126 posts categorized "Drama"

October 12, 2017


Colesmithey.com2“Last Flag Flying” is a huge disappointment. Co-written by Darryl Ponicsan (“The Last Detail”) and Richard Linklater, this episodic drama plays like a misguided cross between “Grand Theft Parsons” and “In The Valley of Elah.” Even so it feels like a movie in search of a story.

Although the film lurches toward condemning the U.S. Military for its systemic brainwashing and capitalist-based murder of friends and foe alike, the movie wraps up with a fantasy-is-better-than-truth message that reneges on its premise. Add to that the equal miscasting of its three leads (Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve Carell) and you end up with an excruciating viewing experience. Here is a movie that scores less than zero, in case you didn’t know that were possible from such a reputable bunch.


Darryl Ponicsan is no longer floating on the cred he earned for “The Last Detail” (1973), about a Navy soldier (played by Randy Quaid) being escorted by two Officers to a Naval prison for trying to steal $40 from a collection box. The author is however still stuck in a no man’s land mindset about whether or not the U.S. military is worth a damn. It’s similar to Martin Scorsese’s overriding career theme regarding the existence of God, and the value of organized religion. I’ve got a short answer to both quandaries, but that’s another story for another time.

Ponicsan is clearly obsessed with the U.S. military’s methods of indoctrination that turn grown men into pap-spewing fraternity bros. Any mention of the Marines incites a knee-jerk response of ‘hoo ra” or “semper fi do or die” from Laurence Fishburne’s character, Pastor Richard Mueller, a veteran who substituted religion for military service after going civilian. Mueller doesn’t necessarily believe in either, but it’s a way for him to big-dog everyone he comes in contact with via his connection to the bible, or to the Marines if need be. He is an insufferable person, and a phony.


Next up in our trio of unbearable, and inauthentic, human beings is Bryan Cranston’s Sal Nealon, a bar owner who talks and acts like Andrew Dice Clay’s brother. Cranston hams up the role past 11. That Richard Linklater allowed Cranston to overplay his character to such an outlandish degree only emphasizes Linklater’s failings as a director. Cranston mugs and twists his made up accent into an acting clinic on things not to do as a thespian. I don’t suppose he ever watched Michael Caine’s lessons on film acting. You’ll never think of Bryan Cranston the same way again.

The same goes for Steve Carell, the most miscast member of Ponicsan’s reprobates. Carell’s milquetoast character, Larry “Doc” Shepherd took the fall for Sal and Richard after a vaguely told episode of wartime negligence. Doc did hard time for his fellow comrades, I mean soldiers. Still, Doc isn’t holding a grudge; he’s got other, more recent, wounds to lick. His wife died of cancer, and now he has to bury his soldier son who died under mysterious circumstance in Baghdad. So it is that Doc recruits his military bros to join him on a road trip to his son’s funeral. That is until the guys discover the real story of how the kid died from Washington (J. Quinton Johnson), a soldier who witnessed the deadly incident. Oddly, J. Quinton Johnson upstages his fellow, more experienced actors, with this film’s only believable performance. Remember his name, J. Quinton Johnson has a bright acting future ahead.


You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a more inept movie, much less one coming from the pedigree that this one does. In hindsight, the film’s title seems to signal a career-ender for all those involved except for J. Quinton Johnson. The icing on the cake is that “Last Flag Flying” was chosen as the centerpiece for the 55th New York Film Festival. Entropy with a whimper is everywhere you look.  

Rated R. 124 mins. (F) (Less than zero 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.


January 28, 2017


20th Century Women PosterWriter/director Mike Mills — no, not the bass player for REM; he makes better movies — has made a simultaneously preachy, smarmy, and condescending (yet nostalgic) vision of the ‘70’s heady Punk-fuelled age that gave way to the Me Generation of Ronald Reagan in the ‘80s. Infuriating by design, this rudderless story can’t even locate its protagonist.

Annette Bening is miscast as Dorothea Fields, a 55-year-old single Santa Barbara mom to an equally miscast Lucas Jade Zumann as Jamie, a punk-loving high school misfit in search of his testicles. Although Annette Bening may be only 58 in real life, her character here reads as much older — so much for any suspension of disbelief.

