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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

May 11, 2018

OH, RICK!

Oh  Rick2The coolest comic you’ve [probably] not heard of, Rick Crom is a comic legend among stand-up comics. The Chicago-born stand-up comic of legendary New York City status gets his just deserts in this loving documentary from co-directors Dustin Sussman and Aaron Rosenbloom.

Rick Crom performed in the full run of the hit Broadway show “Urinetown.” His downtown fans include Wanda Sykes, Louis C.K., Hannibal Burris, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, and the list goes on and on. Rick’s musical abilities are no small trifle. He’s a natural behind a set of 88s as he’s comfortable with a guitar in his hands. Rick Crom’s knack for emceeing has gotten him more NYC stage-time than seems humanly possible. He's a composer, teacher, and the kind of no-nonsense human being you'd be proud to introduce to your family at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or your budding-comic kid's birthday party.

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It’s not every day that someone as skilled and natural as Rick Crom (pronounced "chrome") lights up your day, or night, or wee hours of daybreak. Full disclosure, I had Mr. Crom on my podcast series LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) to talk about Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein,” and about his experiences in comedy. A finer gentleman I’ve not had the pleasure, and honor, of sharing time. See this inspiring movie; you'll be glad you did. I just wish it was 15 minutes longer. 

Not rated. 78 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

Chicago-born, and NYC stand-up comic legend, Rick Crom (pronounced chrome) joins the Feast to talk about Mel Brooks's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and OH, RICK!, a great documentary about him. No craft beer on this episode, just some chewy chat about funny stuff. Bon appetite. 

Rick Crom

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Young frankenstein

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

April 26, 2018

THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH

Devil_and_father_amorthWilliam Friedkin’s audio-enhanced documentary about an actual exorcism is a lukewarm flop. At just 68 minutes long, “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a filmic amuse bouche that leaves behind a sour taste. It’s sad that the director of such amazing films as “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” and “Sorcerer” has chosen to leave behind this paltry cinematic footnote.

Friedkin narrates, informing us that there are more than 60 million people in Italy. “500,000 Italians see an exorcist every year.” Somehow I don’t think those figures will do much to encourage tourism there. Introductions are made regarding Christina, a 46 year-old architect with bad skin who suffers from demonic possession, or so her wild fits and bizarre screams seem to evince. More on that bizarre screaming later. Christina’s affliction is so debilitating that it prevents her from working. She has had nine exorcisms, and seems destined for many more. Father Gabriele Amorth is a 90 year-old priest known as the best in the [exorcism] business. And oh what a biz it is. Amorth’s signature exorcist move is to thumb his nose at the Devil, or rather the person he is treating, at the start of each exorcism. That would have been a fun detail for Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin to have included in his volatile interactions with Linda Blair’s Regan back in 1973 when Friedkin made “The Exorcist.”

Father Amort

The exorcism takes place during the day in a room filled with Christina’s friends and family members. Father Amorth’s tranced subject rocks in nodding agreement as he administers the rights that he reads from a card. A cheap photo of the current Pope hangs loosely on the wall behind Christina as two men hold her in the chair from which she writhes and struggles. And then it happens; Christina screams unintelligibly with a blood-curdling sound that has clearly been amped up in Friedkin’s audio editing. You can clearly tell that Christina’s guttural exhortations have been enhanced because they so effectively block out any other voices in the room, especially Father Amorth’s words whenever she shouts. Friedkin’s cinéma vérité goes out the window. The case for atheism gets stronger.  

Devil&Amorth

Our not-so-sincere filmmaker sets about playing a video of the exorcism for medical experts and other priests, none of whom catch on to the filmic illusion they're viewing. They all want their moment of fame too after all.

It’s clear that William Friedkin wanted to extend the legend of “The Exorcist,” but going to such overreaching, but small-minded lengths results in a pshaw moment. At 82 there’s no telling how many more films William Friedkin has left in him. I only hope he is able to make one that will redeem him from this mistake.

