12 posts categorized "Film"

September 04, 2017

TROPHY

Colesmithey.comRegardless of any preconceived ideas viewers will inevitably bring to this insightful look at the trophy hunting industry, you will come away from this well researched film with a more informed understanding of wild animal conservation.

The film opens with creationist hunter Philip Glass indoctrinating his young son in the act of killing deer with a high powered rifle from the safety of a stilted hunting shelter. After the deed is done, the gloating father rushes to take a photo of his son holding the horns of his prey. This necro-fetishism for posing with dead animals repeats over the course of the movie as the audience gets a glimpse into the warped minds of [ostensibly] wealthy [exclusively] white people fixated on filling their homes with taxidermy-preserved renditions of the animals they have killed with roughly the same amount of skill it takes to floss your teeth.

South African animal conservationist John Hume looms large in the film.

Trophy

With a goal of breeding 200 rhinos a year, Hume has invested $50 million of his now depleted resort fortune to create the world’s biggest rhino breeding farm, with a heard of more than 1,600 rhinos. Hume and his staff regularly remove the horns from their rhinos, a roughly 20-minute process that involves tranquilizing the animal before painlessly cutting the horn with an electric saw. The reasons for removing the horns, which grow back every two years, is twofold. Doing so, removes the threat of poachers killing the animals, and enables Hume to legally sell the highly prized horns to sustain his farm. Nonetheless, poaching of rhinos continues to occur at an alarming rate throughout South Africa where the world’s rhino population primarily exists. The threat of death from disease remains a significant issue for Hume.

Ecologist and author Craig Packer discusses the “shooters,” whose desire to kill without any reality of sport has increased the number of wild animals in Africa exponentially. The film addresses the backlash from the 2015 murder of “Cecil the Lion” by Minnesota dentist Walter palmer. The event set off a public outcry against trophy hunting-supported animal conservation that threatens to all but end the financing that makes it possible for hunting outfitters such as Christo Gomes to provide sanctuary safaris for endangered lions, tigers, giraffes, egoli gnus, and other species.   

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Naturally, mankind’s constant encroachment on wildlife regions due to human overpopulation presents an ever-increasing threat to animals of all species. What isn’t addressed in the film is why the rich faux hunters wouldn’t be willing to help finance wild animal preserves without the killing aspect of the equation. Taxidermy animals could be shipped to sponsors for their trophy rooms upon their natural death.    

Co-directed by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, “Trophy” is an important documentary toward opening up informed discussion about saving our wild animals amid encroaching cataclysmic crises of climate change and population explosion. It’s not a comfortable film, but you will come away much better informed for having watched it.

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

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May 20, 2017

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January 12, 2017

MARTIN SCORSESE'S SILENCE: THE VIDEO ESSAY

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


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September 18, 2016

WAR DOGS

Large_war_dogs_ver2War Dogs” belongs to the same category of tone-deaf comedy as “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Venomously despicable white thieves are celebrated for their blind lack of ethics and integrity because these characters are oh-so [hilariously] gangsta, except they’re neither amusing nor badass. They’re people for whom no well-deserved ass beating is enough because they’re so smug it makes you want to throw up. You can tell a lot from this film’s tagline, “Money, Corruption and the American Dream.” We already know that those are all the same thing.

But I digress. If you don’t know the 2007 era tale of David Packouz’s and Efraim Diveroli’s adventures in making millions from the U.S. military by selling illegal guns and ammunition, you should read Guy Lawson’s March 16, 2011 piece for Rolling Stone. This film is not an appropriate way to wrap your head around the depth of incompetence and greed at play in U.S. Military’s halls of power and the rogue’s gallery of shysters that feed on America’s endless wars.

Miles Teller plays David Packouz, the posited good-guy of a duo rounded out by Jonah Hill’s lying-and-stealing Efraim Diveroli. While Ellen Page has built her career on playing outsiders, Jonah Hill is carving out his thespian livelihood as an eternal frat boy with a taste for skank and cocaine. Lou Reed said there was a justice in this world. Perhaps.

War-dogs-movie

This film is inundated with Miles Teller doing such a carbon copy of Johan Hill’s speech patterns that the audience gets tripped up every time the disembodied voice-over narration comes on.

Directed and co-written by Todd Phillips (of “The Hangover” franchise fame) “War Dogs” is political satire lite. It’s a far cry from “Lord of War,” Andrew Niccol’s scathing 2005 satire about an arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage.

Packouz hates George Bush; Diveroli just pretends that he does too. Diveroli habitually mirrors his mark’s beliefs in order to swindle their money away, and oh what a filthy swindler he is. If anything, this is an anti-buddy movie. The narrative follows our dippy protagonist Packouz — he’s a masseur — as his former best friend from Yeshiva high school, returns to Miami to rope him into going into the arms business for a 70/30 split. Money flows but the biz is doomed from the beginning because neither of these guys understands the first thing about [illegal] arms dealing. Not that there is any other type of arms dealing than that of the illegitimate variety.