Dorothea charges her David Bowie-loving artsy tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig in full Lena Dunham mode) with mentoring 15-year-old Jamie on how to conduct himself with girls. Jamie’s biggest problem is his despicable 17-year-old best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), who thinks it’s cool to sneak into Jamie’s bed every night without ever giving him any nookie. Julie prefers rough trade, a fact she is only too happy to inform Jamie and others in attendance at a dinner party hosted by Dorothea. There isn’t a single likable character in the movie, with the possible exception of Billy Crudup’s inveterate slacker William, who happily takes advantage of whatever skirt happens to fly up on his behalf.

For an ostensibly feminist agenda-driven drama, “20th Century Women” misses its egalitarian target completely. Everything is overstated with ridiculous dialogue and cynical hindsight that wasn’t available at the time that music fans with taste listened to the Talking Heads while less sophisticated children preferred Black Flag, a band lacking in all manner of musical competency.

20th Century Women

The movie pats itself on the back so hard that it can never get its bearings. The filmmaker’s sue of still photo images from Punk’s glory days — with insufferable accompanying voice-over narration — is akin to putting Punk in a Plexiglas box in a museum. Mills fails to transmit Punk’s romantic qualities that served as the impetus and background music for a lot of teenage heavy petting in the late ‘70s.

Mike Mills should acknowledge his place in society by not using the name of REM’s bass player. REM’s Mike Mills got there first. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman had the audacity to place “20th Century Women” on par with Lisa Cholodenko’s far superior (similarly themed) 2010 film “The Kids Are Alright,” which coincidentally also starred Annette Bening. Nothing could be farther from the truth.


Rated R. 119 mins. (C-) (One star — 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.


January 12, 2017


Rated R. 161 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


October 29, 2016


Manchester by the Sea posterOver the course of the past 20 years since Casey Affleck made his feature film debut in Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For,” this disarmingly original actor has quietly put together a body of work worthy to represent the finest film actor of his generation, if not America’s most gifted actor. He’s in a class with Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis. Ben may be the big earner, but Casey Affleck runs circles around his brother when it comes to creating character. Stanislavski would be impressed.

Casey Affleck came into his own with his outstanding performance as Robert Ford in Andrew Dominik’s underrated masterpiece “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” in 2007. Since then, his estimable work in “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Killer Inside Me,” and “Out of the Furnace,” bares out Affleck’s ingenious ability to inhabit a range of characters with an unassailable attention to his craft. Where most film actors go from [dramatic] beat to beat, Casey harmonizes complex emotional overtones that create an otherworldly influence on the characters he interacts with, and also the larger social context of the material. This is as good as it gets. Don't bother looking for more, you'll find all dramatic truths at play in this incredible torch song of a film.  

The proof of Affleck’s mastery arrives bare and exposed in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s momentous drama about Lee Chandler (Affleck), a man whose emotional scars will never fully heal because he won’t allow himself the luxury of recovery. Told using precise time-flipping sequences, the film allows the audience to digest the human drama on display with a building sense of the last shred of integrity that Lee Chandler hangs on to.

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams compliments the depth of Casey Affleck’s full embodiment of his role with her equally committed performance as Chandler’s wife Randi. There is a scene between Williams and Affleck that arrives late in the film that is as magnificently heartbreaking as any other in the history of Cinema. This is the model that Hollywood should be seeking and developing, rather than the endless stream of lowbrow pap the industry reflexively cranks out.  

Notable too is relative newcomer Lucas Hedges’s inspired portrayal of teenaged Lee Chandler’s nephew Patrick. Here is an actor with a promising future ahead of him. Patrick is the narrative's solid symbol for a better future, and Hedges nails his determined character with a contrasting sense of goofy humor and steely irony. 


This is a movie you need to discover with as little information as possible. It’s enough to know that Kenneth Lonergan’s poetically told tale of tragedy and emotional endurance is set in the New England town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, beautifully photographed by ace cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes. This is a movie to see as soon as it comes out, before you’ve heard anything about the story.

As is appropriate for a picture of such powerful emotional and gutsy substance, you might want a stiff belt after seeing it. One thing’s for certain; “Manchester by the Sea” is a film that makes you feel things deep to your singular human core. This is one of the top five films of 2016 alongside Ken Loach's I, DANIEL BLAKE, Paul Verhoeven's ELLE, and Barry Jenkins's MOONLIGHT.

Rated R. 135 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


May 14, 2016


I Daniel BlakeThere wasn’t a dry eye in the Salle du Soixantieme for the Cannes screening of Ken Loach’s brilliant social drama. 