Not rated. 68 mins. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)    

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

April 23, 2018

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE — CANNES 2017

You_were_never_really_hereIf only I had never really seen this atrocity of a movie I’d feel much better. That does it; I’m giving up on Lynne Ramsay for good. I loathed Ramsay’s last film “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (2011). Still, I was willing to give her latest effort a chance. Big mistake. I thought it possible that Ramsay had grown as a filmmaker. The complete opposite appears to be the case.

Ramsey steals a dozen little tropes from movies like “Reservoir Dogs” and “Taxi Driver” to piece together a baloney narrative that hangs together like wet seaweed on the beach. Some people might call it experimental, and I can see why. You certainly feel like a guinea pig being experimented on while watching this awful movie. Ramsey based her self-penned screenplay on Jonathan Ames’s novel, but you’d never guess that this movie had any formal underpinnings.

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Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a hit man/cop killer who rescues underage girls from sex traffickers. A New York politician hires Joe to rescue his pubescent daughter. So topical, you think. Wrong. Ramsay treats the issue with such cavalier sloppiness that she trivializes sex trafficking into something so fake that it's no wonder so many people don't believe such a thing even exists. Judging from this film, it doesn't.

If revenge fantasy is your thing, Michael Winners 1974 “Death Wish” did it meaner and with real heart from the great Charles Bronson. Joaquin Phoenix just looks like he needs a good long nap. Joe suffers from delusions, so not everything we see is for real. Joe is a white dude sociopath whose chosen weapon is a hammer. If I never see Joaquin Phoenix with his shirt off, it will be too soon. 

Joaquin

If this set-up sounds like something you want or need to see for some imagined reason, just know that there is an underwater scene that is a very close copy of a similar scene in “The Shape of Water.” You could always stream “You Were Never Really Here” and turn it into a drinking game where you have to drink a shot every time you see a reference to another movie. The influences here are much more accessible (read lazy) than the arcane ones you find in a Tarantino movie. Then again Quentin Tarantino is a real filmmaker; Lynne Ramsey isn’t.

Rated R. 89 mins. (D-) Zero stars — out of five / no halves

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

April 18, 2018

A QUIET PLACE

A Quiet PlaceDon’t believe the hype. “A Quiet Place” is a plot-hole filled waste of time. Scary? Not even close. All respect for John Krasinski (making his directorial debut) and his real-life wife Emily Blunt aside, the performances in this film leave much to be desired.

As Graham Parker sings, “Children and dogs will always win, everyone knows that. I won’t work with either one again.” Wise words. Deaf child actor Milicent Simmonds (“Wonderstruck”) seemingly couldn’t act wet in a rain storm. This film’s flaws however reach much further than shoddy portrayals.

A by-committee minimalist script from three writers (Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski) drops the audience into day 89 of an alien invasion. The premise is simple, alien monsters with acute hearing, and poor vision, track humans by sound. Sneeze loudly and you’re toast. Needless to say there is very little dialogue in the film. This is not a good time or place for characters to be having babies considering the inevitable cries that will cost you and your would-be infant its life. More on that later.

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Our four-person family unit consists of Blunt and Krasinski playing parents Evelyn and Lee Abbott to adolescents Beau (Cade Woodward), Regan (Simmonds), and Noah (Marcus Abbott). These parents aren’t winning any awards for their responsible parenting skills. The number of children drops to two early on in the action before the remaining kids go missing. Where most parents would be worried sick, Evelyn and Lee are cool to a fault. "The kids will be fine." If the parents don’t care, why should we. Not only that, Evelyn has a fully-baked bun in the oven who, when he’s born, is the quietest baby you’ve ever seen or not heard.

The tail-chasing narrative comes down to a couple of irresponsible parents searching, or not, for their two missing young kids while bringing another one into an inhospitable world where it will most certainly be eaten within a matter of days if not hours. I suppose you could read the text (and subtext) as a poorly formulated parable about overpopulation in a capitalist society that hears everything you do, but that would be giving this boring film far too much credit.

