42 posts categorized "Documentary"

September 12, 2018


Free_soloTerrifying, invigorating, and heart-pounding describe this unforgettable documentary about free climber Alex Honnold and his efforts to climb Yosemite’s daunting 3,200 foot El Capitan Wall.

Co-directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (“Meru”) delve into Alex’s guarded personality as he prepares for the treacherous climb that will define his life, whether or not he lives or dies attempting it.

We get a sense of the childhood elements that contributed to Alex’s obsession with free climbing even as he enters into a romantic relationship that threatens to derail the strict focus and discipline essential for him to accomplish his goals. Every millimeter of Honnold's mind and body must be diamond-sharp to execute the climb.


Significant is the filmmakers’ willingness to delve into Alex’s meticulous rehearsal process using ropes and the help of master climber Tommy Caldwell to prepare for the solo climb. As Caldwell puts it, “Imagine an Olympic gold medal-level achievement where if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die.”

Placing cameras along various places on Alex’s path up the behemoth mountain allow him to climb without being distracted by buzzing drones or cameramen.

Alex Honnold

With his large dilated brown eyes and wiry frame, Honnold resembles a young Iggy Pop at the height of his powers circa the Bowie-produced “Lust for Life” era. Honnold’s easy charisma masks onion layers of emotional armor that his doting girlfriend Sanni McCandless pokes and prods at to varying levels of guarded verbal responses from our brave protagonist.

El Capitan

Alex Honnold carries the spirit if a samurai warrior with him. Hearing him describe the grips, holds, and complex maneuvers necessary to climb El Capitan’s sheer face, convince the viewer of his amazing climbing abilities that most of humanity hasn’t the first clue about. Here is a man who knows his limitations and how to push them right to the edge of existence.

To watch “Free Solo” is to take a journey into an incredibly dangerous if joyful world of free physical expression. Go on the adventure of a lifetime. The rewards are enormous.

Not rated. 97 mins. (A+) 

Five Stars

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May 11, 2018


Oh  Rick2The coolest comic you’ve [probably] not heard of, Rick Crom is a comic legend among stand-up comics. The Chicago-born stand-up comic of legendary New York City status gets his just deserts in this loving documentary from co-directors Dustin Sussman and Aaron Rosenbloom.

Rick Crom performed in the full run of the hit Broadway show “Urinetown.” His downtown fans include Wanda Sykes, Louis C.K., Hannibal Burris, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, and the list goes on and on. Rick’s musical abilities are no small trifle. He’s a natural behind a set of 88s as he’s comfortable with a guitar in his hands. Rick Crom’s knack for emceeing has gotten him more NYC stage-time than seems humanly possible. He's a composer, teacher, and the kind of no-nonsense human being you'd be proud to introduce to your family at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or your budding-comic kid's birthday party.

Oh  Rick!3

It’s not every day that someone as skilled and natural as Rick Crom (pronounced "chrome") lights up your day, or night, or wee hours of daybreak. Full disclosure, I had Mr. Crom on my podcast series LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) to talk about Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein,” and about his experiences in comedy. A finer gentleman I’ve not had the pleasure, and honor, of sharing time. See this inspiring movie; you'll be glad you did. I just wish it was 15 minutes longer. 

Not rated. 78 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

Chicago-born, and NYC stand-up comic legend, Rick Crom (pronounced chrome) joins the Feast to talk about Mel Brooks's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and OH, RICK!, a great documentary about him. No craft beer on this episode, just some chewy chat about funny stuff. Bon appetite. 

Rick Crom

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Young frankenstein

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

April 26, 2018


Devil_and_father_amorthWilliam Friedkin’s audio-enhanced documentary about an actual exorcism is a lukewarm flop. At just 68 minutes long, “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a filmic amuse bouche that leaves behind a sour taste. It’s sad that the director of such amazing films as “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist,” and “Sorcerer” has chosen to leave behind this paltry cinematic footnote.

Friedkin narrates, informing us that there are more than 60 million people in Italy. “500,000 Italians see an exorcist every year.” Somehow I don’t think those figures will do much to encourage tourism there. Introductions are made regarding Christina, a 46 year-old architect with bad skin who suffers from demonic possession, or so her wild fits and bizarre screams seem to evince. More on that bizarre screaming later. Christina’s affliction is so debilitating that it prevents her from working. She has had nine exorcisms, and seems destined for many more. Father Gabriele Amorth is a 90 year-old priest known as the best in the [exorcism] business. And oh what a biz it is. Amorth’s signature exorcist move is to thumb his nose at the Devil, or rather the person he is treating, at the start of each exorcism. That would have been a fun detail for Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin to have included in his volatile interactions with Linda Blair’s Regan back in 1973 when Friedkin made “The Exorcist.”

Father Amort

The exorcism takes place during the day in a room filled with Christina’s friends and family members. Father Amorth’s tranced subject rocks in nodding agreement as he administers the rights that he reads from a card. A cheap photo of the current Pope hangs loosely on the wall behind Christina as two men hold her in the chair from which she writhes and struggles. And then it happens; Christina screams unintelligibly with a blood-curdling sound that has clearly been amped up in Friedkin’s audio editing. You can clearly tell that Christina’s guttural exhortations have been enhanced because they so effectively block out any other voices in the room, especially Father Amorth’s words whenever she shouts. Friedkin’s cinéma vérité goes out the window. The case for atheism gets stronger.  


Our not-so-sincere filmmaker sets about playing a video of the exorcism for medical experts and other priests, none of whom catch on to the filmic illusion they're viewing. They all want their moment of fame too after all.

It’s clear that William Friedkin wanted to extend the legend of “The Exorcist,” but going to such overreaching, but small-minded lengths results in a pshaw moment. At 82 there’s no telling how many more films William Friedkin has left in him. I only hope he is able to make one that will redeem him from this mistake.

Not rated. 68 mins. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)    

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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