November 26, 2017


LoganIf indoctrinating child audiences into accepting, and enjoying, brutal deadly violence was the intent of the filmmakers responsible for making “Logan,” then their mission is accomplished. Audiences not wanting to be party to such a disgusting cause will want to avoid this cinematic abomination like the plague.

How much senseless killing can an audience member be expected to endure, especially when it's committed by a child? You’ll be asking yourself that question when “Logan’s” third act slips into gear after a black family are brutally murdered in their plantation-posited home after they have the bad luck of receiving charity from Hugh Jackman’s Logan and Patrick Stewart’s Charles during a runaway horse episode on a local highway.


As superhero movies go, this one seems poised to put a final nail in their long overdue coffin. Where spectacle was once the genre of song-and-dance musicals, superhero movies have turned Hollywood into a profit-fueled anti-Cinema war zone. Profit does not equal quality, and in the case of superhero movies it doesn't equate as Cinema because their storylines are dumbed down to the point of being amoral. You never have to worry about being talked down to as an audience member in this arena of blood for blood's sake. This is pro-violence propaganda for the masses. 

In 2029, long suffering mutant Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) cares for his wheelchair bound mentor Professor X (a.k.a. Charles) in a fenced off compound somewhere near the Mexican border. Logan drives a limo to provide a meager financial backing for the ailing Charles, whose weird episodes can have far-reaching negative effects on the people and atmosphere around him when they strike. Things get especially strange when Logan takes over caring for a similarly hand-blade equipped child, the [seemingly mute] mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) who desperately wants/needs to be transported to the Canadian border where “Eden” awaits. The “Antichrist” reference seems apropos as there is far more graphic violence in this film than there is in Lars von Trier’s psychological thriller. Breaking character is etched in stone as a rule of dramaturgy to never cross, and yet it occurs in this movie like a fart that can't be held in. Screenwriting teachers take note. This is a sure-fire way to make your cinematic cake fall. 


Naturally our of trio limo-ensconced travelers are pursued by a militarized gang of soldiers overseen by an evil doctor (played by Richard E. Grant). Chase scene after redundant chase scene gives way to repetitive sequences of decapitating violence. Blood spews, characters yell in monstrous glee after bringing mutilation and death to their victims. There are more murders committed by a child (Laura) than in any film I can think of.

Logan speaks the film's theme when he says, You have to learn to live with hurting people. Kids aren't the only audiences this film seeks to indoctrinate into a sociopathic mindset. How anyone could think this is a responsible message to teach young people is beyond me. 


“Logan” is a film that will scar your psyche. I cannot in good conscious recommend that any peace-loving person expose yourself or your children to viewing “Logan.” There is nothing to be gained; it’s not entertaining, and it will leave you with memories you don’t need to have rolling around in your brain.  

Rated R. 137 mins. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

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November 24, 2017


I_tonyaCraig Gillespie, the Australian director behind the great magical realist film “Lars and the Real Girl” (from 2007) is destined to become a household name based on his work for this unforgettable film. “I, Tonya” is a beautifully crafted and executed brief biopic of Tonya Harding, an American figure skater made notorious by the same American media landscape that that gave rise to the presidential ascendancy of Donald Trump.

The film is as much a snapshot of American hypocrisies, and its ingrained ideology of cruelty, as it is a diligent portrayal of a gifted figure skater trapped by her impoverished social circumstances and abusive relations with the people closest to her — namely her mother and her husband.

With its convincing depictions of Margo Robbie [apparently] executing Harding’s signature triple axel in mind- blowing competition figure skating sequences, “I, Tonya” (written by screenwriter Steven Rogers) adopts a narrative style that flips between direct-to-camera confessionals and straight-ahead drama.

The subject matter is pitch dark but the film's tone frequently borders on slapstick. Robbie’s performance is an exercise in acting-chops virtuosity; she holds nothing back. Even when Robbie’s audacious portrayal turns her natural beauty into a monstrous visage, you can’t help but accept and respect Tonya Harding as a human being doing her best against impossible odds. An Oscar nomination most certainly looms for Robbie. 

I tonya

Intimidated, bullied, and ruthlessly punished by her self-promoting mother LaVona (brilliantly played by the ever-dependable Allison Janney), Tonya Harding is shown to have grown up indoctrinated by a white trash mentality synonymous with Donald Trump’s reckless approach to the world. Romantically following the first boy who pays her any attention brings a streak of bad luck when Tonya takes up with, and marries, Sebastian Stan’s Jeff Gillooly. Every bit as physically abusive as Tonya’s mother, Jeff Gillooly delivers love with his fists, and even with a gun, when he’s sufficiently frustrated. He doesn’t keep good company either, as evidenced by his best friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), a man clearly suffering from intellectual developmental disorder.

