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.  

Barton-fink2

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.

Raoul-1

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.

Lion-2

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)

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

I_am_not_your_negroSamuel L. Jackson’s pitch-perfect rendition of James Baldwin’s unmistakable voice is as pure as Baldwin’s memoir recollections of his murdered civil rights peers Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., as collected in his unfinished manuscript “Remember This House.”  

Haiti-born filmmaker Raoul Peck not only captures the essence of James Baldwin’s fearless perspectives on racial injustice in America, but he breathes fresh historical perspective into the harsh realities that too many Americans mistake for justice so many decades later. Fiercely articulate, handsome, and perfectly dressed, James Baldwin comes across as a bantamweight intellectual poet-warrior prepared to command the center stage of whatever arena he enters.

A clip of Baldwin’s debut (1968) appearance on the Dick Cavett television show speaks volumes about the mindset of liberal (white) culture at the time. You will never think of Dick Cavett the same way again, but you do come to understand the nature of James Baldwin’s magnetic, if heroic, attraction to truth that led him to abandon America for France where he lived as a writer-in-exile until the end of his life. Only in America would James Baldwin be considered a radical. 

I Am Not Your Negro

“I Am Not Your Negro” is as bold and forthcoming as its uncompromising title. It is one of the best 10 films of 2016. You might want to watch it more than once.

Rated PG-13. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

January 08, 2017

ZERO MOTIVATION

Zero MotivationTalya Lavie’s 2014 black comedy, about a woman’s place in the Israeli Army, plays like a cross between “Reform School Girls” and “Catch 22.” Lavie skewers religious and military indoctrination in the context of psychological and physical abuses levied against female soldiers by male and female officers alike.

Writer-director Lavie takes inspiration from Jean Vigo's once banned 1933 film Zero For Conduct, about bourgeoning rebellion in an all boys boarding school, to transpose a narrative drawn from her experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Although this movie might play as light comedy to Israeli audiences, the film echoes systemic abuses of female soldiers in the American military where rape is a common occurrence.

When our rebellious heroine soldier Zohar (Dana Ivgy) attempts to lose her virginity to a fellow soldier, she requests that he “be more gentle.” His callous response, “I’m combat, baby” speaks volumes about the sexist effect of his military training. Zero Motivation is a troubling movie in spite of its primarily comedic tone.

"War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing." —Edwin Starr

Zero Motivation

Not Rated. 97 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

January 07, 2017

STORY OF WOMEN — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Story of WomenBased on the true story of Marie-Louise Giraud, Claude Chabrol’s provocative World War II era drama features Isabelle Huppert as a lower class single mother of two in Nazi occupied France. Marie’s war-ravaged husband unexpectedly returns home just as she finds her calling as an amateur abortionist for local women, many of whom work as prostitutes servicing German soldiers.

Claude Chabrol’s “The Story Of Women” delves into the conditions of a small occupied French town that transforms a mother of two into a hardened opportunist.

Marie’s motivations shift as she reaches a comfortable lifestyle that enables an affair with a German soldier.

Isabelle Huppert walks a fine line as an anti-heroine whose broken relationship with her husband (François Cluzet) culminates in a betrayal of outrageous proportions. 

Much of this film's power draws from Chabrol's ambiguous handling of Marie Giraud as an imperfect, if industrious woman. Huppert plays the part with a seething passion locked beneath an implacable feminine exterior. Neither Huppert nor the director pass any judgements on Marie's actions, nor does either shy away from her wartime imposed survivalist attitude to the world around her.

Because abortions were criminalized in France [from 1920 to 1975], due to a grievous loss of French males in World War I and II, Marie-Louise Giraud became an ideal scapegoat for the French courts after being indicted for her crimes.

STORY OF WOMEN

Not Rated. 108 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Video

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series