June 17, 2020


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.


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.


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.

If Roger Ebert was on the up and up, he would have respected my voice. What a hypocrite. Talk about a guy who didn't practice what he preached, I present Roger Ebert.

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.


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.


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!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

Cole In Cannes

February 12, 2020



I was surprised to discover my name popping up in a Wired Magazine article online.

Wired Magazine said, “A couple of years ago, an approved critic named Cole Smithey, who writes for Colesmithey.com, bragged about intentionally tanking Lady Bird's then-100 percent rating with a negative review.”

That sentence is a lie.

What I tweeted in my public response to all of the social media hullabaloo over my film review of "Lady Bird" was,

“Context is everything. I had to consider whether to cast “Lady Bird” as Fresh or Rotten in the context of a perfect score that people were using to trumpet “Lady Bird” as the all-time best reviewed movie on RT. A "B-" does not an "A+" make.”

Brutal honesty, check.


Why is corporate media so happy to punch down on a film critic? They certainly aren't interested in taking the time to read my film review of "Lady Bird."

It's not called "film praise;" it's called Film Criticism. I know my job even if not many others do. 

I lived in San Francisco from 1985 to 1997, so I was hip to Wired Magazine from its launch in 1993 when I decided to become a professional film critic after watching Abel Ferrara's "Dangerous Game" — starring a then red-hot Madonna.

Condé Montrose Nast

Wired is a Condé Nast publication, and it just so happens that I take tourists by the Park Avenue building where Condé Montrose Nast lived for decades. Hilarious, I know. But not so funny is the lie that Wired editor-in-chief, and eternal frat, boy Nicholas Thompson endorsed when his fact-checkers found nothing wrong with his editorial malfeasance after I brought it to their attention, and to his after I left him a phone message about the situation.


Nicholas Thompson, a face of corporate malfeasance at Condé Nast. 

So, I sent Nicholas Thompson the following letter to the editor. Nick saw fit not to respond to me. Bon Appétit.

Hi Nick,

Until now I thought Wired was a good publication with responsible editorial oversight. But my opinion has changed since dealing with your fact checker over problems with the following graf in Simon Van Zulen-Wood’s Wired article, "Behind the Scenes at Rotten Tomatoes."

Simon says, “These changes took place in tandem with a parallel overhaul of its critics' criteria, designed to make its Tomato­meter more representative. Prior to August 2018, Tomatometer-approved critics were almost exclusively staff writers from existing publications, who tended to be whiter, maler, and crustier. Since the site changed its policies, it's added roughly 600 new critics—the majority of whom are freelancers and women. But that also means there are now a stunning 4,500 critics, some of whom inevitably will be terrible. A couple of years ago, an approved critic named Cole Smithey, who writes for Colesmithey.com, bragged about intentionally tanking Lady Bird's then-100 percent rating with a negative review.”

In response to people making a big deal out of coincidence over substance, I made one tweet at the time in which I stated, “Context is everything. I had to consider whether to cast “Lady Bird” as Fresh or Rotten in the context of a perfect score that people were using to trumpet “Lady Bird” as the all-time best reviewed movie on RT. A "B-" does not an "A+" make.”

How my honest description of my critical process gets twisted into “bragging” is gilding the lily, to say the least. Simon isn’t even paraphrasing what I said. The least Simon could do is use my quote. I don’t say anything about affecting Lady Bird’s score on RottenTomatoes. Simon's sentence is fiction — “bragged about intentionally tanking Lady Bird's then-100 percent rating with a negative review.” On that I hope we can agree. BS is BS.

Simon ignores the fact that I wrote an editorial follow-up to my initial review, The Millennial Conformist Or How To Learn To Love a Karen Without Really Trying which might have informed Simon more as to my detailed analysis of a Trumpian, openly racist, female character bereft of loyalty, honesty, or social regard for a humanist vision. All Cinema should be humanist. Sadly, it is not so anymore.

Simon infers, in the context of the graf, that I was one of 600 new critics added to RT in 2018. In fact, I have contributed to Rotten Tomatoes since 2005. I began reviewing film in 1997 for alt weekly The Independent in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina.

Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 1.38.33 AMSince then I have been responsible for writing weekly film reviews and entertainment features for the national alternative newsweekly market and regional and international magazine market — including such print outlets as Arkansas Times, Arriviste Press, Bellingham Weekly, Boise Weekly, Boston’s Weekly Dig, CT Slant (Hartford, CT), C-Ville Weekly (Charlottesville, VA), Charleston City Paper, Chico News & Review, Cineman Syndicate, CityBeat (Cincinnati, OH), Colorado Springs Independent, City View (Des Moines, IA), Drill Magazine, Eugene Weekly, Flagpole Magazine (Athens, GA), Folioweekly (Jacksonville, FL), Illinois Times, The Improper Magazine, The Independent Weekly (Durham, NC), Jest Magazine (Manhattan, NY), The Jewish Magazine (Toronto, CA), L.A. Weekly, Las Vegas Weekly, Maui Time, Metro [Manhattan daily edition], MetroActive (San Jose, CA), Monterey County Weekly, North of the James (Richmond, VA), Northern Express (Traverse City, MI), Nuvo (Indianapolis, IN), New York Press, Oklahoma Gazette, Orlando Weekly, Pacific Northwest Inlander (Spokane, WA), Seven Days (Burlington VT), Style Weekly (Richmond VA), Tacoma Reporter, Toledo City Paper, Unleashed Magazine, Upscale Magazine, Valley Scene (Los Angeles). I have contributed to such online outlets as DailyRadar, Forbes, and aNewDomain, for whom I covered the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

I hope you will have the journalistic integrity to correct these errors that mischaracterize me, my career, and my sense of journalistic integrity.

