22 posts categorized "Political Thriller"

October 29, 2023

FIRST REFORMED — SHOCKTOBER!

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ColeSmithey.comHow refreshing it is to be reminded of the mortal shocks that valid Cinema can deliver. When audiences first saw “Taxi Driver” (written by Paul Schrader) they couldn’t wait to talk about it.

It was an experience they had to get off their chests. Audiences were confused but intuitively informed by “Taxi Driver’s” dire provocation.

Here was a film that captured the fall out of the Viet Nam War in a stark portrayal of a [racist] veteran’s psychological, and existential, crisis in the midst of an American culture shock.

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For all of its mis-readings by audiences who also misunderstood Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” or Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” (both ingenious filmic satires), “Taxi Driver” remains a cinematic touchstone that refuses to submit to the ravages of time. So too will “First Reformed” stand as a bellwether film for the ages.

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Culture shock plays a role here too. As Paul Schrader did with “Taxi Driver,” he transplants God’s lonely man of Thomas Wolf’s indispensable essay into the modern world. However, this time it is not Manhattan’s urban cesspool that ignites the mind and body of our searching protagonist, but rather a perfect storm of globalized political, corporate, and religious corruption that infects Ernst Toller, a war vet (military Chaplin) turned small-town minister.

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Missing are any visual trappings and sexy locations that would distract from Schrader’s formally composed character study. Small-town America is the hotbed environment where a toxic chemical dumping ground releases vapors of social unrest and rage. This film’s formal compositions seethe with restrained silence and nostalgic dignity.

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Although Schrader retains the voice-over narration approach he effectively utilized in “Taxi Driver,” this time he puts a diary in our protagonist’s hand. Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller (named after the Jewish German left-wing playwright exiled by the Nazis) is the not-so glorified caretaker of the First Reformed Church in a fictitious town in upstate New York. Sick with an internal disease for which he refuses to seek medical care, Toller sets out to keep a handwritten journal that he will “shred and burn” at the end of one year. Empty whiskey bottles pile up in his weekly trash. Ethan Hawke’s performance is exquisitely transparent.   

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Having lost his son to the Iraq War that he insisted his boy enlist, against his wife’s wishes, Toller squandered his marriage. His salvation came from Reverend Joel Jeffers (Cedric Kyles), the leader of a large institutional church that guards its corporate funding with a vengeance. The church will soon celebrate its 250th anniversary at a “re-consecration” event to be held in the well-preserved “souvenir shop” church that Toller oversees.  

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Reverend Toller embraces the challenge of faith brought to him by Mary Mensana (Amanda Seyfried), a pregnant newlywed who has recently moved to the area with her ecological activist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger).

Michael doesn’t believe Mary should give birth to their 20-week old fetus due to the impending dire effects of climate change that will ravage human life in the coming years and decades.

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What follows is a concise thesis on how Christian ideology is co-opted by corrupt forces, and how the religion’s “washed in the blood of the lamb” imagery feeds into radicalizing those who are most committed to its precepts.

Far from the “thriller” genre that some are attempting to pigeonhole “First Reformed” into, the film is a transcendent drama built on a rigorous filmic foundation.

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There are two sequences of romantic affection in the film. Each one arrives as a dangerous if not outright radical act.

How and why is it that we the audience can be so provoked by something as natural as a kiss when the violence that we see or expect to witness seems more inevitable, if not natural?

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As Thomas Wolf pointed out in his essay, Christ’s primary teaching was that “loneliness could be destroyed forever by the life of love.” You don’t have to be religious to see the truth in that, but you should see “First Reformed” a couple of times to understand how Paul Schrader shows you what connects us in the kingdom of heaven that we all possess and share. Is "First Reformed" a perfect film? Yes, yes it is. 

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Rated R. 113 mins.

5 StarsTHE BLOOD OF DRACULATHE BLOOD OF DRACULA Screen Shot 2023-10-29 at 1.24.18 PM THE BLOOD OF DRACULA THE BLOOD OF DRACULA
Dramatist and LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) regular Phil Holt returns to the podcast to discuss PAUL SCHRADER'S FIRST REFORMED over a glass of BUNKER'S BROWN ALE.

Bon appétit!

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Cozy Cole

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October 12, 2023

TAXI DRIVER — SHOCKTOBER!

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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.

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ColeSmithey.comSo much of American popular culture, and modern Cinema’s urban aesthetic, owes a debt to Martin Scorsese’s groundbreaking fourth feature film that it is impossible to imagine a world without “Taxi Driver.” From Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score to Robert DeNiro’s unpredictable anti-hero character, everything about “Taxi Driver” was innovative.

A 26-year-old Paul Schrader famously wrote the audacious screenplay for the film in less than a month after a period of living in his car in Los Angeles, when his love and professional lives had fallen apart. Schrader has described the script as a piece of “juvenilia.” Which works fine. Indeed, the seething narrative carries a quality of introspective desperation that seeps from the pores of a young testosterone-overloaded male who sees trouble in every direction he turns.

