28 posts categorized "Classic Cinema"

March 16, 2023


    ColeSmithey.com    Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.


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ColeSmithey.comSince the phenomenal $820 million international success of the first Spider-Man movie, the filmmakers have gone back to the drawing board to improve on their technical shortcomings and, more importantly, generate a top-notch script by screenwriter Alvin Sargent ("Ordinary People").

The glorious result is a careful blend of subtext rich characters responding to one another and their surroundings in a colorful action movie embellished with musical grace notes from West Side Story, thanks to Danny Elfman’s subtle score.


Tobey Maguire again inhabits the role of the emotionally conflicted, web-slinging crime fighter, with Kirsten Dunst returning to her role as Peter Parker’s thespian love interest, Mary Jane Watson. There are plenty of surprises in this entertaining Hollywood cartoon-inspired movie that tops everything else in the genre.


Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) has become a more assured and patient director since he made the first Spider-Man movie. It’s a shift toward maturity that’s reflected in returning cast members Maguire, Dunst, and James Franco. Where the young actors had everything to prove in the first movie, they now have a confident handle on their characters’ personal objectives and outward goals.


Maguire’s Peter Parker spends much of Spider-Man 2 looking askance at his alter ego, and takes a hiatus from wall-crawling long enough to boost his college grades and sit in the audience for Mary Jane’s telling performance in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest.


The movie opens with an impoverished Peter Parker struggling to deliver time-limited pizzas around Manhattan on his aged moped. But even when Parker tries to use his Spidey powers to speed things along, he has to take time out to save a couple of children from being run over by a truck.


The computer-aided scenes of Spider-Man swinging from Manhattan high-rises are vastly improved since his last theatrical outing, and audiences will take special joy in the flawless acrobatics on display. The filmmakers make an obvious joke later in the movie about damage to Maguire’s back that threatened to table him from participating in the sequel. Spidey takes some pretty big falls.


Peter Parker’s college grades are suffering when he chooses to do a thesis paper on Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina, Frida), a genius scientist working on a source of perpetual energy through sustained fusion, thanks to funding from Harry Osborn (James Franco), whose father Spider-Man killed in the first movie. Osborn has since become consumed with capturing the web-crawling vigilante, to the point of becoming an alcoholic.


Spidey gets another enemy when Doc Ock’s exhibition of his new machine backfires, and the scientist is left with four enormous steel tentacles permanently attached to his spine — hence the name Dr. Octopus.


Peter Parker and his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) are interrupted during a visit to a bank for a loan when Doc Ock arrives to rob the place. The ensuing battle finds Aunt May in Doc Ock’s grip atop the tall building with Spider-Man battling gravity as he fearlessly fights the evil doctor to save his cherished aunt. The sequence is remarkable for its guiding elements of humor and pathos amid all of the eye-candy action.


A nagging question in the film arises from a problem Parker has with producing webbing. Spider-Man comes up short in the web department on several occasions, and even goes to a doctor about his waning supply of the sticky stuff. The question is never completely explained, and while it gives the character one more flaw for audiences to trouble over, it sits as unfinished business.


Nonetheless, the movie offers plenty of fantastic spectacles — see Spider-Man stop a speeding subway train — and more than a few subtle comic references. Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell does a cool stint as a bothersome theater usher, and Willem Dafoe makes a witty appearance as the ghost of his former self.


Even the budding romance between Peter and Mary Jane is handled with an eye toward the absurd. Spider-Man tells Mary Jane, as he protects her from a falling steel wall, “it’s heavy.” Indeed, there’s plenty of irony, surprises and cheeky fun in store in this satisfying sequel.

Rated PG-13. 127 mins.

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

September 01, 2020



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 pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Christ stopped at eboli

Francesco Rosi’s 1979 filmic adaptation of Turinese political activist Carlo Levi’s popular 1945 memoir, about his year spent in political exile suffering Draconian punishments under Mussolini’s fascist regime, is a fluid masterpiece of social realism.

The film’s evocative title is taken from that of Carlo Levi’s chronicle of exposure to Fascism's harsh effect on a specific group of people.

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Although you might suppose from the title that Christ visited the small southern Italian town of Eboli, however the context is something more; Christ never went beyond Eboli, which is to say he never witnessed the tragic condition of the remote village of Aliano — renamed as “Gagliano: in the book and film.


Levi wrote, “Christ stopped at Eboli where the road and the train abandon the coast and the sea, and venture into the wastelands of Lucania. Christ never came here. Nor did time, the individual soul, or hope, nor did cause and effect, reason or history.”


In 1929, Carlo Levi — not to be confused with his fellow Turinese anti-fascist peer Primo Levi — co-founded the anti-fascist movement Giustizia e Libertà with Carlo and Nello Rosselli. Although Levi graduated with a degree in medicine in 1924, he was inspired to become an artist. Painting allowed Levi private time to carry on private political discussions with activist friends who would sit as portrait models in his studio. The ruse only worked so well for so long. In 1935, Carlo Levi was arrested and exiled to Aliano, in Italy’s Lucania region. The deprived village relates to a similarly poor remote Spanish settlement in Luis Buñuel’s 1933 bold documentary “Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan” (“Land Without Bread”).