I  Tonya

This is not by any means a feel-good movie. Every beat of mental and physical anguish that Margot Robbie nails with her pitch-perfect portrayal of Tonya Harding, brings the audience to an intimate understanding of story misstated and mishandled by the media and by the judge who oversaw Harding’s case related to a brutal attack against fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan by Shane Stint (Ricky Russert).


Even this film’s supporting roles are perfectly cast. Julianne Nicholson is wonderful as Harding’s skating coach Diane Rawlinson. For his part Bobby Cannavale does a lot with a little as a “Hard Copy” tabloid producer whose bent for exploitation runs as deep as TMZ’s Harvey Levin.     

Rated  R. 119 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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November 19, 2017


Three_billboards_outside_ebbing_missouri_ver3The title “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” sounds like an oh-so-earnest independent movie based on [ostensibly] real life events that NPR would rally around as a true-to-life depiction of a small town community in the Midwest. It's a clever hook because it fits the deceptive tone of this hilarious satire so well.

And, indeed, that is exactly what NPR’s tone-deaf film critic Bob Mondello took away from this cleverly concealed pitch black comedy based on the age old thesis that “violence begets violence.” Of course, the movie is anything but a fact-based rendition of an actual location in America. Oh the beauty of a well-made allegory.

Well-crafted filmic satires, such as this one from writer/director Martin McDonagh, can sail over the heads of viewers such as Mondello, and still land heads-up every time because they subvert cinematic clichés and dyed-in-the-wool social mores.

Martin McDonagh’s 2008 debut feature “In Bruges” made a splash for its self-referential setting — not unlike “Three Billboards” — that the sharp witted filmmaker utilized to maximum dramatic, and humorous, effect. Since then, McDonagh has made only one other movie (the over-cooked “Seven Psychopaths”) before creating a satire so scathing and cynical that many audiences will take the film’s sucker-punches without even knowing where, why, or even that they’ve been hit.

Francis McDormand

A key element of McDonagh’s subversive success lies in the equal balance he gives to his characters. Each one is revealed in fully formed ways that allow the audience to feel connected to his or her personal perspective without being expected to judge them beyond their immediate actions. For all of its anger and violence, this movie is filled with love.

Frances McDormand’s Mildred is a single mother to a teenaged son (played by Lucas Hedges) and to Angela (Kathryn Newton), a similarly aged daughter who was “raped while dying” seven months prior to where our story begins. Understandably distraught over the local police department’s inability to track down her daughter’s killer, Mildred decides to rent out three dilapidated billboards that sit 100 yards from her front door, on a rural backroad that few people travel on anymore. A giant black font on a bright red background connects the three billboards in a unifying all-cap message of furious discontent. In close succession the billboards tell the story. “RAPED WHILE DYING” leads to “AND STILL NO ARRESTS” before attacking Woody Harrelson’s local police chief with, “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY.”

We, the audience, are effortlessly drawn to empathize with Mildred whose outrage seems utterly justified. Chief Willoughby’s personal visit with Mildred exposes his doomed fate with death due to a cancer that threatens to dismantle the search for Angela’s murderer even more. During the scene we get a taste of Mildred’s escalating bitterness. She doesn’t invite sheriff Willoughby inside her house. When the cop discloses his medical dilemma, Mildred callously responds that everyone is dying. Tuned-in audiences might begin to pull back from empathizing with Frances McDormand’s reliably unreliable protagonist.

After the town’s [anti-Mildred] dentist attempts to extract a tooth from Mildred without anesthetizing her first, Mildred wrangles away the drill and buries it deep into the doctor’s thumbnail. For as funny as the scene plays, the violence is disturbing, just as such a thing would be in real life.

Sam rockwell

Mildred’s mirror character is Sam Rockwell’s unhinged dumb-as-bricks police officer Dixon. Sam Rockwell’s keen performance is stunning for his unfettered ability to weave between slapstick and realism with deceptive grace. As the plot plays out, the filmmakers shore up the seeming opposites that unify Dixon and Mildred. In the end we are able to access the victims and the abusers for the harassment and violence they attract, and inflict, on themselves and those around them. This is not a true-to-life depiction of a small town community in America; it is an allegory of Western culture’s ideology of revenge that permeates everything we do in a society overrun with brutality and violence. Figuring out when to laugh or cry, and why, is what this unforgettable black comedy is all about. You'll do both. 

