54 posts categorized "Film Festivals"

June 17, 2020

THE TIME ROGER EBERT PICKED A FIGHT WITH ME

EbertI was once a huge fan of Roger Ebert, and harbored a world of respect for a man who was writing great film criticism before many of today's critics were in diapers. So I was not thrilled when Ebert called my capsule review of "Goodbye Solo" a "pathetic review" after an anonymous commenter on Ebert's site "Roger Ebert's Journal" took my review to task for "spoiling" the film's otherwise 100% rating on Rottentomatoes. Naturally, I took it on the chin at the time, but what the fuck?

I believe the word "anal" best describes this unknown commentator's obsession with the Rottentomatoes thermometer. Don't get me started on the whole "Toy Story 3" thing. Once again, Rottentomatoes serves as an expediter of groupthink.

AoscottA.O. Scott posing as a film critic.

My dissatisfaction with "Goodbye Solo" was piqued by the notoriously navel-gazing corporate film critic A.O. Scott (New York Times) whose praising review of the film mistakenly designated it as a "neo-neo-realist" film. What an amateur. I was disgusted. This is what passes for corporate film criticism. Vomiting all of the time now.

Regarding what constitutes a great neo-neo-realist film, I would invite interested viewers to watch Mike Leigh's triumph of the genre with his 1996 film "Secrets & Lies." I think you'll agree that it is a much better film than "Goodbye Solo" — which, by the way does not meet the criteria of the genre; it is a drama. You could also check out Kazakh filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy's "Tulpan," which I reference in my letter to Roger. "Tulpan" also blows "Goodbye Solo" out of the water. "Tulpan" has a 96% approval rating on RT, and "Goodbye Solo" is at 94%, for what it's worth.

That "Goodbye Solo" is a rip-off of Abbas Kiarostami's far superior film "Taste of Cherry" (1997) is a different matter all together. Where is Gene Siskel when you need him?

I posted a defense of my review on Ebert's site, and he was kind enough to reply, although kindness was not really on Ebert's list of priorities. My original capsule review of "Goodbye Solo" follows the transcript.

I share the exchange here. 

By Anonymous on March 30, 2009 12:31 PM
I can't believe it. Cole Smithy [sic], who brags he is "the most intelligent movie critic in the world," has just spoiled the perfect 100% rating of "Goodbye Solo" the TomatoMeter. All he writes is a short, shallow, idiotic dismissal. What an a$$hole.

Ebert: I went to look at it. What a pathetic review. A few generalities and some snarking at Tony Scott. One expects better from the most intelligent critic in the world.

NycYou really want to pick a fight with me Roger?

By Cole Smithey on April 12, 2009 11:30 PM
In all fairness Roger, regarding "generalities," I was very specific about what I see as a glaring flaw in the screenwriting of "Goodbye Solo," where the author is far too in love with his leading character's name. I'm sure you know that this was a pet peeve of Cassavetes, and I dare say that "Goodbye Solo" is not on a par with films like "Opening Night" or "A Woman Under the Influence" — both very tangible examples of "neo-neo-realist" films.

I credited Tony for mis-branding the film as "neo-neo-realist" movie because I overheard someone quoting his review and was surprised to discover that he really had written it. He should know better. I stand by my opinion that "the film ["Goodbye Solo"] represents a barely competent script made gripping by an inspired director and two equally talented actors. Ramin Bahrani is a promising filmmaker who needs to work much harder at crafting dialogue and complete stories."

It's a capsule review for crying-out-loud.

A film like "Tulpan" puts "Goodbye Solo" to shame. Let's give credit where credit is due.

Love the dialogue.
Kindest regards,
Cole Smithey

Ebert: Well, we disagree, but I thank you for elaborating. I know what it's like to swim upstream in a river of rotten tomatoes. Just consider my review of "Knowing."

-end of dialogue-

ColeInCannesConsider that I don't do unpaid assignments.

Before this exchange occurred I'd met Roger in Cannes on several occasions over a period of years between 2003 and 2008. We once spent a half hour chatting in the lobby of the Olympia Cinema while waiting for a delayed screening to begin. I brought up having read his book "Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook" that includes his sketches.