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Constructed in the popular vigilante mode of ‘70s-era American Cinema, the gritty story follows a deeply conflicted ex-Marine-turned-hack who is all too suggestible to Manhattan’s rampant culture of crime, violence, pornography, prostitution, and drugs. Robert De Niro’s repressed, racist war-veteran character Travis Bickle gets off on the disgust he feels for the pimps and drug dealers who clutter and defile every inch of 1976 Manhattan. Latent homosexual leanings lurk at the edges of Travis’s actions around women. Here is an avenging angel who wants to defile the Madonna and liberate the whore.

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Travis fantasizes about “a real rain” that “will come and wash all the scum off the streets” during his bouts of chronic insomnia, which allow him to work insanely long shifts for days, and even weeks at a time. Although there was no “post-traumatic-stress-disorder” diagnosis when the film was made, Travis Bickle clearly has what was then called "shell shock."

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Scorsese introduced the world to the underbelly of mid-‘70s Manhattan at a time when economic collapse and garbage strikes left the city covered in trash. This reality shocked audiences unfamiliar with New York’s distressed state. In actuality, New York’s violent atmosphere of crime and degradation was even worse than Scorsese’s version. For New Yorkers at the time, every journey outside their tiny apartments offered a constant threat of confrontation, mugging, or worse.

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The film’s political commentary hides in plain sight. Travis is a right-wing reactionary intent on assassinating a Democratic Senator running for President. Travis accepts his fate as a suicide mission. Travis trains obsessively for the assassination, working out in his small Hell’s Kitchen apartment and constructing a mechanism that will slide a pistol into his hand. He tests his tolerance for pain by holding his arm over an open flame.

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Practicing his moves in front of a mirror boosts his confidence. The movie embeds the viewer so deeply inside Travis’s conscious and subconscious mind that we can’t help empathize with him, regardless of how messed up he is. Here lies the genius of the film. Objectively, Travis has good qualities too. He also wants to rescue a child prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), though it's not his priority.

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Paul Schrader addressed the confusion regarding the film’s oblique ending as a way of returning to the beginning of the film. The epilogue “could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie could start all over again.”

Rated R. 113 mins.

5 Stars ColeSmithey.com SHOCKTOBER! KITTIESColeSmithey.com

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October 11, 2023

POSSESSION — SHOCKTOBER!

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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.

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

Thanks a lot acorns!

Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!

ColeSmithey.com

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In episode four of LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST), Mike Lacy and I drink Flower Power IPA (Ithaca Brewing Co.) and discuss Andrzej Żuławski's 1981 psychological thriller POSSESSION. Bon appetite. 

Possession1One of the most diabolically indecipherable films ever made, Andrzej Żuławski's disturbing psychological thriller juxtaposes Cold War era West Berlin against an exploding relationship between a warring married couple played by Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill.

Exceptionally convincing performances rise to the ferociously jealous nature of Żuławski's fever-pitched script, co-written with Frederic Tuten.

Supporting turns from Margit Carstensen and Heinz Bennet keep the dramatic heat high.

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If ever there was an incompatible couple, Mark and Anna are it. It doesn’t help matters that they have an adolescent son named Bob who Mark unwisely turns over custody to his mentally unstable wife. Mark works as a spy for shady corporate bosses. He carries briefcases filled with cash and vials of non-disclosed liquids. This is no stay-at-home dad.

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Żuławski plays with emotional, physical, mental, social, and political spaces amid West Berlin’s guarded walls. Ominous danger and grotesque discoveries lurk everywhere. The city’s simultaneously modern and ancient architecture creates a menacing sense of queasy unrest. The city’s subway allows for a shockingly violent episode of bodily expression that contributed to Isabelle Adjani’s Best Actress win at Cannes in 1981. The deeply troubling scene is one of the most frightening episodes ever captured on film.  

Possession2

The duality of female nature gets thrown into forced perspective when Mark meets Anna’s [kind and sane] doppelgänger in the form of his son’s school teacher Helen (also played by Isabelle Adjani).

POSSESSION

The division between the couple is as pronounced as the gigantic wall that divides the city. “Possession” skewers capitalism’s eternal methods of skullduggery along with the animal nature of human sexuality that, in this film, finds its level when Mark catches his wife having sex with a giant octopus.

Possession

The Polish filmmaker has famously called his movie “autobiographical,” which adds to the confusion of his only English language movie. “Possession” holds the watermark for the most bizarre cinematic experience you will ever have. No other film begins to approach the madness of romantic obsession and political oppression that this film does.

Colesmithey.comRated R. 124 mins.

5 StarsModern Cole SHOCKTOBER!! THE BLOOD OF DRACULA THE BLOOD OF DRACULA THE BLOOD OF DRACULACozy Cole

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