Rated R. 115 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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For LA GRANDE BOUFFE'S two-part 2018 Oscar series, LITTLE SUMPIN' SUMPIN' from Lagunitas Brewing gave Mike and Cole a little kick to hash out Martin McDonagh's Oscar nominated Black Comedy. Check back next Friday for our blistering discussion of that other Oscar-nominated flick LADY BIRD. Bon appetite.  

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Groupthink doesn't live here.

November 15, 2017


Killing_of_a_sacred_deerGreek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthamos is, in the words of Blondie’s Debbie Harry, “a case of partial extreme.” Since making his overwrought and under-executed feature debut “Dogtooth” (in 2009), Lanthamos has veered into the mainstream via A-list actors. If you saw his 2015 film “The Lobster” (starring Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Rachel Weisz) then you have an idea of what I mean by partial extreme. An unsatisfying movie with a good cast is nonetheless a disappointing experience.   

Lanthamos’s visually drab film’s all begin with a promising high-concept first act that crumbles into an unrecognizable pile of filmic detritus by the time the third act grinds into gear. They represent a cinematic hoax. His 2011 film “Alps” is his best effort, but that isn’t saying much. Lanthamos is a self-styled auteur who drafts artsy screenplays infected with magical realism that he attempts to pawn off as surrealist in nature. Needless to say, Lanthamos's grasp of surrealism is vague at best. 

Sacred deer

Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”), Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”), and Ulrich Seidl (“Import Export”) are clearly Lanthamos’s idols, but he doesn’t possess the intellectual or practical rigor of those established filmmakers. Lanthamos’s films don’t even begin to step into the superior realm of surrealist allegory laid down by the great Mexican-Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a glacial revenge fantasy involving Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a cardiothoracic surgeon with a wife (Anna — Nicole Kidman), his young son Bob (Sunny Suljic), and Kim (Raffey Cassidy), a pubescent daughter who all come under attack by Martin (Barry Keoghan), the teenage son of a man who died on Steven Murphy’s operating table a decade before. Steven is a recovered alcoholic who very will may have been drinking on the day he operated on Martin’s dad.


Martin is special. He has the ability to put a curse on Steven’s family that renders them unable to walk. Eventually the curse will cause them to bleed from the eyes before killing Martin’s entire family unless Martin murders one of them, hence the “sacred deer” of the film’s title. Clearly, we are in the genre land of a psychological thriller concealing a social satire (think Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!”).

Whatever allegorical connection Yorgos Lanthamos is attempting to make regarding King Agamemnon’s experiences after killing a deer owned by Artemis, the polemic presented in this film is too abstract and drawn out to flourish. If you’re going to spend two hours of misery in a darkened cinema there had better be a thematic reward. The only just desert that this film deserves is being ignored with a vengeance by audiences who know better than waste their time. Pay your respects to Von Trier, Haneke, and Seidl rather than to this third-rate hack.


Rated R. 121 mins. (D+) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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November 14, 2017


I_love_you_daddyLouis C.K.’s filmic send up of Woody Allen’s films, and [offhandedly] Allen’s reputation as a pedophile, would have been a bizarre act of public self-immolation even without the icon-shattering revelations about Louis C.K.’s sexual harassment of women that brought his legendary career to an abrupt halt.

Filmed in black-and-white (à la “Manhattan,” “Stardust Memories,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” etc.) “I Love You, Daddy” is every bit as exasperating as any Woody Allen film of the past 10 years because it isn’t funny. Visually, the movie looks just like a Woody Allen film. Even the segues are done in Woody Allen’s faux nostalgic style with similarly pitched musical cues. You can also see the similarity of this film's poster to that of Allen's one-sheet for "Manhattan."  


If his father figure character in this movie is a tell, then Louis C.K. lost his comic mojo sometime after his enormously successful 2016 stand-up tour. Evidently, Louis C.K. had said and done what he came into the business to accomplish, and was ready to be sent to the gallows for his sins.

As this film’s story goes, Glen Topher (Louis C.K.) is a filthy rich comedy television show writer and producer whose heart isn’t in his work anymore. Glen lets the little guy in his pants call the shots when he fires an actress scheduled to play the lead in his upcoming series, in favor of a [fetish alert] pregnant one (played by Rose Byrne). Glen’s midlife crisis is made all the more acute by his spoiled brat daughter China’s pending transition into adult hood. Having just returned from Spring Break, China (Chloë Grace Moretz) bullies daddy into flying her back to Florida to extend her vacation. It’s not that China isn’t already on a permanent vacation on the eve of her 18th birthday; she’s taking a gap year. China’s rudderless lifestyle makes her easy prey for John Malkovich’s author character Leslie Goodwin, a man famous for chasing underage girls.

