132 posts categorized "Drama"

May 11, 2020

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

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.

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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.

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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.”

Screen Shot 2021-03-27 at 10.49.49 PM

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.

SweetSmell

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.

Cocosse | Journal: Flick Review < Sweet Smell of Success | Alexander  Mackendrick (1957)

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

“Sweet Smell of Success” 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

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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

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November 14, 2018

GREEN BOOK

Green_book“There are some words they don’t allow to be spoken, sometimes I almost feel just like a human being.” Elvis Costello had his finger on the pulse of verbal behavior modification when he wrote and sang those words on his blistering social attack song “Lipstick Vogue” back in 1978.

There is no small irony in the fact that actor Viggo Mortensen got his ass handed to him for using the N-Word (outside an alt-right rally or perhaps the Oval Office, the only socially acceptable treatment of a word unless spoken by a black person) during a post-screening Q&A for his film “Green Book.” Never mind that Mortensen used the word in the context of an intellectual public discussion about a historically relevant film set in the ’60s. Art be damned. Mortensen was immediately chastised. He apologized profusely and repeatedly for his offense. 

Green

Still, the damage was done. Will Mortensen’s career suffer? Only time will tell. What seems evident is that he didn’t mean any harm, much less a racial slur, while talking about the thematic underpinnings of a period film for which he spent many hours preparing for and performing in. Still, no one’s BS detector went into the red.

By prohibiting anyone but black people from using the N-Word, identity-politics-infused white knight liberals have effectively ducked their responsibility and dodged accountability for America’s systemic racism, a grim vestige of slavery that continues the incremental genocide of blacks for well over a century following the Civil War.

Greenbook2

What the word meant was always toxic. Now it’s the post-linguistics: its spelling, its two syllables. It wasn’t always so. Jim Farber’s 1970 book “The Student as Nigger” asked questions about oppression and education, not race. Does the trigger-happy cop who shoots an unarmed black person fit the N-Word designation regardless of his or her race? You can’t ask that question anymore. Bette Midler got in trouble for merely referencing John Lennon’s iconic song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” in a tweet. It ain’t 1972 anymore. It should be acceptable to describe the Republican party as the most niggardly political entity on the planet, but you can’t say that even though the N-ly word has no relationship whatsoever. It derives from an entirely different language group than the N-word.

Film Review: 'Green Book' is sure to put a smile on your face - The Mainichi

Ignoring the intentionality behind a speaker’s use of the N-Word ignores the contextual reality on the ground. It distorts debate in a way that emphasizes by contrast the persecuted class that the privileged liberal pretends to defend or protect.

Greenbook

Which brings us to “Green Book,” a softball period drama about racism in America as witnessed via a road trip shared by a black man and a marginally racist white man.

Directed by Peter Farrelly (“There’s Something About Mary”), this feel-good film is based on the real-life interactions between renowned black pianist Donald Shirley and Tony Lip, a foul-mouthed New York-born Italian bouncer whom Shirley hires to chauffeur him on a musical tour through the Deep South during the early ’60s.

The film’s title refers to “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a guidebook for African-American road trippers (published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green between 1936 and 1966) during the era of Jim Crow laws. Throughout North America blacks were refused access to food, lodging, restrooms and all sort of other conveniences whites took for granted. Driving while black, of course, is still a de facto crime in many American counties.  

Greenbook3

Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) delivers an immaculate portrayal of a gifted black musician who has been buffered from the underclass experience of blacks in America. Donald Shirley spent much of his life in Europe, where he spent most of his waking hours being tutored in classical piano. Shirley lives in an opulent apartment inside Carnegie Hall — in the very building of the legendary auditorium. Shirley sits upon an elevated throne when taking visitors. Shirley’s bisexuality is a secret.

Donald and Tony develop a Pygmalion relationship. Heaven knows Tony needs it. However Tony has a few cultural lessons for his mentor as well. Little Richard and the joys of Kentucky Fried Chicken come as pleasant surprises for Donald, who speaks in an affected manner that might have earned a punch from a musician such as Miles Davis who, in spite of having been raised in a wealthy family, had no time for putting on airs. It’s doubtful that Davis and Shirley ever crossed paths.

