December 02, 2016

JACKIE

Jackie-Gross political exploitation is not a label I apply lightly, but it fits for this terribly disappointing film. The term applies to a picture that, however well meaning the intents of its producers (including Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker I deeply respect and admire), misses its mark by a mile rather than by degree.

I hadn’t yet written this review when I spoke candidly with Mr. Aronofsky about what I view as an ill-conceived movie further hobbled by an inarticulate script (by newbie screenwriter Noah Oppenheim), ineptly executed by miscast actors.

It might not be his fault, but Peter Sarsgaard’s abysmal portrayal of Bobby Kennedy (complete with an utter disregard for Bobby’s unmistakable accent), breaks this pseudo brief biopic hopelessly in half.

Peter Sarsgaard

Oppenheim leaves no hackneyed screenwriting trope behind. Billy Crudup plays “The Journalist” (that's right, Oppenheim couldn't be troubled to give this character a name) tasked with interviewing Jackie Kennedy shortly after that fateful day in Dallas when America lost all veneer of innocence that the country’s collective subconscious imaged it possessed in the post McCarthy era.

Composer Mika Levi’s sad-trombone score sets an obnoxiously self-aware and saccharine atmosphere of melancholy for this film’s tone. Talk about simultaneously dull and heavy-handed; you'll be rolling your eyes and sighing a lot. 

In the days following JFK's assassination Jackie and the writer sit on the spacious back porch of her lakeside mansion in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Crudup’s character, like that of the priest (played by William Hurt) is but a cardboard narrative place-keeper.

Our uncomfortable reporter is here to enable Jackie’s immediate recollections of the horrific experience of having her husband’s brains blown out as she sat beside him in the back of a limo passing through Daly Plaza.

Jackie3

Cut to Jackie rehearsing with her acting coach for the famous 1961 CBS television tour of the White House that gave the American public a stiff if ostensibly personal look at Jackie Kennedy’s efforts to beautify the White House in her own style. If the film weren’t already sinking, this overwrought sequence of imitation throws the anchor that will pull it toward the ocean’s bottom.

Jackie tells the reporter that she “loved that house and wanted to share it with the American people.” How is it that mere hours after her husband’s death, she is fixated on physical possessions in a place that she will soon be denied from entering? This burning question hovers over the film, and paints Jackie Kennedy as a petty woman consumed more with grief over her loss of a fantasy lifestyle she calls “Camelot,” than over the hope for her country’s future that John Fitzgerald Kennedy promised to the American people, and to the world.

Jackie2

Aside from director Pablo Larrain’s gratuitous insistence on repeatedly showing gory details of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, because “that’s what really happened,” the filmmaker punishes the audience with shrill scenes of Jackie dressing down Bobby Kennedy as if she hated her husband’s brother. Peter Sarsgaard’s already unlikable, and unrecognizable, portrayal of the charismatic Bobby Kennedy and Natalie Portman’s bitchy portrayal of Jackie turn the movie into a weird hate-fest.

One of the first things I told Darren Aronofsky was that, “if my last name were Kennedy, I would be livid” over this film. He did say that older generation audiences had posited similar complaints. I didn’t say what an injustice I thought the film did to Jackie Kennedy, but I should have. He assured me that the members of the Kennedy family who had seen the film were not insulted as I was. I said I was relieved to hear such a response. 

However, that still doesn’t change my opinion that this film misrepresents every character it displays against a backdrop of misappropriated artistic license that leverages gore and infighting to make its muddy points.

I only lived through the last four months of John F. Kennedy’s administration, but I have always considered that period as the most fortunate of my life. There is no aspect of this film that I find recognizable to the Kennedy administration, or to Jackie Kennedy. I deeply regret having watched it.

Rated R. 99 mins. (D) (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.

PATREON BUTTON

November 23, 2016

LA CEREMONIE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

LaCeremonieMoviePosterThe revolution comes from the inside in Claude Chabrol’s exquisite adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s 1977 leftist novel “A Judgement In Stone.”

Not since Luis Bunuel has any filmmaker come so daringly close to enunciating the ideological, ethical, and soulful rift between the bourgeoisie and the rest of us as Chabrol does in this fascinating, if darkly sensuous, picture. Lesbian fires ignite between two would-be murderess[s].

Rituals such as family dinners or private parties allow for characters to interact, impregnate, and divide. As with Bunuel’s films, food plays a significant part in these daily rites.

The story unfolds in the northwest coast of France where art gallery director Catherine Lelievres (Jacqueline Bisset) lives in French countryside splendor with her recent (opera-obsessed) husband Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and his two teenage children (Melinda and Gilles) from a previous marriage.