The film corresponds to Stephane Brize’s “The Measure of a Man,” which played in competition at Cannes in 2015. That picture told of dire social conditions for France’s oppressed working-class. Naturally, Loach’s film (authored by his longtime collaborator Paul Laverty) is set in the modern day United Kingdom. Where “Measure” fell short of satisfactorily enunciating a conspiracy of unethical corporatized agencies whose clear purpose is to exile citizens to the fringes of society, Laverty’s obviously researched script delves deeper into the black market underground that people are forced into choosing.

We also witness the banal ways that modern bureaucracies conspire to abuse, humiliate, and weaken people’s daily lives. If you didn’t believe there was an international war on the working class before seeing this film, you will grasp that fact before the credits roll. “I, Daniel Blake” is a clarion call for the united sea change of social revolution represented by such humanitarian standard bearers as Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, and Ralph Nader.

I Daniel Blake 3

Using a cast of unknown (semi-professional) actors, Loach allows mundane social conditions that most of us are familiar with, to guide the escalating social drama. Colin Coombs gives a wonderfully contained performance as Daniel Blake, an experienced carpenter put out of his occupation due to a heart attack he suffered on the job. A man in his mid-50s, Blake’s unfamiliarity with using computers proves a major obstacle in traversing the UK's intentionally choppy bureaucratic waters to maintain his “Employment and Support Allowance” from the government. Every government agent he encounters uses corporate double-speak to abuse him. Frustrating hours spent on hold are only exacerbated when he finally gets someone on the phone. Daniel Blake is in danger of losing his benefits because an unseen “decision-maker” has denied Blake’s doctor’s diagnoses that he is unfit to work. The state forces him to spend 35 hours a week looking for work that he can’t accept if, or when, he gets a job offer.

While at the agency fighting for his benefits, Blake witnesses Katie (Hayley Squires), a mother with two children in tow, being refused service because she was late for her appointment. Blake speaks up in Katie’s defense when security guards attempt to eject her from the building. The two political outcasts strike up a meaningful friendship as Daniel comes to Katie's aid in helping repair conditions in her unheated apartment.

Dramatically understated, and yet precisely composed, "I, Daniel Blake" breathes with authenticity and unaffected emotion. While some critics have a tendency to be dismissive of Ken Loach for his constancy of purpose, I would argue that it is this exact trait that makes his films so compelling. It takes a special filmmaker to maintain such constancy of purpose. Long live Ken Loach.

Cannes 69 Complete from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

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


September 26, 2015


WalkA palm-sweating love letter to the Twin Towers, Robert Zemeckis’s meaningfully 3D-embellished telling of Philippe Petit’s journey to stepping on a cable strung more than 110 stories above Manhattan’s ground is at once thrilling, moving, and larger-than-life. Indeed, your palms will sweat, and many tears will spill. The film’s confidently employed 3D effects support Petit’s heartfelt narrative with jolts of visual authenticity. Be prepared for a couple of window-breaking scenes that could make you recoil in your seat to get out of their way. High angle shots, looking down from above the towers, provide a dizzying context for Petit's incredible achievement. 

Based on Petit’s 2002 memoir (“The Reach the Clouds: My Highwire Walk between the Twin Towers”), this wildly entertaining film switches between presentational and representational approaches that function surprisingly well for the subject. You can’t help but be swept up by it. By the standards of Hollywood big-spectacle movies, none come close to packing this much emotional juice. “The Walk” is a TKO you don’t see coming.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt impeccably inhabits the ambitious, if fanatical, French tightrope walker with a spot-on Parisian accent and demanding physical skills born of the eight-days that the gifted actor spent training with Petit in order to walk on a wire. Though executed with Green Screen visual effects, and with the help of a stunt-double, Gordon-Levitt was required to perform on a tightrope 12-feet from the ground.

The Walk2
Philippe Petit speaks directly to the audience from his elevated perch on the Statue of Liberty’s torch overlooking the Twin Towers. Again and again the film returns to Petit’s fourth-wall-breaking narration on the Hudson River to bring the audience inside his intimate story via an effectively pronounced passion for something that most of us have a tough time getting our heads around, namely walking on a cable strung between the World Trade Center in 1974. When the “walk” does occur, it carries with it a profound sense of social and personal fulfillment. The inspirational power of Petit’s death-defying walk makes sense for the human scale of his performance, and its historical context. The film exists as an elucidating cinematic document of how Petit’s rebellious act transcends more things than anyone could imagine at the time that he did it.