Cinema-Olympia-Cannes-France-Marche-du-Film

Still, I never fawned over him the way I witnessed some critics doing (I won't name names).

Ebert and his wife sat behind me for a Cannes screening of "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang." I sent Ebert a hang-in-there email when he had surgery.

So I was dismayed that this man whom I greatly respected, and had always treated respectfully, felt it necessary to punch down on a critic who was by no means a threat to him or his status. Punching down is so déclassé. I was insulted. Was he really that insecure? I could point to specific Ebert reviews that are primarily plot summaries with a few "generalities," but what would that prove?

Roger Ebert bought into his own hype, and expected to big dog every one around him, especially any film critic he perceived as a threat. How banal can you get?

Ebert was a millionaire, thanks to his stock investments in companies such as "Steak 'n Shake," Apple, and Google, and yet he wanted to start a public fight with me. It makes no sense. For a guy who gave speeches on empathy, Roger Ebert did not walk the walk that he publicly espoused.

Cannes

I suppose the thing that strikes me the most about Ebert's awkward stance toward me is how easily distracted he was by my brand. It's as if he felt threatened, but by what? A brand? I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that Gene Siskel would not have had time for such nonsense.

During my brief time under the tutelage of the now defunct United Media, (the syndicate that handled Charles Schultz's "Peanuts")  the company created the brand of "The Smartest Film Critic in the World" for me as a was a way of setting me apart from other critics at a time when having a brand was all the rage. It still is. It's funny how now it's a given that everyone must have a brand. At the time, it was a simple case of me following corporate orders. Imagine that. 

I think Ebert's line, "One expects better from the most intelligent critic in the world," is fall-down-on-the-floor-funny because not only does he switch out the brand with what he imagines I'm going after (ostensibly a high IQ), but he takes the bait so earnestly. Ebert's ridiculous use of the (outdated) royal "one" to start off the sentence shows Ebert attempting to rise above the fray, before he takes the bait hook, line, and sinker. Chomp. Sucker. 

SiskelWho's the clown sitting in front of the film critic?

I expected more from Roger Ebert, a lot more, considering we had met on several occasions and our conversations were always cordial. Talk about "pathetic," Roger Ebert acted like a child. I suppose going after one of his corporate colleagues was too much for Ebert to stand.

Or perhaps it was because "Goodbye Solo" was included in his film festival. C'est la vie.

Certainly, I could have replied to Ebert after his tepid olive branch, but I was done. Ebert had already shown his hand. I'd seen too much of his character, and been too insulted. I've never been in the ass-kissing business to begin with; I wasn't going to start now. Besides, Ebert's invitation to read one of his reviews was a heavy-handed ask. I thought it better to give the man the last word on the subject for a good long while.

Since his passing, his wife Chaz has co-opted his brand — as I'm sure he knew that she would. It doesn't make any sense to me that she would attempt to usurp his career but what do I know?

I understand that The Smartest Film Critic in the World brand gets under the skin of some insecure critics who imagine they could be the next Roger Ebert, as if such a thing were even in the realm of possibility.

Personally, I have no interest in such an endeavor. Roger got lucky with fame, but there are few things less satisfying than being recognized on the street by complete strangers.

There's still no such thing as a free lunch. Being a film critic is a grind; screen, write, edit, post, repeat. For me personally, it had been even more involved because I write, direct, and produce video essays and a podcast series. However, lately I'm spending a lot more time playing solo Bossa Nova guitar — the pay is better, and you get treated with significantly more respect as a professional musician than you do as a film critic — a word to the wise.

EbertI won't be buying any more books by Roger Ebert.

"Smart" means different things to different people. The word is integrated into the name of my trademarked company Smart New Media Inc. That was a happy accident for which I have my wonderful wife to thank. 

As Iggy Pop once wrote (from the song "Take Care of Me" on his amazing album "New Values"), "It's an old, old story I suppose, a heavy price for a heavy pose."

I'm just a guy doing the best work I can do in my chosen field of study. Sure, I've got a brand. The whole purpose of brands is to ignite your imagination with something that sticks. Thanks United Media, and thanks Iggy. 

My original film review for "Goodbye Solo" follows.