Catherine hires Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) as her latest live-in maid to keep her lavish home tidy and cook the family meals. 

Sophie keeps secrets close to her chest. Her illiteracy means that she can't order the weekly groceries because she can't read the list. Help arrives in the magnetic tomboy form of Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), a local postal clerk with a murderous past. Jeanne knows that Sophie was accused of murdering her handicapped dad but was let go due to a lack of proof. Threat of prison is a mutual experience since Jeanne was accused of killing her four-year-old daughter, but was found innocent. 

La Ceremonie

21st century audiences may be surprised to learn that there was such a thing as a “boy-bun” long before there was a “man-bun” as evidenced by Catherine’s adopted son Gilles (Valentin Merlet).

Addressing Gilles's freshly budding smoking habit, Catherine tells her adopted son, “It’s easier not to start than it is to quit.” Naturally, she offers him a cigarette later on when it suits her. She decrees that Gilles can only smoke in her presence. Careful social coding comes through in every sequence involving the family. Their limited (stereotype) attitudes clash against the intimate (female outlaw) romantic reality that Bonnaire and Huppert share. Their mutual attraction is real. 

Claude Chabrol deftly uses television as an implement of reality displacement that Sophie learns to use to deny demands that are placed on her, such as when Georges calls requesting that she retrieve a file from his desk. She becomes a robot to the TV in same way that audiences all over the world are. 

“La Ceremonie” is a film that is ahead of its time, just as much as it is of its time. Isabelle Huppert’s determined (read lesbian leftist activist) character speaks the film’s theme lines with sinewy authority.

Regarding Sophie’s discovery of Melinda’s (Virginie Ledoyen) pregnancy, Jeanne says, “It’s no problem for them [the Lelievres), anyway. Keep it or get rid of it, no problem.”

La Caremonie2

Indeed, Jeanne’s brief summation of Melinda’s dilemma coincides with the teenaged girl's blasé attitude in the face of her next day's scheduled abortion. Charming Melinda sits happily on the sofa with her snobby family watching a VHS-recorded opera. Virginie Ledoyen is the embodiment of privileged nubility. Incredible, and contemptible.  

Regardless of how much elites (in any country) attempt to buffer themselves from the lower classes, they must always remain at the workers' mercy in the form of service industry jobs. Poison comes in many forms.

Chabrol’s dream-team cast comes together in a once-in-a-lifetime event. I could wax poetic about Jean-Pierre Cassel, who delivers such a wonderfully bland rendition of veiled white supremacist viewpoints that you could blink and miss it. Jacqueline Bisset reaches microcosmic degrees of restrained emotion like you can’t believe.

Don’t get me started on cinematographer Bernard Zitzermann’s dynamic formalism that works like guitar in a jazz trio, playing against Monique Fardoulis’s snappy editing. This film is a flawless example of French Cinema. Look. There it is.

La Ceremonie3

Not Rated. 112 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.

PATREON BUTTON

October 29, 2016

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

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. 

Manchester_by_the_sea_casey_affleck_lucas_hedges

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)

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

PATREON BUTTON

SNOWDEN

SnowdenOliver Stone achieves his obvious, if straightforward, motivations at telling Edward Snowden’s journey from Coast Guard brat to grand scale whistleblower.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fulfills his thorough portrayal of Edward Snowden with an easy meticulousness that is comforting in its confidence. This is Oscar-worthy stuff. Shailene Woodley gives a serviceable performance as Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, even if the chemistry isn’t what could have been with a better cast actress.

Stone takes dramatic liberties to fill the screen with richly stylized sets, such as the artistically lit NSA location where Snowden smuggles out a boatload of classified information. We take these artificial environments on their own merits as places where inorganic computers [run by robot-like men] dissect every second of every person’s life on the planet, from cradle to the grave. Anyone looking for a 100% factual depiction of Edward Snowden’s complex journey is playing a mug’s game. Glossy though this rendition of Snowden's ongoing path to justice is, this movie runs like a Swiss watch

There is no question that Edward Snowden exhibited a rare brand of bravery that deserves a good dose of character study at the movies. “Snowden” manages to be as entertaining and informative as you would expect from the filmmaker responsible for “Salvador,” “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” and “JFK.”

Snowden-le-film

“Snowden” fits into to fact-based political thrillers like “All the President’s Men.” What makes it different is that this is the story of one man, a computer genius with a deeply rooted sense of integrity and responsibility. This is a personal story about one man, whose brave disclosures effect all of humanity. The unspoken hook of the film is why the NSA hasn’t been shut down since Snowden’s leaked documents prove this unconstitutional surveillance of our global citizenry is going on.