Aliano presents a “land of disease, poverty, and distrust — from a people abandoned and forgotten by the state.” Clearly, Mussolini’s intent was that Carlo Levi might not survive a year spent in a remote place plagued by malaria and fellow political exiles whose attitudes didn’t necessarily coincide with those of Levi. Rather, Levi was compelled to assist the community up to a point in spite of his less than charitable countenance.


Francesco Rosi buries significant subtext in situational reality. For example, Levi adopts a stray dog at the beginning of the story only to silently abandon the canine soon thereafter. No mention of the dog ever comes up again. Rose elucidates through silence and absence. Less is more. Rosi’s eye for detail shines as when Levi meets his sister when she comes to visit; the siblings walk in perfectly matching steps together. Their DNA is the same. Rosi's deceptively simple detail speaks volumes about the honest and direct nature of the siblings's relationship, something that is revealed during their private discussions.  


Rosi’s uncanny ability to incorporate a specific Italian region’s locals (playing themselves) provides a foundation of authenticity that underpins the complex narrative with understatement and grace. Even the film's one flash of anger occurs as a substitute for seduction during a scene where Levi's maid bathes him. To watch "Christ Stopped At Eboli" is to go back in time. Politics be damned, life is where you are. Physical exile is real. Intellectualism suffers; culture suffers.


Francisco Rosi remains criminally neglected it the pantheon of great filmmakers. Rosi is right there with Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti even if Rosi isn't as well known. The dynamic naturalism that Rosi captures and observes under his trained vision is astonishing if you take the time to savor it.  

Criterion treats this film with the respect it deserves. Lovely. If you dig collecting Criterion films, this one is a beauty.

Not Rated. 220 mins. Five Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

May 11, 2020


Sweet Smell of SuccessAlexander Mackendrick (director of “The Ladykillers”) may have been of British descent, but his quick-paced 1957 sardonic drama — about the symbiotic relationship between a decadent Manhattan newspaper showbiz columnist and a hungry press agent — captures America’s indulgence in greed, corruption, and aggression like none other. Drawing on the noir style and subject matter of Billy Wilder’s perfect “Ace in the Hole” (1952) “black political drama” would be a suitable moniker for the dark pitch of cynical social satire that “Sweet Smell of Success” examines, rather than the “film noir” attribution that it frequently attracts. Here lies the defective foundation of the American Dream as viewed from an American viewpoint (Burt Lancaster’s company produced the film).

Sweet smell

The story takes place during a day and a half in the life of its New York City characters. Fey toady press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is in the doghouse with his Walter Winchell-type gossip columnist mentor-and-abuser JJ Hunsecker (emphasis on the second “J”). Mackendrick’s ravenous camera moves through Manhattan’s late '50s Broadway theater district on a nocturnal quest for truth.


According to JJ, the frequently groveling Sidney is not responding quickly enough to JJ’s orders to rev up the rumor mill to break up a hot romance brewing between Hunsecker’s adult sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and a bland jazz guitarist named Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Steve Dallas isn’t exactly the next Tal Farlow on guitar, but he’s earned Susan’s romantic devotion. JJ wants to shut the whole thing down with a smear-job on Steve Dallas that sticks. “Communist” is a convenient accusation. JJ’s incestuous emotions seethe in his sexually impotent [or bound] mind. Sidney is working through an imagined apprenticeship with JJ that he hopes will eventually lead to his mentor’s place. The latent homosexual dominant/submissive subtext that exists between the two men underscores JJ’s impotent but nonetheless incestuous desires for his sister. Trouble in mind; trouble in action.


Neither man has an ounce of ethics but both fake morals to mask their true devotion — to power and money. Sidney calls everybody “baby” or “sweetheart” to get what he wants for his master. He sees though JJ regardless of how beholden to him he is. Sidney tells his de facto boss, “JJ, you’ve got such contempt for people it makes you stupid.”

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Based on a novella by former press agent Ernest Lehman (“Sabrina”) and adapted by Clifford Odets, the great leftist poet of Harold Clurman Group Theatre — “Sweet Smell of Success” exists in a self-loathing urban bourgeois stratosphere where a gossip columnist like JJ Hunsecker can make or break a career depending on whether or not he mentioned it in his column.


Burt Lancaster’s JJ Hunsecker is a nasty master manipulator, but he doesn’t know his limits — and he doesn’t care because he’s been rewarded so much and so long for his ruthless tactics. He’s irresponsible. JJ’s capacious power has blinded everyone, including him. Still, his days are numbered.

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Neither the antagonist (JJ) nor the film’s (purposefully) falsely represented protagonist (Sidney) has any redeeming traits. They suffer ongoing degrees of retribution, but each will carry on in the prescribed despicable methods to which each is accustomed.

Sweet smell

“ColeSmithey.com” flopped at the box office. It is in Time Magazine’s list as one of the top movies of all time.

Not Rated. 96 mins.

5 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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