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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August 29, 2017

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD

Colesmithey4.com“84 Charing Cross Road” is about bonds of friendship formed and maintained by a by a mutual love of literature or, more to the point, books. Anne Bancroft’s earthy portrayal of real-life playwright and script-reader Helene Hanff (pronounced hell-ane han-f) is so effortless and effervescent that it’s enough to turn a generation of young women into chain-smoking, gin-swigging writers, if not full-fledged admirers of beautifully bound editions by the likes of Jane Austin, George Orwell, Chaucer, or Plato.

Helene Hanff was famous for saying that she never read fiction because she could “never get interested in things that didn’t happen to people who never lived.”

Personally, I know exactly where Hanff was coming from, and I concur. So it is that the nature of this film, directed by David Jones, calmly emphasizes the immediate surroundings and social conditions of its characters from the late ‘40s to the late ‘60s. Love of poetry and the written word is intrinsic in the fabric of the narrative. Nothing is strained, even when characters break the forth wall after earning sufficient trust from its audience. We are glad to be spoken to directly. It’s a loving gesture that arrives as a reward.  

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Helene Hanff lives in a weathered brownstone apartment on 95th street off Central Park in Manhattan’s Carnegie Hill. She frequents an actual bookstore at 1313 Madison that is still in business at the time of this writing. Unable to locally acquire the specific titles that her ever-hungry literary appetite requires, she responds to an ad for Marks & Co., a London-based antiquarian booksellers overseen by Anthony Hopkins’s Frank P. Doel. What follows is a 20-year relationship of loving commerce elucidated by letters written back and forth across the pond.

Oh what a difference casting makes. There can be little doubt that the separate but resonate chemistry between Bancroft and Hopkins rings as a clarion bell of mesmerizing harmony. Through their constant correspondence we savor Hanff’s lean sense of nearly ribald humor as it rubs on the dry paint of Frank Doel’s heartfelt sense of honest propriety. It should be noted that Judi Dench’s restrained performance as Doel’s loyal but tightly-wound Irish wife Nora adds a layer of stoic resolve to the couple’s marriage.

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The primary action of the story revolves around Hanff’s written requests for specific books that she augments with gifts of food stuffs meant for the appreciative staff of Marks & Co., located at the address of the film’s title. Hanff always sends cash.  

So it is that the seemingly pedestrian story catches the viewer off guard when the cumulative emotional effect takes its inevitable toll in a tear-jerking sequence of satisfying catharsis. “84 Charing Cross Road” is a valuable film for all of the right reasons of theatrical balance and narrative truth. It is a movie that hits you like a live play. I can think of no higher compliment for the source material of soul-bearing experience.  

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Rated PG. 100 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

August 23, 2017

THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET

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Created during America’s ham-fisted effort at producing propaganda films during the early 1940s era of World War II, “The House On 92nd Street” stands as a noxious example of patriotic pap disguised as faux docu film noir. For all of the film’s publicity about it featuring actual FBI footage, the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to use the film’s promised 92nd street location; the building featured was located on 93rd street just east of Madison Avenue in Manhattan’s Carnegie Hill district.

The picture was made following the same period that Luis Buñuel was hired to edit U.S. propaganda films for the Museum of Modern Art from 1940 to 1942 before Government agents got a hold of Salvador Dali’s 1942 autobiography that named Buñuel as an atheist and a Marxist. The powers in charge had misunderstood Buñuel’s political persuasion when he replied that he was a “Republican,” meaning that he sided against General Franco’s fascist regime which was responsible for the deaths of more than one million civilians during the Spanish Civil War. Therein lies a clue about where American political leanings bent. Dali's revelation caused Buñuel to be fired from his post at MoMA.

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Hokey as a three-dollar-bill, “The House On 92nd Street” layers on heavy-handed voice-over narration by newsreel standard bearer Reed Hadley about the oh-so-reliable FBI’s ability to defeat foreign (namely Nazi) spy operations attempting to take seed on U.S. soil. J. Edgar Hoover’s name gets dropped a lot. Bombastic music underscores a pre-roll that credits all but the “leading players” as F.B.I. personnel. “Actual F.B.I. surveillance films” show men carrying trunks into the German embassy in Washington D.C. Director Henry Hathaway professedly shot the footage himself, guerilla-style. Nevermind that the pulp story by Charles G. Booth takes place in Manhattan. Fifteen minutes of such preamble is necessary before William Eythe’s double agent Bill Dietrich is ordered into action to investigate shenanigans at Elsa’s Dress shop at 53 E 92nd street. Signe Hasso plays Elsa Gebhardt as a villain with avarice dripping from her every movement and word.