Early on, Zemeckis uses evocative black-and-white sequences of Petit developing his act on the streets of Paris. Splashes of color enter in. A baguette, which the unicycling Petit steals from a sidewalk café, takes on its true color against the somber gray urban background. Such visual flourishes of detail-oriented expression consistently connect to characters’ actions with a seamless fluency.

Zemickis and co-screenwriter keep Petit’s personal history moving with a lean editing style that satisfies any audience expectation before you know what that anticipation might be.

Ben Kingsley brings his ineffable signature charm to bear as Petit’s wire-walking mentor Papa Rudy, with whom Philippe shares a contentious but respectful relationship. Kingsley’s wonderful supporting performance is every bit as Oscar worthy as Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal is for a leading role. This is a movie that you will never forget. Take the family, and enjoy.


Rated PG. 123 mins. (A+) (Five 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.


February 28, 2015


Above and Beyond
John Boorman Follows up His Masterpiece

Queen and CounrtyThere aren’t too many 81-year-old directors still making movies. There are even fewer of John Boorman’s magnitude contributing such nuanced delights as “Queen and Country.” As evidenced here, the director behind such cinematic gems as “Point Blank” (1967), “Deliverance” (1972), and “The General” (1998) still has something to offer contemporary audiences.

This sequel to Boorman’s career-defining autobiographical World War II era masterwork “Hope and Glory” (about his childhood growing up in bombed out London) is a nostalgic but frank retelling of his life during two years of conscripted service in the British Army after the war’s end. The genial yet irreverent tone that Boorman sustains throughout “Queen and Country” softens the freely expressed [frequently opposing] political and social views that swirl between the picture’s alternately familial and military base settings.

The romanticized narrative picks up where “Hope and Glory” left off. The year is 1952. John Boorman’s now-18-year-old alter ego Bill Rohan (played by the charismatic Callum Turner) hopes that his family’s isolated household on Pharaoh’s Island, River Thames, might prevent the Army from finding him. The family doesn’t even have a phone. His home’s remote location sits adjacent to the now-famous Shepperton film studios. Inspiration lurks. Bill witnesses motion pictures being made in his own backyard, or dockside river as it were. Throughout the film’s naturalistic dialogue, Boorman drops a stream of references to the films of his youth, such as Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” to provide a chorus of historic reference points to his early muses. If you’re a film lover, you can’t help but be charmed.

The likely lad gets a break when he avoids being shipped off to Korea after being assigned to train new recruits to type and read maps in the company of Percy Hapgood, his new best friend and fellow soldier. Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) is an inveterate prankster and womanizer who takes more umbrage than Bill at their constant abuse under Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis), a humorless stickler for the Army rulebook. Percy’s exaggerated desire to kill Bradley, or at least cause him to self-destruct, veers into extended flights from sanity. Stealing an illustrious Company clock to get Bradley’s goat escalates into much more than a dirty little prank.

Brilliant set piece sequences where Sgt. Major Bradley brings his snotty subordinates up for reprimand before Richard E. Grant’s alcohol-fueled Major Cross, create divine moments of hilarity. You can see the tremendous fun these two towering British actors share riffing off one another. You’ll wish every British movie featured Richard E. Grant and David Thewlis playing scenes together.

Percy may be more daring and experienced with women, but Bill is easily excited into bold action when the situation calls for it. A chance meeting between Bill and an elusive blonde (Tasmin Egerton), whom Bill dubs “Ophelia,” sets off a romantic journey. Sparks fly when Bill’s sister Dawn (Vanessa Kirby) exhibits more than average sibling affection for her brother during a family visit that Ophelia attends.

Queen and Country2Boorman doesn’t overstate the relationship, but it seems on face value that his sister was more than a little sweet on him in their youth. Boorman’s unfussy approach to his youthful past creates a warm sense of familiarity with the characters he presents, however quirky their motivations may be. It is a tidy slice-of-life movie about a bygone era of pomp and circumstance where boys could grow into idealistic men even if after being court-marshaled for “seducing a soldier from his duties,” as Bill is before his time in the Army is complete. Women don’t get as much latitude. Bill still harbors resentments toward his mother (Sinead Cusack) for an affair she had with a neighbor with whom she waves at from across the river every day. Bill, it seems, still has some growing up to do.

Not Rated. 105 mins. (B+) (Four 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.


Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos



Throwback Thursday

Podcast Series