.” Yawn. And yes that is the unrecognizable Thomas Jane (see "The Mist" from 2007) as the turrets syndrome-suffering soldier Baxley. Sad. 

The-Predator-Olivia-Munn

Olivia Munn gets caught “acting” in every other scene as Casey Bracket, a scientist trying to play nice with a rowdy bunch of testosterone-boiling soldiers looking for somewhere to stick their muscle and their frat bro mentalities.

There isn’t single reason I can think of to see “The Predator” other than to be reminded of how low Hollywood and American sensibilities have sunk.  

Rated R. 107 min. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

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September 01, 2018

McQUEEN

Mcqueen_ver2Alexander (Lee) McQueen was a prodigy fashion designer from humble beginnings with a boundless imagination and a fierce determination that skyrocketed him to the top of industry. McQueen became a household name in the 90s, when he worked as chief designer at Givenchy. It is only fitting that co-directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui have crafted a soaring documentary that celebrates McQueen’s visually stunning creations while telling his tragic story. Thoughtful interviews with friends, family, mentors, partners, and associates harmonize with impressive clips from trailblazing fashion shows to leave a permanent mark on the viewer.

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The film symptomatically serves as a crash course through the kooky world of haute couture, from the UK to Paris and back again. Here is a lush and haunting documentary that should be received on the big screen to fully appreciate the epic scope of McQueen’s outrageous designs and rebellious approach that revolutionized the fashion industry at a point in time when such a bold attack was necessary if not essential to its future.   

Mcqueen

The filmmakers diligently connect McQueen’s dark fixation with death — a skull was the logo for his design house — to his punk inspired methods for provoking the haute couture industry at large. Daring fashion shows introducing collections based on such incendiary subjects as the abuse of women, contrast with McQueen’s gentle nature and genuine sense of humility. His 1995 “Highland Rape” collection comes across like a truckload of social dynamite.

It is rare for one person to embody so much talent, skill, and committed work ethic; Alexander McQueen did it with style, panache, and modesty. His undeniable genius continues to inspire artists of all disciplines, so too will this film. 

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Rated R. 151 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves).

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July 25, 2018

ROCK RUBBER 45s

Rock RubberFew are the number of people who could make a documentary about themselves that would be as entertaining as “Rock Rubber 45s.” Bobbito Garcia’s survey of his life as a New York pop culture icon of basketball, hip-hop, sneakers, filmmaking, and all-around bon vivant is captivating for its unabashed honesty and sincerity. Born of Puerto Rican decent, “Bobbito the Barber” describes his warts-and-all childhood under a workaholic mother and a negligent father. His swagger and self-deprecation come in equal parts. He fearlessly wades the waters of his sexual abuse victimization to describe how he was able to put the past behind him. Tricky stuff.

Also heartbreaking is Bobbito’s telling of his time spent playing basketball at Wesleyan, where his stellar basketball skills were ignored with a vengeance by a racist coach.

Rosie Perez, Michael Rapaport, Questlove, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are just a few of the celebrities who give their two cents about Bobbito’s dynamic influence on culture, especially that of New York City.

Bobbito’s litany of accomplishments run the gambit from performing basketball tricks at stadiums across the country, authoring the first article (“Confessions of a Sneaker Addict” for Source magazine) about the intricacies of sneaker culture, authoring a book about sneaker culture, working as a promo rep during the early days of Def Jam Recordings, to hosting a TV show about sneakers.

Bobbito Garcia

“Rock Rubber 45s” is a personalized crash course into New York culture that charms by virtue of this film’s charismatic subject. Sure it’s self-reflexive; that’s the point. The music is infectious, the graphics are slick, and the vibe is hot. It might not be the best documentary every made, but this movie jams.

Not rated. 96 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

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June 13, 2018

If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a Fuck

If It Ain't StiffLong before Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe became musical elder statesmen, they were at the tip of the Punk spear as part of a dirty little British record company called Stiff Records. The company was run by two scrappy pub-rock-band managers, Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera. In 1976 Stiff released the first Punk single “New Rose” from The Damned. During the following year the company put together a bus tour for five of its acts that didn’t stray too far from their London home.

The resulting documentary of that magical musical episode captures the likes of Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Dave Edmunds, Larry Wallis, along with Elvis and Nick honing their musical chops with considerable help from all available band members. Check out Ian Dury keeping perfect time playing drums for Wreckless Eric on “Reconnez Cherie,” or Pete Thomas and Billy Bremner playing dual drumkits on “Watching the Detectives” for an angst-spewing Elvis Costello. Mesmerizing.

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The sold-out concerts led to the release of a live record “Live Stiffs,” but there’s a big difference in being able to hear or witness such brilliant musical history in the making. This down and dirty doc has been favorably compared to The Rolling Stones’ “Cocksucker Blues,” but trust me this film is better.

Nick

For many years “If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a Fuck” was an incredibly rare find available only on scratchy VHS copies. That it now shows up on Amazon Prime gives it fitting exposure for the masses. Witness a bunch of inspired, talented, and frequently drunk and stoned musicians laying down the jam harder than you knew they did. Elvis Costello might have thought he was better than the company he kept, but he was wrong. And as the record shows, Elvis Costello was also Punk as fuck at the time.