I have no idea if this film will change anyone’s mind about whether Edward Snowden is the greatest patriot of the 21st century. That isn’t the goal of this movie.

Snowden2

Rated R. 134 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.

PATREON BUTTON

SULLY

Sully-poster-2For a near-disaster movie about a pilot who famously kept his commercial jetliner (with “155 souls on board”) above water, Clint Eastwood’s fact-based procedural feels like it was filmed underwater. This film’s dirge-like tempo and similarly muted emotional range of every single character puts a deadening filter between the story and this film’s audience.

It’s more like watching a funeral, than witnessing one of the most spectacular lifesaving events in recent memory. Perhaps most troubling is Eastwood’s (possibly subconscious) inclination toward celebrating white people for the sake of their whiteness. If historic Caucasian pap is your thing, then this movie is for you. You can count the number of people with brown skin in this film on one hand. More to that point, the film’s dramatic arc crescendos on Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) agreeing that they “did their job.” If you’re looking for a low thematic bar to hurdle, we’ve go a ringer here.      

Sully

Tom Hanks plays Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the stoic pilot who crash-landed his US Airways plane on Manhattan's Hudson River after a bird strike took out both engines. Hanks’s performance might be true the human model he represents but we don’t get much, if any insight, into what makes Sully tick. He’s an underpaid career pilot whose vast experience, flying many thousands of hours, allowed him to make critical decisions in split seconds that saved the lives of everyone aboard his plane. We already knew that. This film doesn’t explain much that most of our collective American conscious doesn’t already know, other than how flight simulators work.

Sully-movie

“Sully” comes across as an exhausted victory lap for Clint Eastwood. Give the guy his due. That still doesn’t mean that he hasn’t made a disappointing movie.

Rated PG-13. 96 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.

PATREON BUTTON

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)

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

PATREON BUTTON

September 17, 2016

BRIDGET JONES'S BABY

Bridget-Joness-BabyYou know you’re in trouble when momentary flashbacks from previous films in a franchise make you wish you were watching one of them instead of the dreary cinematic rendering before your eyes.

It’s debatable which one’s holding up better — Colin Firth or his nine-years junior co-star Renee Zellweger, but watching Patrick Dempsey break character as a passive-aggressive third wheel is enough to turn your stomach. If you didn’t figure it out; Bridget won’t know which one is the dad until the baby is born and a DNA test can be done. Oh the problems of the upper class.

Bridget is none too saddened by the recent death of her former boytoy Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), whose plane “went down in the bush.” She might be lonely, but Bridget’s female co-workers are busy with gangbangs and threesomes at handy dandy London sex clubs. Never mind, this movie doesn’t dare go there. Committee screenwriters Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer, and Emma Thompson would rather take their target audience of white-ladies-who-lunch on a foray into an imaginary music festival land of weekend glamping in yurts. Naturally, Bridget wears an all white outfit with six-inch spike heels. If you are male, and have made it this far in this review, you’re work here is done.

Bridget-jones-baby

If, on the other hand you are a non-white female you will have your work cut out for you to not run for the restroom to vomit at the disgusting patronizing yet condescending tack this film takes in making romance seem like a dump you take after being constipated for five days.

Director Sharon Maguire (helmer on the franchise debut “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) — at least they got the punctuation right — spares no excuse to crank up the most obvious and outdated musical cues in the history of modern-day Hollywood. Sitting on the couch alone: cue “All By Myself.” Having a pity party for one: play “Jump Around.” What would a party scene be without “Gangnam Style”? And the musical atrocities go on, and on, and on, and on, and on. Don’t believe me? Well, there’s “Fuck You” (by Lily Allen) during a fit of pique. And what cheesy rom-com would be complete without “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” paired with “Up Where We Belong.” Talk about on-the-nose telegraphing, it’s like a nervous tic.

Screen Shot 2016-09-17 at 11.21.04 AM

And, why a baby? With a movie as stillborn as this one, there’s no point in trying to pretend humor. There is not one joke, pratfall, or line of dialogue that will induce even a brief smile. If you’re 60, white, and female, you’ll chuckle for no good reason, but you already do that anyway. I’m sure the screenwriters laughed plenty at their own not-funny jokes. For the rest of us, there is no boredom less compelling than sitting through this irredeemable piece of cinematic trash.

Rated R. 122 mins. (D) (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.

PATREON BUTTON

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Video

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series