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Although loosely based on the F.B.I.’s Duquesne espionage ring which captured more than two dozen spies and traitors, “The House On 92nd Street, is most memorable for Elsa’s last minute transition into male form with the aid of a man’s suit, hat, and a handsome pair of two-tone high-button shoes. I wonder if the film’s producer Louis de Rochemont (of “March of Time” newsreel fame) would have given the film’s leading part to William Eythe if he knew that Eythe was a closeted gay actor. Considering that J. Edgar Hoover exerted his considerable will over the picture, perhaps all is as was intended. Either way, “The House On 92nd Street” is a laughable piece of American propaganda for all of the reasons you’d expect. The U.S. political machine has never understood how to under-promise and over-deliver. Rather the reverse is always proven to be true. With cartoon villains and overconfident heroes like these around, no one is safe.

House on 92

Not Rated. 88 mins. (C-) (One star — out of five / no halves)

July 31, 2017

AMERICAN PSYCHO — CLASSIC FILM PICK

American_psycho“American Psycho” (made at the turn of the 21st century) is a significant connecting link between the ruthless culture of corporate greed revealed in Oliver Stone’s seminal film “Wall Street” and the ascendency of Donald Trump to the throne of United States President. It’s notable that Stone was temporarily slated to direct “American Psycho,” with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to play the lead, before Mary Harron won the gig with her more perfect casting choice of Christian Bale as the soulless Wall Street narcissist Patrick Bateman. Coincidentally, “American Psycho” is set in 1987, the same year that “Wall Street” was released on elite American males all to ready to mistake the film’s satire for economic and political doctrine.

With his perfect swimmer’s bod, Patrick Bateman masks his crippling inferiority complex with money and all of its commercially induced trappings. Patrick is a misogynist bully leaked from Donald Trump’s putrid mold.

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Something as simple as looking at the (superior) business card designs of his three-piece-suit-wearing Wall Street pals sends our obsessively groomed metrosexual Trump-admirer into a mental breakdown that makes up the meat of the movie. Patrick’s affinity for inane pop music allows Harron to ingeniously show the character’s fractured relationship with society and with his own identity. Before attacking his [perceived] biggest rival Paul Allen (Jared Leto) with an axe, Patrick allows himself some editorial commentary in the form of a running dialogue with himself that could just as well be memorized lines from an unnamed music critic’s review.  

American Psycho

“He’s been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Distorting reality is the name of the game. “Facts do not matter. Facts do not exist. Reality is a liar, and information is your enemy.” That quote, taken from a Zach Schonfeld piece for Newsweek about how Donald Trump distorts reality, exquisitely pinpoints the mindset of “American Psycho’s” anti-hero Patrick Bateman (Bale).

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More than anything, entitled Patrick wants to “fit in,” namely by inflicting his inflated sense of status on all people he comes in contact with. “His father practically owns the company” he works for. Bateman’s name is an obvious nod to Norman Bates of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Like Norman Bates, Patrick Bateman suffers from a dissociative identity disorder. At times he introduces himself as Pat, or as his perceived rival Paul Allen when opportunity serves him. He gets mistaken for his similarly blank-personality Wall Street associates.

Our reliably unreliable narrator/anti-hero isn’t a human being, he is a product, a false and invisible product of all that is wrong with America.

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Bale’s disconnected persona keeps a running inner dialogue of political correctness that enables him to speak up for defending Jews when a colleague makes an anti-Semitic remark. But deep down Patrick wants to humiliate, mutilate, and kill minorities and women in the most brutal ways imaginable.

Harron weaves feminist commentary through two female victims of Bateman’s deep seeded self-hatred. His secretary Jean (Chloë Sevigny) and Christie (Cara Seymour), a street-walker prostitute, serve as opposite sides of the same oppressed female coin. The two women also represent the film’s true protagonists, allowing the audience to empathize in a narrative landscape seemingly devoid of compassion.

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Co-screenwriter/director Harron composes the film with Hitchcock-inspired compositions to charge the script’s paper-dry wit with a palpable combination of pulsing suspense and pitch black comedy. Like all great films, “American Psycho” is one you can discover something new in regardless of how many times you’ve seen it.

Rated R. 102 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

Mike picked up INDUSTRIAL ARTS POWER TOOLS IPA for our discussion of Mary Harron's unforgettable adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis's AMERICAN PSYCHO. Pull a chair up to the banquet table and join us for one hell of a feast for one hell of a movie!