Not rated. 51 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

June 08, 2018

AMERICAN ANIMALS

American_animals

For the first time since Quentin Tarantino reinvented the heist genre with “Reservoir Dogs” way back in 1992, a filmmaker has broken the whole thing wide open. With a handful of documentaries under his belt writer-director Bart Layton crafts a snappy docudrama rendition of a small-town heist at a university in Lexington Kentucky that finishes with appropriate grace notes of hubris and pathos. Bart Layton isn’t a household name, yet.

Layton uses interview clips with each of the real-life young men who schemed to steal rare books and manuscripts from Transylvania University’s library, as overseen by a lone librarian — one Betty Jean Gooch. A first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and four double-size folios of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” are on the would-be thieves’ shopping list.

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We relish as the amateur heist team of college students assemble. Pals Spencer (Barry Keoghan) and Warren (Evan Peters) watch a collection of heist movies ranging from Kubrick’s “The Killing” to “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Naturally, the guys gets colors for names. Warren names himself Mr. Yellow because he’s his mom’s “sunshine.”

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No one wants to hurt the librarian, the only person guarding the university’s precious books, but pain must be inflicted. By the time the heist takes place, the suspense is gut-wrenching. Here is a thrilling caper movie that makes us empathize with the crooks and their victim in equal measure. By interviewing the real thieves, while dramatizing their story, Bart Layton adds a meaty layer of social realism to the film. Get out your knife and fork; this is one movie you can really sink your teeth into.

Warren Lipka - Evan Peters

Rated R. 116 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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PATREON BUTTON

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

June 02, 2018

THE DAMNED: DON'T YOU WISH THAT WE WERE DEAD

Don't You WishFinally there exists a beautiful top-to-bottom documentary about the incendiary rock ‘n’ roll band that recorded the first Punk single (“New Rose”) in 1976, and went on to keep reinventing themselves five decades over. They’re still at it today. The Damned’s single “Smash It Up” (from their third record “Machine Gun Etiquette”) was so aggressive that it was banned by the BBC. The band’s founding drummer Rat Scabies met guitarist Captain Sensible at a London concert hall where they had jobs cleaning the toilets. Such are the tidbits and details that documentarian Wes Orshoski (“Lemmy” 2010) delivers with loving attention. In-depth interviews with band members present and past (especially the band’s longtime vampire-inspired singer Dave Vanian) give way to great archive footage to tell the story of a band that never got the attention they deserved.

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Exhaustive interview clips with the likes of music legends Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Clem Burke (Blondie), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Steve Diggle (The Buzzcocks), Mick Jones (The Clash), and Billy Idol add to this film’s addictive vibe. Whether or not you are a fan of punk music, there is plenty of honesty and energy to inspire you. Perhaps the film could have been better edited, but it hangs together well enough to hold your interest for nearly two hours.

“It’s an attitude and it’s a lifestyle. It’s about not taking any shit from anyone — thinking for yourself, trying to improve your lot in life; that’s punk rock.”

Not rated. 110 mins. (B+) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

ColeLAMF

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

May 12, 2018

ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE

Always_at_the_carlyle“Always At The Carlyle,” along with Matthew Miele’s recent documentaries (“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” and “Crazy About Tiffany’s”), confirms the documentarian as a curator of Manhattan taste in a world that is rapidly losing its sense of such enigmatic qualities.

It’s a short walk from the steps of Bergdorf Goodman’s and Tiffany’s to the hallowed Madison Avenue entrance to one of Manhattan’s most lovely Art Deco creations, the 35-story Carlyle Hotel where Princess Diana once slept. Snugged neatly between 76th and 77th Streets, just north of the Met Breuer [BROY-er] Museum, this New York standard bearer is introduced by tight-lipped but polite hotel staff explaining that discretion protecting their guests is their utmost priority.

Alan Cumming

So it is that the rich cultural soil is tilled for Miele to gently pull back the curtain on the Carlyle palatial interiors with the generous help of celebrities such as Wes Anderson, Jeff Goldblum, Jon Hamm, George Clooney, Alan Cumming, Tommy Lee Jones, Sofia Coppola, Anjelica Huston, and Elaine Stritch. There isn’t much guilt to the pleasure of watching smart, beautiful entertainers wax poetic about a place that few plebes will ever even catch a wafting scent of fragrance from, but a pleasure it is nonetheless.  

JFK at the Carlyle

Miele’s only misstep comes when he includes an image of the late Michael Jackson entering the hotel’s rumor-free-perimeters with a gaggle of young children wearing masks on their faces. Creepy doesn’t begin to express the chill that the image sends down your spine. As George Clooney says, “many dastardly things” have taking place in the grand hotel where John F. Kennedy is believed to have carried on his affair with Marilyn Monroe.

Bemelmans Bar

“Always At The Carlyle” gives you a sense of old New York’s glamour and decadence. The movie is as much a history lesson as it is a celebration of a way of doing business that honors human nature above unbridled greed. You might want to break open your piggy bank to sip a cocktail in Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle after seeing the bar’s enticing atmosphere, complete with a 14K-gold-covered ceiling, on the big screen.

Rated PG-13. 92 mins. (B+) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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