Quietplace

So while the groupthink virus continues to consume so-called critics, “A Quiet Place” is on par with M. Night Shyamalan’s (a.k.a. M. Night Shyamalamadingdong) insultingly mediocre post “Sixth Sense” overwrought, underdeveloped, and meepy films. Your disappointment awaits.     

Rated PG-13. 90 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

April 10, 2018

LAST TANGO IN PARIS

Last_tango_in_parisBorn of one of Bernardo Bertolucci's fantasies about carrying on a purely sexual affair with a complete stranger, Marlon Brando's Paul and Maria Schneider's Jeanne meet regularly in an empty Parisian apartment for unbridled sexual trysts. Paul insists that neither one reveal their names or express any elements of their lives outside their insular world. Theirs is a relationship built purely on carnal intention and experimentation. The stark atmosphere that Bertolucci creates allows for sensual realism to thrive.

Jeanne doesn't know that Paul is coping with his wife's recent suicide. Paul knows nothing of Jeanne's obsessive filmmaker boyfriend Tom (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who is on the brink of proposing to Jeanne.

Lasttango

Written with assistance from Franco Arcalli and Anges Varda, Bertolucci plays liberally with dualities to address deep-seeded emotions that can only be expressed indirectly. Even the filmmaker’s noir-influenced image system plays with angles.

For the first time, Paul drinks with Tom, his wife's neighbor and former lover, who wears the same robe as Paul. The over-enthusiastic Tom represents an outwardly preoccupied inversion of Paul, who tests Jeanne's temperamental boundaries in similar but altered ways.

After revealing his identity and troubled situation, Paul tells Jeanne, "When something's finished, it begins again." He breaks the carefully guarded code the lovers have adhered to up until now. Paul's sudden turn from cynic to optimist (late in the story) must be punished. His refusal to adhere to his own rules is unacceptable. Not everything is permitted.

Lasttango2

For all of the critical and public controversy about “Last Tango” being a pornographic film at the time of its release, the movie is a painstakingly theatrical mood piece that relies heavily on judiciously coded musical cues from Gato Barbieri's repeated motifs.

Significant is Philippe Turlure's bold art direction that draws on the work of the artist Francis Bacon. Two of Bacon's paintings introduce the film during its opening credit sequence. They influence the look of the movie’s saturated color scheme for the interior of the apartment where much of the story takes place. A two-foot high rust colored waterline surrounds the interior walls as if to suggest that the apartment had been submerged in a mixture of blood and water for an extended period during its storied past. The ravages of wars fought have left their mark here.

“Last Tango in Paris” is a masterwork of post-modern existential angst that attempts to reconcile a depth of social existence through its sexually liberated characters.

Mike broke out Wavy Tropics Guava Pale Ale from Kills Boro Brewing for our discussion of Bertolucci's LAST TANGO IN PARIS even if we had planned to do Lars von Trier's MANDERLAY for this, our 99th episode. Check out my silent shout-out to THE STRYPES if you go to ColeSmithey.com. Bon appetite!

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Cole and Mike

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

March 21, 2018

MANDERLAY — CLASSIC FILM PICK

ManderlayLars von Trier’s second installment in his Brechtian trilogy of American culture stays true to the stage bound theatrical setting of his first installment (“Dogville” 2003) even if his protagonist heroine Grace seems not to have kept any continuity from her traumatizing experiences in Dogville, i.e. multiple rapes, torture, and various humiliations, including being enslaved before ordering the massacre of a small town. After all, murderers are humiliated by their own bloodlust.

Perhaps that is as it should be. That was a lot of baggage. Bryce Dallas Howard takes over the role that Nicole Kidman portrayed in “Dogville,” just as Willem Dafoe fills James Caan’s shoes as Grace’s gangster father this time around.

Under von Trier’s fluid handheld camera there is no mistaking the parable aspect of his rigorous dramaturgy, this time dedicated to a slave plantation operating 70 years pat the abolishment of slavery. If you do the math you know that it’s Depression Era 1933. You don’t have to ponder long to realize that slavery in America continues albeit under a transmogrified state of incremental genocide glossed over with pretty words such as democracy, freedom, and capitalism.

