13 posts categorized "Docudrama"

June 08, 2018



For the first time since Quentin Tarantino reinvented the heist genre with “Reservoir Dogs” way back in 1992, a filmmaker has broken the whole thing wide open. With a handful of documentaries under his belt writer-director Bart Layton crafts a snappy docudrama rendition of a small-town heist at a university in Lexington Kentucky that finishes with appropriate grace notes of hubris and pathos. Bart Layton isn’t a household name, yet.

Layton uses interview clips with each of the real-life young men who schemed to steal rare books and manuscripts from Transylvania University’s library, as overseen by a lone librarian — one Betty Jean Gooch. A first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” and four double-size folios of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” are on the would-be thieves’ shopping list.

American Animals1

We relish as the amateur heist team of college students assemble. Pals Spencer (Barry Keoghan) and Warren (Evan Peters) watch a collection of heist movies ranging from Kubrick’s “The Killing” to “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Naturally, the guys gets colors for names. Warren names himself Mr. Yellow because he’s his mom’s “sunshine.”

American Animals2

No one wants to hurt the librarian, the only person guarding the university’s precious books, but pain must be inflicted. By the time the heist takes place, the suspense is gut-wrenching. Here is a thrilling caper movie that makes us empathize with the crooks and their victim in equal measure. By interviewing the real thieves, while dramatizing their story, Bart Layton adds a meaty layer of social realism to the film. Get out your knife and fork; this is one movie you can really sink your teeth into.

Warren Lipka - Evan Peters

Rated R. 116 mins.

5 Stars


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September 20, 2017



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

ColeSmithey.comThere is beautiful chemistry between the legendary 88-year-old French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda and JR, the youthful French photographer who cares for Varda as a loyal would-be grandson of artistic intentions. JR and Varda share directing credits for this disarmingly sweet and poignant documentary that plays more as a docudrama due to the circumstance of uncertainty regarding Ms. Varda’s health.

The movie is a nuanced sociological study of French culture. Needless to say, the amount of pretense on display is near zero. Think of it as neo-realistic French New Wave ethnographic study in B minor. The personal and artistic elements are articulated to their fullest — a rare cinematic, event to say the least. It doesn't hurt that JR and Agnes Varda are two of the most endearing human beings you'd ever want to spend two hours of your life with. 


The harmonious pair of inspired film-project pals travel to small towns in France in a Mercedes Benz truck decorated to resemble a giant camera. Already we are in a filmic world. The sides of JR’s fancy mode of transportation includes a photo booth where locals are photographed. The truck then prints out black-and-white portraits on gigantic sheets of paper that JR pastes to the sides of buildings to create dramatic personalized statements about the significance of human faces and truth.


Although Varda’s vision is constantly blurry due to an eye condition, she complains about JR’s proclivity for always wearing sunglasses. She wants to see his eyes. But it is clear that JR separates himself as an artist from his subject so that your attention can focus on the art rather than the artist.

Cole smithey

“Faces Places” is a film you discover and revel in the joy of its simplicity, patience, and naturalistic discourse. Like all of Varda’s films, this one is special. It won this year’s L’Oeil d’or at Cannes for good reason. If you only see one film at NYFF55, “Faces Places” is the one to watch.


Not Rated. 89 minutes.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

July 12, 2013


Act-of-killing-posterUnrepentant Cutthroats:   
Joshua Oppenheimer Leaks Indonesia’s Genocide

At once the most micro and meta combination of cinéma vérité, documentary, and docudrama filmmaking techniques ever assembled, Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” is an earth-shattering cinematic experience.

A challenging movie to throw into any cocktail party discussion, its parameters are deceptively straightforward but also wildly ambitious. It helps to know in advance that Errol Morris and Werner Herzog agreed to executive produce the film based on its remarkable merits.


The 1965 – 1966 genocide of more than half a million accused “communists” [ethnic Chinese, intellectuals, and union organizers] in Indonesia by right-wing paramilitary and freelance death squads — many consisting of self-proclaimed “gangsters” (a.k.a. “free men,” really unemployed racists) — serves as the stepping-off point for Oppenheimer to inspire, enable, and encourage a handful of aging remorseless killers to dramatize their heinous deeds with whatever artistic trappings they choose. A shadowy film-noir set, or a cheesy take on a ‘60s era American war movie, gives the former executioners artistic cinematic opportunities to act out stylized versions their ideal selves when they tortured and killed thousands of men by hand for the fun of it. One sequence finds the killers dressed up as gaudy cowboys seemingly inspired by “Lust in the Dust,” Paul Bartel’s campy western farce. They even have a drag queen in the group who acts as a gunsel to the gang.


The leader of one such gang is Andrew Congo, a grandfather with a skinny frame and thinning grey hair living in the town of Medan in North Sumatra. Congo fancies himself a cross between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. He breaks into a cha cha routine on the patio where he personally killed hundreds of men either by shooting or by strangling with a long sturdy piece of wire fixed to a pole at one end, and with a wood handle at the other.


Joshua Oppenheimer was cornered by Indonesian authorities into reinventing his initial concept for the film after being repeatedly arrested — along with his crew and original group of interview subjects. The filmmaker’s attempt to tell the story of the genocide by interviewing surviving family members and friends was made impossible by Indonesian authorities intent on preventing any such document from ever being created. Oppenheimer craftily turned the repressive atmosphere by working with the oppressors rather than directly with the victims. The result provides a uniquely cinematic mirror that allows the criminals to indict themselves in a way that their accusers never could.

The film’s provocative title echoes throughout the movie in expanding meaning. “Killing” as an “act” takes on a host of different subjective and objective definitions from the personal to the political. Congo and his equally culpable associates retain their gangster bond nearly 40 years after their punishment-free crimes. They gleefully orchestrate and perform peacefully symbolic movements in nature, before a giant waterfall to the strains of “Born Free.” No amount of description can prepare an audience for the sickening levels of surreal irony of witnessing Congo and his men act out staged scenes of the violence they perpetrated against their neighbors, friends, and associates.


A guest appearance by Congo on an Indonesian television talk show — complete with a female teenybopper host — reveals how the public discussion of the genocide is openly discussed and celebrated for achieving its desired effect of silencing any and all dissenters. Fox news has nothing on Indonesian television.

In another clip, an aging gang member gleefully brags about killing his Chinese girlfriend’s father back in the day. Another gangster defends his belief in the atrocities he committed and his willingness to be brought up before a war crimes tribunal at The Hague for the fame it will bring him. “The Act of Killing” is a transforming movie. Every audience will be affected differently, but every single one will be changed by it.

Not Rated. 122 mins. (A+)

Five Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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