Bradley-cooper

Bradley Cooper turns in the laziest performance of his career as arms terrorist Henry Girard. Cooper appears in all of five scenes with a laughably phoned-in performance. Ana de Armas provides the eye-candy as Packouz’s Cuban wife Iz, but even her portrayal feels remarkably thin due to yet another by-committee script. Like Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” this film is tailor-made for Trump supporters. Regardless of how stupid, reckless, wrongheaded, and uninformed they might be, most of those people aren’t making the mistake of selling Chinese ammo to the Pentagon.

The reason for these schmucks getting caught is the only funny piece of a movie that makes you feel dirty for having seen it. Do the right thing. Skip “War Dogs, and see Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” instead. At least there you can feel equal parts bad and good.

Rated R. 114 mins. (D+) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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March 10, 2016

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

Whiskey-tango-foxtrot“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (a.k.a. WTF) is such a bizarre title for a movie that it seems unlikely audiences will flock to see Hollywood’s first good film of 2016. I’ve seen it twice for good reason. Tina Fey blows the doors off this baby. So does the ensemble. Martin Freeman (as war photographer Iain MacKelpie), Christopher Abbott (as Afghan fixer Fahim), and Billy Bob Thornton (as a Marine General) contribute mightily to the film’s artistic success. Sure it's American white lady propaganda. You know that going in.

It’s a telling coincidence that the real Kim Barker, upon whose book “The Taliban Shuffle” this film is based, once described herself as “a Tina-Fey type. The heavens were listening. Fey got wind of it and optioned the book before teaming up with co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa to take a running start at Robert Carlock’s seamless adaptation of Barker’s book.

If anything, the movie is paced too evenly. It's missing a dramatic centerpiece, but pushes through on the inertia if its wealth of well observed details. 

The movie squanders a potential key sequence that would show how Kim Barker handles herself alone. As fits the Hollywood formula a man, who represents her knight in shining armor, saves a drunken Kim from an unknown alley in the darkness of night. Can’t win ‘em all. This is a sign of how far Hollywood is willing to go in promoting an unapologetically feminist character; she needs a man to save her even if she manages to return the favor.

Episodic in form, and contained in mainly medium and close-up shots, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” blends America’s pointless Afghan war, comedy, intersecting political and cultural mores, with a thematically meaningful romantic thread. The nuanced tone of the movie is reflected in a military rescue mission that occurs at Dutch angles of blue and green lighting to the strains of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” The action is stylized to fit the genre, and the moment.

Whiskeytangofoxtrot

One of the film’s clearest themes states that gender doesn’t matter much; we all become products of our environment. In Kabul, “sex with strangers in restaurant bathrooms” comes with the territory for foreign journalists, and their bodyguards, regardless of whether they are men or women, much less pretty or average looking.

Once leaving her relatively sheltered life in the States, Kim Barker embraces her wartime environment in the “Ka-bubble” of Afghanistan. A watershed event occurs during her first embed outing. Her Humvee’s bulletproof windshield absorbs the first bullet fired by a group of angry Afghan warriors. Without missing a beat Kim jumps outside to videotape the action as she shadows an American marine like a monkey on his back. Her bravery (or professional rashness) earns her an “Oo Ra” from Billy Bob’s General Hollanek. Later, when Kim explains the reason that Marine-built wells keep being destroyed in a tiny village, we see a woman speaking truth to power in a way that has never before been shown in cinema. 

The disorienting storyline spans more than three years, during which time the fearless Baker becomes a battle-tested war journo looking for her next adrenaline fix. So much so that her Afghan fixer Fahim is compelled to read her the riot act over her irrational actions of late. Kim Barker hasn’t had much cultural sensitivity training.

Tina-Fey-Margot-Robbie

Kim gets a brief, and comical, introduction to Afghanistan from the first Western woman she meets, television reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (played by the impossibly lovely Australian Margot Robbie). Tanya hates to be “rude,” but just has to ask Kim for permission to have sex with Kim’s supposedly New Zealand-born bodyguard Nic. Kim gives her consent. She’s only thinking of her boyfriend back in New York. Still, Tanya encourages Kim to share in the practice of shagging your peers. When Kim demurs, Tanya blurts out the unthinkable, “Talk to me in two months when you pussy’s eating your leg.”

Normally I wouldn’t spoil a joke, but trust me; you’ll still laugh when you hear it. The irreverent zinger reflects the film’s precise use of coded ways that journalists, military officers, security forces, and afghan civilians and military communicate. When Alfred Molina's Afghan bureaucrat Ali Massoud Sadiq says he wants Kim to be his "special friend," we know what he means. 

Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot2

The movie explicitly addresses American media’s nonexistent coverage of the war in Afghanistan during a meeting between Kim and Geri Taub (Cherry Jones), the head of the network that funds her reporting. Geri blames it on the public’s lack of interest in the war rather than even pretend to have an editorial mind of her own. The economic signal is clear. War is money, but the media can’t sit at the big table to profit from it anymore.

“The Navy says Who Ya, the Marines say Oo Ra; don’t mix them up.”

Rated R. 112 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

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August 28, 2010

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March 09, 2010

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