Manderlay2

So it is that our minimalist tale of colonialism, best intentions, and hidden agendas comes into microcosmic view when the headstrong Grace arrives at Manderlay in the company of her smarmy dad and his gun-toting henchmen and lawyers. A slave (Isaach De Bankolé) is strapped to a grate, about to be whipped by one of his white masters when Grace intercedes and takes the whip away from the brute with the aid of her dad’s goons. The plantation matriarch Mam (Lauren Bacall) appears from her mansion with shotgun in hand, but put in her place by Grace. Mam wasn’t long for this world anyway as it turns out but she does leave behind a book (“Mam’s Law”) which includes a “code of conduct” for the plantation. Most appalling, if informative, is the book’s dilatation of seven slave character types with titles such as “Proudly,” “Clownin’,” and “Pleasin’.”

Grace decides to stay on at Manderlay in order to oversee the slaves’ transition to freedom. She keeps her father’s lawyer and a few of his guards. Under von Trier’s seven remaining chapter headings, Grace learns the hard way the unseen forces and brutal tactics that undo her naïve attempts at leading the slave community to any form of holistic equality.

MANDERLAY

Not since Ingmar Bergman’s trenchant Cinema has a filmmaker so efficiently tackled universal truths of human behavior that predictably veer toward duplicity, greed and the lowest common denominator of groupthink that priests, politicians, judges, and corporate CEOs wield under the guise of democracy. “The lesser of two evils” is still immoral, n’est-ce pas?    

Grace

Not rated. 139 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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March 20, 2018

PORTRAIT OF JASON — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Portrait-of-JasonShirley Clarke’s 1967 cinéma vérité masterpiece remains a scathing social and character study of race in America for the enigmatic quality of its unreliable subject, Jason Holliday (nee Aaron Payne, 1924-1998).

Filmed in her Chelsea Hotel penthouse apartment on a cold winter night over a 12-hour period, from 9 pm to 9 am, Clarke uses out-of-focus segues to interview Jason, a gay African-American hustler as he talks about his troubled life and uncertain future. Jason Holliday is nothing if not a performer, and a tragic figure for the ages. 

Jason is at once candid, guarded, jovial, sad, articulate, affected, and presentational as he tells of working on a cabaret act, that we the audience may be witnessing excerpts from. The movie lights up when he breaks into song. He is talented.

Clarke and her partner (actor Carl Lee — “Super Fly”) goad Jason from off-camera, peppering him with questions or prompting him to tell specific stories from his troubled past.

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Jason tells of hustling all of his life to avoid the 9 to 5 grind. His involuntary laugh is constant. Infectious as it is revealing of the deep sadness he carries with him, it is Jason’s laughter that keeps you on pins and needles. You can sense him wanting to cry throughout the interview, but he lets the sound of his own laughter carry him through edifying stories about working for rich white folk as a “house boy” or talking to prying psychiatrists about his sex life.

“I’m a stone whore, and I’m not ashamed of it.”

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Jason drinks a cocktail while standing in front of a fireplace mantle, wearing stylish coke-bottle glasses that magnify his heavy-lidded squint. His Oxford shirt’s collar is unbuttoned so that the collar falls over the lapel of a dark blazer, giving him the appearance of a black James Dean whose better survival skills have given him passage in upper class white culture. He may be stoned from drink and pot, but his speech is never slurred. His word choice is rarely less than erudite. The stories he tells of his interactions with Miles Davis ring with anecdotal truth, especially a funny one involving the drummer Philly Jo Jones.

How much of Jason’s stories are real or fiction never comes into question because the force of his being is so convincing. So whether Jason’s sly delivery is merely a persuasive form of carefully constructed editorial narrative or not, doesn’t matter; there is too much intrinsic truth in every word he utters with damaged conviction and regret.   

Portrait2

Aaron Payne studied acting at the Actor’s Workshop in Hollywood under Charles Laughton before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He recorded a comedy album that was released in 2007.

Not rated. 105 mins. (A+) (Five stars  — out of five / no halves)

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