Edie falco

One especially frustrating aspect of the film is how good the actors are against C.K.’s awful script. Edie Falco, Chloë Grace Moretz, John Malkovich, Pamela Adlon, Rose Byrne, and Charlie Day all bring their A-game to movie that refuses to submit to their talents. I found one laugh-out-loud comic bit that went so far over the top (courtesy of a ribald Charlie Day) that there isn’t anything else do to but guffaw at his character’s full-course imitation of masturbation.

“I Love You Daddy” will go down in history as an ugly reminder of men in power who abuse and harass those [especially women] who come into their sphere of influence. There isn't anything funny about that. 

Rated R. 123 mins. (D) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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October 31, 2017


SuburbiconThe ongoing dumbing down of film criticism and cinematic taste rears its ugly head a lot these days, especially when it comes to that rarest of film genres, satire. Just as critical forces attempted to shame Darren Aronofsky’s excellent social satire (posing as a psychological thriller) “mother!” out of theaters, the same ones are denying that the George Clooney-Grant Heslov-Coen Brothers collaboration “Suburbicon” is anything other than a black comedy gem. How long will it be before these films receive their proper place in the Criterion Collection? Not long.

It’s telling that these sharply allegorical films are getting the shaft in an America that has descended into an uncivil war of culture under Donald Trump’s idiotic leadership. By their very nature, satires demand more from their audience than your typical dramas or superhero movies. Deeply seeded questions about which characters you can empathize with, and why, provoke intellectually demanding responses. Satires contextualize widespread social norms and political behavior into stylized frameworks that allow us to inspect ulterior motivations under a specialized cinematic magnifying glass. Satire is a genre to which Cinema is ideally suited, but the form is being marginalized as never before.

The title says a lot. “Suburbicon” references the McCarthy era American Dream where diversity meant white people infiltrating formerly rural areas in bland suburban sprawls of brainwashed conformity where right-wing racists could live in safe little echo chambers of their own. A lot people are being conned, and everyone with a modicum of power is in on the con. This is one prickly con game to which billions of people have been exposed. Such capitalist (read racist) ambition is fueled by a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, just so long as the Joneses aren’t black people.  

So it is that “Suburbicon” presents a not so mythic 1959 version of homogeneity where white folk have come from as far as “Mississippi” to escape black people who they consider a burden on the society that blacks were enslaved into building. The irony is built in. When a black family named Meyers (yes, they could even be Jewish) moves in to the white bread housing project, white residents rally together in protest by gathering in front of the Meyers home to sing “We Shall Overcome,” oblivious that they’re singing a gospel song that became a protest anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Co-opting the tools of the victim is standard operating procedure.

For those born in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, there are plenty of canny references about how America’s patriarchy spoon-feeds society justice for the entitled, greedy white rich men who still run the show. The local (clearly racist) police chief is on the lookout for Jews, regardless of how non-Jewish anyone’s name might be.

The film presents a brief allegory of post-World War II racist ideologies that have persisted as a hydra of economically-driven hatred so perverse that rational minds retreat on contact.   

Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) lives with his disabled wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their 10-year-old son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Rose lost her ability to walk in a car accident where Gardner was driving. Rose still holds a grudge. Perhaps Gardner isn’t the stand-up guy he presents with pokerfaced sincerity. Rose’s identical twin sister Maggie (also played by Moore) is a constant fixture at the family’s 99% all white housing development home. Trouble ignites when Gardner awakens Nicky and brings the boy into the living room to witness a couple of mob thugs robbing the home and chloroforming the family. Bigger problems are just beginning.

Smuggled into the narrative is a dark coming-of-age story that speaks directly to the potentially abusive relationship of racist parents and their unsuspecting children. The film’s secret weapon is Nicky’s point-of-view as the film’s surprise protagonist.      

A mob debt and a life insurance scam are pieces in a narrative puzzle where white men set society’s ground rules with instructive hints about their prejudices and greed. When a [white] grocery store manager demands $20 per item (regardless of their actual price) from Mrs. Meyers, the harasser’s message is clear; you can’t shop here if you’re black. The indoctrination of American children via such jealously guarded entitlement equals fraud.

The cracks in America’s longstanding patriarchal methods of intimidation and theft of life and dignity are igniting a volcanic reaction. The Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps of the world are being dumped into the trash bin of history. Their fall from a long-held stranglehold of power can’t can’t come soon enough. The poison is in their sandwich now.     


Rated R. 104 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves) 

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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)

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