13 posts categorized "Film"

January 14, 2014

RIFIFI — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

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However much associated as a classic film noir, Jules Dassin’s adaptation of Auguste Le Breton’s pulp novel serves more accurately as the premiere caper film. John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) was a telling precursor to “Rififi,” but Dassin’s unforgettable centerpiece safecracking sequence — devoid of any music or dialogue — gave birth to a new subgenre of movies, the heist film.

The Paris-set “Rififi” still serves as inspiration for just about every modern assemble-the-team caper movie you can name, “Reservoir Dogs” and “Oceans Eleven” included.

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Its distributors abbreviated the film’s original slang-referencing title ”Du Rififi Chez les Hommes” (roughly translates as ‘some trouble between men’).

The shorter designation is stylishly delineated during a cabaret performance at a gangster-operated nightclub called L’Age d’Or; the Luis Buñuel film title reference comes from the film’s art director Alexandre Trauner who worked with the surrealist filmmaker on the 1930 masterpiece. The club’s resident chanteuse Viviane (Magali Noël) sings the title song “Rififi” as an ode to the “rough and tumble” underground lifestyle where “streetwise guys” in fedoras are just as likely to fire a “rod” as light up a smoke.

Rififi

The underground joint provides a central meeting place for the aging Tony (played by the rugged Jean Servias), an ex-con recently released after a five-year stretch, to meet up with his fellow accomplices in preparation for the jewelry heist they are planning at Mappin & Webb, a real-life jewelry store on the Rue de Rivoli. The filmmakers put the audience in the middle of the action. 

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Jules Dassin’s seemingly French name — he was Russian Jewish — may have fooled some audiences into believing he was making films from his mother country, but this was not the case. Having been named as a Communist during a House on Un-American Activities hearing in 1948, the Connecticut-born Dassin hadn’t worked in film since being kicked off of directing “Night and the City” in 1950. At the time Dassin had nearly a dozen American movies under his belt, including such respected noir films as “Brute Force” and “The Naked City.” After stumbling around Europe for a couple of wayward years — he had been kicked out of Italy — film producer Henri Bérard gave Dassin the opportunity to adapt “Rififi.”

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Jules Dassin’s status as an exiled victim of the Hollywood Blacklist informs the movie in a myriad of subtle ways. Honor among thieves is the thematic through line that underpins the action, and allows Dassin to comment judiciously on the toxic nature of America’s toxic social atmosphere.

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“Rififi’s” criminal anti-heroes are made up of outliers who, like Dassin, are struggling to squeak out a living in a foreign land. The gang members have names with an attribution that separates him from the local Parisian culture. Jo le Suedois (or "the Swede") is the father of Tony’s godson, and the thief Tony went to jail to protect. Tony is referred to as “le Stéphanois,” an allusion to the Saint-Étienne region of eastern central France from which he hails.

Acting under the pseudonym Perlo Vita, Dassin himself plays Cesar le Milanais, the gang’s well-dressed safecracker whose secret theft of a diamond ring during the robbery inadvertently tips off a rival gang.

Rififi3

Tony has the pitiless task of imposing justice against Caesar for his imprudence. In the scene, Dassin plays a humble version of his fellow filmmakers who testified against him at the HUAC hearings. He embodies their frail humanity with a compassionate understanding of their transgression, and accepts the punishment that only his film’s protagonist can deliver.   

Not Rated. 122 mins.

5 StarsBMOD COLE2

Cozy Cole

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January 10, 2013

BARBARA

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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BarbaraDespite the limited scope of its predictable narrative, “Barbara” remains a compelling character study thanks to Nina Hoss’s enigmatic performance in the title role.

‘80s era Iron Curtain Germany is the setting for co-writer/director Christian Petzold’s pedestrian tale of attempted escape into Western Germany for Barbara Wolff, a pediatric doctor. Demoted to a small rural hospital from a prominent position at an East Berlin for requesting an exit visa, Barbara secretly plots with her boyfriend on the outside for her to escape. However desperately she wants to leave East Germany’s repressive atmosphere, Barbara still gravitates to caring for the young patients that she cares for.

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Hans Fromm’s (“Jerichow”) precise cinematography lends itself to the film’s compressed sense of apprehension. Still, “Barbara” runs its course too soon and with little to no surprise for the viewer. Here is a rainy day movie to appreciate the skills of a refined German actress elevating a mediocre script to something entertaining if not wholly satisfying.

Rated PG-13. 115 mins.

3 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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

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June 19, 2010

COLE SMITHEY RESPONDS TO "TOY STORY 3 DEFENDERS

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Cole776After beating Armond White to the punch of upsetting "Toy Story 3's" perfect 100% RottenTomatoes score I realized how militantly fetishistic RT [RottenTomatoes.com] readers are about such ridiculously innane things as protecting a "perfect score" for a movie. 

You can't make this kind of stupidity up; it is real. 

What's more surprising to me is how few "critics" exercise the demands of their job description. 95% of the people who claim to be film critics, aren't; they are pandering sycophants placating a bunch of publicists so they can see movies for free. 

There isn't a film I can think of that doesn't have detractors, so why should "Toy Story 3" be any different? That I had to come along behind 150 "critics" (a.k.a. sheep) to be the first to point out about this film's weaknesses — and they are many — speaks volumes about the feeble state of film criticism in 2010. Based on this example, you might surmise that film criticism barely exists anymore. Well, it doesn't. 

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Personally, I have young nieces and nephews with responsible parents who are sensitive to what their kids see. I could not in good conscience endorse "Toy Story 3" as a G-rated film that meets the criteria of a G-rated movie. Check out "2001: A Space Odyssey" for a more appropriate example of the rating than TS3. The ever-lessening number of G-rated movies is indeed a worrisome trend.

On top of that, Hollywood is currently changing the game on what audiences should, or can, expect from a "3-D" movie in order to charge higher ticket prices across the board on all theatrical releases. As a critic, I've had the luxury of seeing many "3-D" films, and know what that medium should deliver on a consistent basis. Again, I cannot endorse the watered-down version of "3-D" that Disney/Pixar is selling with "Toy Story 3." See my article on 3D Breaking the Window: What You're Not Supposed to Know About 3D.

As for all of the personal attacks — some including death-threats — that readers make in their nasty emails to me, I understand that people need to let off steam, especially in these difficult economic times. It goes with the territory of being a critic who takes his job seriously. Sticks and stones. I'm not going away.

TS3

By definition, being a critic means it is my job to "criticize." I wrote this review just as I approach writing any piece of criticism — with honesty, patience, sincerity, and a singular mission to express my ideas as clearly and briefly as possible. 

I gave "Toy Story 3" a C+, and I stand by that grade, although it probably deserves a "C-" because it is a "disappointing" movie. A masterpiece like Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" only has a "96%" rating on RT, but I don't think anyone's losing sleep over the fact that it isn't a perfect "100%." It's still a far better film than "Toy Story 3." If you doubt me, I challenge you to watch them back-to-back. There is only one right answer. Not only does TS3 not belong in anyone's list of the top 10,000 films of all time, it is clearly the weakest film of the franchise trilogy — by far.

To feign indignation over such a trivial issue as an aggregate website's score is a sign of ulterior motives from people pandering to some imaginary form of lowest common denominator. It's the same kind of intellectual virus that has ruined journalism and the media in America. You came to me for my opinion, and I freakin' gave it you. You're on your own from there. 

CRUMB


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