Greenbook

“Green Book” excels as a white/black bromance crafted to fit release at the start of the holiday season. Not every white cop in the ’60s was a racist pig. Still, it’s doubtful that Shirley would have survived a roadside incident that occurs in this movie if it had occurred in 2018. To say that “Green Book” is out of step with 21st century America is a vast understatement.  

“Green Book” isn’t all that interesting but for its inadvertent role as a potential conversation starter about Mortensen’s N-word-related chastisement — assuming anyone is willing to talking about it openly. Polite society can censor non-black people from using the N-Word but it won’t struggle against the ravaging effects of politicized and corporatized racism that intimidates, marginalizes and murders blacks every minute of every day.

Viggo Mortensen

“Green Book” is an entertaining and respectable movie about racism but it barely scratches the surface of the problem. Viggo Mortensen’s experience shows why. America is afraid of facing and addressing its demons. Ruining the lives of people on the humanitarian side of the issue, like Viggo Mortensen, comes all too easily.   

Green

Rated PG-13. 130 mins. (B) 

Three Stars

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

August 19, 2018

BLINDSPOTTING

Blindspotting“Blindspotting” carries the burden of associating itself with Danny Boyle’s 1996 mind-blower “Trainspotting.” The slang term blindspotting refers to “a situation or image” that is interpreted in two different ways.

If you’ve seen the picture that resembles either a vase or two faces, then you’ll know it when you see it referenced in the film. It’s a fair enough title to pin your movie on even if it comes off as derivative, overwrought, and a little precious. Accordingly, these are all terms that apply to “Blindspotting,” an amateurish effort at addressing the plight of young blacks, and their similarly hip-hop culture-informed white compatriots, in and around socially troubled, and trigger-happily policed Oakland, California.

Blindspotting

Collin (co-writer/actor Daveed Diggs) is finishing up his final days living in a probation house after serving a term in the pokey for an incident that occurred at a bar where Collin’s childhood best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) was the bouncer. The wardrobe department puts too fine a point on the film’s regional location with Collin wearing so many shirts that say, "Oakland" that you’ll never want to visit the East Bay wearing any other such attire.

Blindspotting2

Collin is black, Miles is white. Collin doesn’t have enough common sense, or character judgement, to recognize Miles as the biggest threat to his reentering free society. Miles is this film’s antagonist, as much as local cops who treat Oakland like minority hunting ground, although most audiences won’t pick up on it. The pals drive trucks for a moving company. On his way home Collin witnesses a cop shoot and kill an innocent civilian. Needless to say, he can’t get the violent memory out of his head. Oh tourism. 

The movie hits cliché rut whenever female characters come into the picture. Dialogue gets downright cheesy when the boys talk to girls. Collin is still hung up on the girlfriend who never once visited him in the slammer. Miles lives with his baby mama and child even as he recklessly carries a gun around for safety. The longtime buddies speak in hip-hop lingo as they help rich white folk move into their gentrifying neighborhood.  Bromance is good, tech yuppies are evil.  

Blindspotting3

Form is another of this film’s weaknesses. The movie jolts in fits and starts with scenes that don’t always move the story along, or provide character motivation. There is a better movie hiding somewhere inside of this one, but this is the one we’re stuck with.

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Inspiration is the main thing “Blindspotting” has going for it. The film is energized by two young (relatively unknown) actors putting skin in a film they believe in. Newcomer director Carlos López Estrada doesn’t possess the skills necessary to make every scene work, or to excise crumby dialogue, but “Blindspotting” is nonetheless fascinating from a social perspective. America’s ever-festering boil of racism continues to claim the lives of minorities and those unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when guns are drawn. “Blindspotting” plays it safe; who can blame it for that?

Blindspotting

Rated R. 95 min. Two Stars

COLE SMITHEY

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. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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