Goodbye Solo

Goodbye_solo Co-Writer/director Ramin Bahrani ("Chop Shop") could learn some lessons from the late John Cassavetes who eschewed having his characters speak each other's names because it's not how people talk in real life.

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Senegalese cab driver Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is an effusively optimistic family man training to become an airline attendant when he picks up a cantankerous and depressed 70-year-old passenger named William (Red West).

William contracts Solo for a thousand dollars to drive him one-way up to the mountainous Blowing Rock National Park in two weeks. William's suicidal plan is obvious, and the two-week timeline gives Solo plenty of time to befriend the old codger with an idea of changing the old man's mind before the fateful day arrives.

Goodbyesolo

William and Solo's step-daughter Alex (Diana Franco Galindo) speak his name with such a repetitive frequency that the all suspension of disbelief is smothered. Film critic A.O. Scott famously misnamed "Goodbye Solo" as a "Neo-neo-realist" film. Rather, the film represents a barely competent script made gripping by an inspired director and two equally talented actors.

Colesmithey.com

Ramin Bahrani is a promising filmmaker who needs to work much harder at crafting dialogue and complete stories, and not believe the false praise being bestowed on him by the A.O. Scotts of the world.    

(Roadside Attractions) Not Rated. 91 mins. (C) Two Stars

SiskelGene Siskel, the better half of the Siskel/Ebert duo.

COLE SMITHEYHelp keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and get cool rewards! Thanks a lot pal!

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

Cole In Cannes

May 26, 2019

CANNES 2019 AWARDS COMPLETE

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho

PALME D'OR PARASITE

Grand Prix: “Atlantics,” Mati Diop

Atlantique

Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, “Young Ahmed”

Actor: Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”

Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory

Actress: Emily Beecham, “Little Joe”

EMILY BEECHAM

Jury Prize — TIE: “Les Misérables,” Ladj Ly; “Bacurau,” Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles

BACURAU

Screenplay: Céline Sciamma, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

PORTRAIT DE LA JEUNE FILLE IN FEU

Special Mention: “It Must Be Heaven,” Elia Suleiman

OTHER PRIZES

Camera d’Or: “Our Mothers,” Cesar Diaz

Short Films Palme d’Or: “The Distance Between the Sky and Us,” Vasilis Kekatos

Short Films Special Mention: “Monster God,” Agustina San Martin

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: “For Sama”

For_sama

Ecumenical Jury Prize: “Hidden Life,” Terrence Malick

Queer Palm: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,”  Céline Sciamma

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Award: “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão,” Karim Aïnouz

Jury Prize: “Fire Will Come,” Oliver Laxe

Fire WIll Come

Best Director: Kantemir Balagov, “Beanpole”

Best Performance: Chiara Mastroianni, “On a Magical Night”

Chiara Mastroianni

Special Jury Prize: Albert Serra, “Liberté”

Special Jury Mention “Joan of Arc,” Bruno Dumont

Joan-of-Arc-Bruno-Dumont

Coup de Coeur Award: “A Brother’s Love,” Monia Chokri; “The Climb,” Michael Angelo Covino

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: “An Easy Girl,” Rebecca Zlotowski

Une Fille Facile

Europa Cinemas Label: “Alice and the Mayor,” Nicolas Parisier

Illy Short Film Award: “Stay Awake, Be Ready,” An Pham Thien

CRITICS’ WEEK

Nespresso Grand Prize: “I Lost My Body,” Jérémy Clapin

I Lost My Body

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: César Díaz, “Our Mothers”

GAN Foundation Award for Distribution: The Jokers Films, French distributor for “Vivarium” by Lorcan Finnegan

Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award: Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, “A White, White Day”

Ingvar Sigurdsson

FDC green

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May 25, 2019

FOCUS ON CANNES 2019: THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF EURIDICE GUSMAO —Karim Aïnouz

Invisible-life

"The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão" is director/co-writer Karim Aïnouz's adaptation of Martha Batalha's novel, about two loyal sisters divided by social forces in '50s era Jro de Janeiro.

Karim-ainouz

Brazillian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz returns to Cannes; his 2002 debut film "Madame Sata" also screened in Un Certain Regard. Fortune shone on "The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão" yesterday when Aïnouz's seventh film won Cannes Un Certain Regard award. 

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