I should also add that Tim Ryan is my colleague; we hung out in Cannes together. Should you desire a character reference, you can vet me through Tim.

On a brighter note, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you on my film and fiction walking tour of Carnegie Hill, “5th & Park.” I’m happy to comp you and yours on this film and fiction adventure that meets in front of the Guggenheim Museum, and ends at the steps to the Metropolitan Museum of Art — a great excuse to visit the Met. The tour is available daily at 3 p.m. Just let me know a week in advance so I can reserve the tour for you.

Thanks much for all.


-end letter-


Don’t believe me? Watch “Lady Bird” twice and you will see everything I’ve expressed here. If I had it to do all over again, I’d give “Lady Bird” a D minus. 


If you didn't think Lady Bird was the most Trumpian character in the history of Cinema, you will certainly be convinced after watching this video.

July 08, 2019

The Difference Between Liberals and Leftists BY TED RALL

12-19-16-1Living as they do in a bipolar political world where politics consists of Democrats and Republicans and no other ideology is real, media corporations in the United States use left, liberal and Democrat as synonyms. This is obviously wrong and clearly untrue—Democrats are a party, leftism and liberalism are ideologies, and Democratic politics are frequently neither left nor liberal but far right—but as Orwell observed after you hear a lie repeated enough times you begin to question what you know to be true rather than the untruth. Sometimes it’s useful in this postmodern era to remind ourselves that words still have meaning, that distinctions make a difference.

Let us now delineate the difference between liberals and leftists.

Bernie Sanders votes and caucuses with the Democratic Party, campaigns as an independent and self-identifies as a “democratic socialist”—an ideology without a party in the U.S. but that draws comparisons to Scandinavia. His stances on the issues are left of center but American politics have drifted so far right that he’s really a paleo-Democrat—there’s no daylight between Sanders 2020 and McGovern 1972. No wonder voters are confused!

Liberals and leftists want many of the same things: reduced income inequality, better working conditions, more affordable housing and healthcare. There are differences of degrees. A liberal wants the gap between rich and poor to shrink; a communist wants no class differences at all. They’re very different when it comes to foreign policy: liberals support some wars of choice whereas leftists would only turn to the military for self-defense.

Reading the last paragraph it is tempting to conclude, as I used to and many people still do, that there is enough overlap between the two to justify, even require, cooperation. Liberals and leftists both want to save the planet and the human race from climate change—why not join forces to fight the polluters and their allies the denialists?

The Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is the ultimate liberal: a professor at Columbia, ex-chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and former chief economist for the World Bank. An op-ed he recently published in The New York Times provides a perfect illustration of why a lasting working relationship between liberals and leftists will always be a pipe dream.

As is often the case with screeds by smart liberals, there is a lot to like in “Progressive Capitalism Is Not an Oxymoron.” (Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes it is.)

Stiglitz correctly identifies the problem: “Despite the lowest unemployment rates since the late 1960s, the American economy is failing its citizens. Some 90 percent have seen their incomes stagnate or decline in the past 30 years. This is not surprising, given that the United States has the highest level of inequality among the advanced countries and one of the lowest levels of opportunity.”

He correctly apportions the blame on “wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking),” businesses like hedge fund management that do not create anything but profits and the legacy of Reaganism: “Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities,” Stiglitz writes. “We relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.”

Then: “We could and should have provided more assistance to affected workers (just as we should provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of technological change), but corporate interests opposed it. A weaker labor market conveniently meant lower labor costs at home to complement the cheap labor businesses employed abroad. We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.” Boom! This.

Liberals like Stiglitz and leftists like me part ways when the discussion turns to solution. As Lenin asked: What is to be done?

Stiglitz answers: “It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve.”

“Government action is required,” he says.

We need “a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed,” he says.

Follow the link. Read the whole thing. I’ve included all the meat.

Stiglitz knows what is to be done. Mostly, he’s right. What he wants might not be enough. But it would do more good than harm.

What he does not know is how to make his proposals happen. Like the politics of all liberals, his is a toothless musing, a vacuous fantasy.

He said it himself: “Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.” This late-capitalism death spiral will not cure itself. There is no world in which corporations and their pet politicians and corrupt media propagandists will “recognize the vital role of the state.” They will not regulate themselves. They will not create “a new social contract.”

They are rich and powerful. The rich do not wake up one day and say to themselves, “Time to stop being a selfish ass, I’m going to redistribute my income.” The powerful do not care that the weak are miserable.

Money gets taken away from the rich one way: by force. The powerful are divested of their privileges the same way: when they have no choice.

Liberals and leftists identify many of the same problems. Only leftists understand that real solutions require serious pressure on the ruling elites. The credible threat of force—for example, a peaceful protest demonstration that could turn violent—may be enough to force reforms. But reforms always get rolled back after the left stops watching. Ultimately the rulers will have to be removed via revolution, a process that requires violence.

Liberals do not demand change; they ask nicely. Because they oppose violence and credible threats of violence, they tacitly oppose fundamental change in the existing structure of politics and society. Unlike leftists they are unwilling to risk their petty privileges in order to obtain the reforms they claim to crave. So, when push comes to shove, liberals will ultimately sell out their radical allies to the powers that be. And they will run away at the first sign of state oppression.

If you can’t trust your ally, they are no ally at all.

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