June 27, 2024

PRIDE

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Undone by Broad Strokes
Historic LGBT Battle in the UK Goes Soft

By Cole Smithey

ColeSmithey.comAll attempts fail at forcing a by-the-numbers narrative template on a fact-based story about unlikely bedfellows uniting against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's mid '80s reign of anti-union and anti-gay rhetoric and public policies.

Newbie screenwriter Stephen Beresford plays a game of hide-the-protagonist that further distracts from a diluted "feel-good" movie that should have by all rights been a slam-dunk.

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London, circa June 1984, is the site of a Gay Pride march where 20-year-old Joe (George MacKay) is inadvertently lured into joining the parade in spite of his meek efforts to avoid holding a sign that reads "Queers — Better Blatant Than Latent." Still insecure about his own gayness, shy Joe comes out of his shell after being welcomed into the fold of a local gay rights group, home-based in a cozy neighborhood bookstore called Gay's the Word. Sidelining his culinary studies to be a pastry chef seems a fair exchange for Joe's sudden decision to follow his other passions.

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Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) is the charismatic gay rights firebrand whose impromptu mid-parade decision to represent a group of striking miners, as equally despised as the gays by Thatcher's vindictive regime, sounds a clarion call that eventually rings through in the UK's corridors of power. Mark rebrands the group from "Gay Liberation Front" to "Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners" (LGSM).

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After taking up sidewalk collections, Mark transports his small but passionate alliance to the South Wales coal-mining town of Onllwyn to donate the monies to the miners' poorly articulated cause. Running with the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, LGSM recruits the help of Onllwyn's able-bodied community club spokesperson Dai (Paddy Considine) to introduce them to the miners. Although the town's National Union of Mineworkers take seething umbrage at receiving support from such a group of "perverts," they don't turn down the money.

The film's neglect of the cause and nature of the miner's strike is a glaring oversight that also weakens its potential as serious work of agitprop cinema.

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Rocks thrown, rather than the personalities of the bullies throwing them, express the era's cultural reality of intolerance. The film's broad comic tone undermines the seriousness of the sometimes-violent drama at hand. A perky musical score and colorful set designs that border on the garish exist at odds with the vital nature of the story. At times the movie feels like an Ealing comedy on steroids. Nevertheless, its use of Billy Bragg's version of "There is Power in a Union" plays all the right chords when it finally arrives. ColeSmithey.com

Four too many subplots splinter the film as Mark's motley group of gays shuttle between London and Onllwyn's Dulias Valley town while drumming up more financial aid for the miners. Confusion arises about which character the filmmakers intend the audience to invest most of its interest in. Strong supporting performances from Dominic West, playing the first UK victim of the AIDS virus, and Bill Nighy, as Cliff, a retired miner who happens to be a closeted gay, help keep the film entertaining even if the movie doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. Even Imelda Staunton's feisty portrayal of Hefina, a community organizer in Onllwyn, gets lost in the shuffle.

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However chuckle-inducing its use of broad comedy might be — witness a gaggle of little old Welsh ladies pouring over gay porn and admiring an oversized dildo — the movie puts too much weight on the comic side of the scales to achieve its ostensible purpose, namely putting the audience squarely inside an essential chapter of the LGBTQ movement's battle for cultural equality in the UK.

Rated R. 120 mins.

2 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

June 20, 2024

KINDS OF KINDNESS — CANNES 2024

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel. Punk heart still beating.

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Theater of Cruelty

Yorgos Lanthamos Regresses

By Cole Smithey

ColeSmithey.comSince going mainstream with the shockingly delightful "Poor Things," the heir-apparent to such Cinema heavyweights as Michael Haneke, Peter Greenaway, David Cronenberg, and David Lynch, serves up a half-baked mess.

Unintelligible.

Greek avant-garde filmmaker Yorgos Lanthamos re-teams with regular co-writer Efthimis Filippou to create a triptych of stories, each one more morose than the last.

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It's the same poorly articulated breed of satire that hobbled other Lanthamos/Filippou projects — see, or rather don't see: "Dogtooth," "Alps," "The Lobster," and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."

Here is feel-bad Cinema for the masses.

Pointless misery.

Eat up babies.

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In "Kinds of Kindness," the viewer is left to their own devices to extrapolate on narcissist bosses, trigger-happy cops, group sex with friends, health cults, and, well yes, cannibalism. Rape and incest also get the Lanthamos spotlight.

If you are going to punish your audience, there ought to be a good reason for it. You will find no such purpose in "Kinds of Kindness" unless you are willing to put yourself through days of mental gymnastics.

The concept for the movie seems to spring from the Annie Lennox/Dave Stewart song "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," that introduces the movie.

BDS&M misery.

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It is telling that Lanthamos's most successful film "Poor Things" was written by other writers, namely Tony McNamara and Alasdair Gray.

Telling too, is Filippou's explanation of "Kinds of Kindness."

"Our main concern is to observe people, behaviors, clothes, and reactions and create a story that relates to something almost real and relatively believable."

How vague can you get?

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I dare say that this particular approach will never lead to the narrative heights that David Lynch reached with "Blue Velvet" or "Mulholland Drive," much less Lars von Trier's challenging high-wire act.

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Lanthamos flagrantly disregards one of Cinema's strongest precepts, namely that the filmmaker is responsible for sustaining an audience's trust. One reason that Alfred Hitchcock's movies are so good is due to the way Hitch treats his audience. You know that you are in capable hands.

If he were a doctor, Yorgos Lanthamos might, for example, want to amputate your thumb just to see your reaction. Fun for him perhaps, but not for you.

Rated R. 164 mins.Zero StarsZERO STARS

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

June 16, 2024

WORKING GIRLS — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel. Punk heart still beating.

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ColeSmithey.comLizzie Borden's third film, behind "Regrouping" (1979) and "Born In Flames" (1983), is a perfect chamber-piece of neo-realist social satire.

The film's feminist trappings of an '80s era Manhattan brothel provides the frame for a piercing commentary on the effects of American capitalism on women.

"Working Girls" could easily be adapted to be a modernday Broadway play.

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It would be a sensation for its timeless qualities of social, sexual, and economic truth.

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Molly (Louise Smith), a professional photographer, lives with her lesbian girlfriend when she isn't working as a sex worker in a Manhattan brothel run by a domineering madam.

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"Have you ever heard of surplus value?"

That theme line shoots like a sharp political dart when a character speaks it.

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“All workers create more value at work than they receive in wages. The extra surplus value goes into the boss’s pocket as profit.”

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Surplus value is "the surplus produced over and above what is required to survive, which is translated into profit in capitalism. Since the capitalist pays a laborer for his/her labor, the capitalist claims to own the means of production, the worker's labor-power, and even the product that is thus produced."

Female hands hold cups of coffee, count money, and remove cum-filled condoms.

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Everyone chisels; there is no place to hide.

Not Rated. 93 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

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