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July 28, 2017

DUNKIRK

Rated PG-13. 106 mins. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

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July 17, 2017

THE LITTLE HOURS

Colesmithey.comIf you’re the kind of person who likes to nap through summer movies in the air conditioned comfort of your neighborhood cinema then “The Little Hours” presents an ideal opportunity for a 90 minute nap. As comically flat as a glass top table, writer/director Jeff Baena’s would-be comic take on Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” is nothing but a snooze from start to finish.

This filmmaker wouldn’t know slapstick from satire. Baena sets a mordant tempo for inert comic set pieces that never come together to form a coherent storyline. Talk about someone in need of binging on Mel Brooks and Sacha Baron Cohen movies for a year or two, Jeff Baena requires some serious immersion in humor because he hasn’t got a single funny bone in his body. There isn't an inch of comic depth to be found. Even scenes that have obvious opportunities for layers of comic suspense and multiple pay-offs get a one-note treatment. It's as if there wasn't a director on the set.

The narrative setup of a bunch of horny bitchy nuns living in a medieval convent might sound like great comic fodder but you come away from “The Little Hours” scratching your head as to why anyone in their right mind thinks Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, or Kate Micucci has any gift for making people laugh.

Of course, if Baena had really wanted to liven up the humor factor of this snooze-fest he could have picked up the phone and called, wait for it, yes, the one and only Amy Sedaris. I can never understand why Amy Sedaris isn't in every comedy made since 1990. Sedaris is the funny sauce to any filmic Hamburger Helper. But I digress. Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris! I feel better now. 

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Dave Franco fares little better as Masseto, a servant whose cuckolding services send him on the run and into the clutches of a nunnery where he must pretend to be deaf and dumb if he is to survive dominatrix-inclined nuns such as Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza). Fernanda is into verbal humiliation, knife play, and witch rituals involving male sacrifice. Plaza's twisted character comes across as too sincerely mean to laugh at. Too bad Fernanda forgot to wear a strap-on under her habit; that could have been funny.

This R-rated lame duck doesn’t begin to go far enough in its ostensible bawdiness. For that divine pleasure you’ll have to revisit Pier Paolo Pasolini’s far superior 1971 adaptation (properly entitled “The Decameron”). Talk about bringing "Kool-Aid" to the grown-ups party; there isn't even one comic gross-out bit in the whole movie. Remember "There's Something About Mary"? Now, there was one guffaw-inducing comedy.

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I chuckled once during “The Little Hours” in a cinema occupied by one other person. If only I could have let myself fall asleep like I wanted to.

Rated R. 90 mins. (D-) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

July 15, 2017

ENDLESS POETRY

ENDLESS POETRYThe second installment in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s promised five picture cycle of filmic memoirs harmonizes with the theatrically heightened tone and style of “The Dance of Reality” (2013). This succession of films marks Jodorowsky’s return to filmmaking after a 23 year hiatus after his 1990 film “The Rainbow Thief,” a film he disowned due to conflicts with the film's British producers. 

“Endless Poetry” continues the narrative line of “The Dance of Reality.” A pubescent Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) is growing up with his parents in Santiago, Chile. While the mother Sara (Pamela Flores) operatically sings all her lines, Alejandro’s brutish father Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky) accuses his poetry-obsessed son of being gay when he discovers him reading aloud from Federico García Lorca’s poem “For the Love of Green.” You'd be hard pressed to find a more lovely poem. The die is cast that Alejandro must escape the clutches of his parents if he is to follow his dream of becoming a poet.

The casting seamlessly shifts to a twenty-something Alejandro (played by Jodorowsky’s younger son Adan) fearlessly taking a running start at his chosen profession of words by following his red-wigged muse Stella Diaz (also played by Pamela Flores in dual roles). Stella insists on holding Alejandro’s crotch whenever they go out in public, but not allowing “penetrative sex” because she is awaiting an unknown mystic to descend from a mountain to part with her dubious virginity. Rejection and suffering are to be celebrated.

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The episodic narrative tears a page from John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” when Alejandro and his latest poet friend go on an adventure walking across town in a straight line that takes them through people’s homes. The effect is an operatic trail of personal growth informed by visits from Jodorowsky himself where he advises his younger incarnations about the big picture of life. “I’ve sold my devil to the soul.”

"Life does not have meaning, you have to live it!”

Such is the pragmatic nature of Jodorowsky's nurturing, if poetically expressed, ideologies. Pedantic perhaps, but filled with undeniable passion. 

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Alejandro Jodorowsky is the most euphoric filmmaker of our time. His transgressive artistic sensibilities form a focal point of pure artistic intentionality that the viewer can either accept or reject, embrace or shed. Either decision will lead the viewer to a personal place of artistically directed balance. You don’t get that from watching the latest “Spider-Man” movie.

Endless Poetry

Not Rated. 128 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

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