7 posts categorized "NYFF"

October 12, 2017

LAST FLAG FLYING — NYFF 55

COLE SMITHEY

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 helps keep the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Colesmithey.com2“Last Flag Flying” is a huge disappointment. Co-written by Darryl Ponicsan (“The Last Detail”) and Richard Linklater, this episodic drama plays like a misguided cross between “Grand Theft Parsons” and “In The Valley of Elah.” Even so it feels like a movie in search of a story.

Although the film lurches toward condemning the U.S. Military for its systemic brainwashing and capitalist-based murder of friends and foe alike, the movie wraps up with a fantasy-is-better-than-truth message that reneges on its premise. Add to that the equal miscasting of its three leads (Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve Carell) and you end up with an excruciating viewing experience. Here is a movie that scores less than zero, in case you didn’t know that were possible from such a reputable bunch.

Last-flag-flying

Darryl Ponicsan is no longer floating on the cred he earned for “The Last Detail” (1973), about a Navy soldier (played by Randy Quaid) being escorted by two Officers to a Naval prison for trying to steal $40 from a collection box. The author is however still stuck in a no man’s land mindset about whether or not the U.S. military is worth a damn. It’s similar to Martin Scorsese’s overriding career theme regarding the existence of God, and the value of organized religion. I’ve got a short answer to both quandaries, but that’s another story for another time.

Screen Shot 2022-03-25 at 7.13.56 PM

Ponicsan is clearly obsessed with the U.S. military’s methods of indoctrination that turn grown men into pap-spewing fraternity bros. Any mention of the Marines incites a knee-jerk response of ‘hoo ra” or “semper fi do or die” from Laurence Fishburne’s character, Pastor Richard Mueller, a veteran who substituted religion for military service after going civilian. Mueller doesn’t necessarily believe in either, but it’s a way for him to big-dog everyone he comes in contact with via his connection to the bible, or to the Marines if need be. He is an insufferable person, and a phony.

Last-flag-flying

Next up in our trio of unbearable, and inauthentic, human beings is Bryan Cranston’s Sal Nealon, a bar owner who talks and acts like Andrew Dice Clay’s brother. Cranston hams up the role past 11. That Richard Linklater allowed Cranston to overplay his character to such an outlandish degree only emphasizes Linklater’s failings as a director. Cranston mugs and twists his made up accent into an acting clinic on things not to do as a thespian. I don’t suppose he ever watched Michael Caine’s lessons on film acting. You’ll never think of Bryan Cranston the same way again.

Screen Shot 2022-03-25 at 7.13.46 PM

The same goes for Steve Carell, the most miscast member of Ponicsan’s reprobates. Carell’s milquetoast character, Larry “Doc” Shepherd took the fall for Sal and Richard after a vaguely told episode of wartime negligence. Doc did hard time for his fellow comrades, I mean soldiers. Still, Doc isn’t holding a grudge; he’s got other, more recent, wounds to lick. His wife died of cancer, and now he has to bury his soldier son who died under mysterious circumstance in Baghdad. So it is that Doc recruits his military bros to join him on a road trip to his son’s funeral. That is until the guys discover the real story of how the kid died from Washington (J. Quinton Johnson), a soldier who witnessed the deadly incident. Oddly, J. Quinton Johnson upstages his fellow, more experienced actors, with this film’s only believable performance. Remember his name, J. Quinton Johnson has a bright acting future ahead.

Last-Flag-Flying

You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a more inept movie, much less one coming from the pedigree that this one does. In hindsight, the film’s title seems to signal a career-ender for all those involved except for J. Quinton Johnson. The icing on the cake is that “Last Flag Flying” was chosen as the centerpiece for the 55th New York Film Festival. Entropy with a whimper is everywhere you look.  

Rated R. 124 mins.

Zero Stars

COLE SMITHEY

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 helps keep the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

October 11, 2017

THE SQUARE — NYFF 55

Colesmithey.comJust because a film won the Palme d’Or in Cannes is no reason to assume it is any good. Ruben Östlund’s ham-fisted, but also cheesy, attempt at self-aware social satire is in keeping with his overpraised [debut] parlor-trick drama “Force Majeure.” Ruben Östlund aspires to be a cross between Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl but is in fact closer to Yorgos Lanthimos, another enfant terrible wannabe.

“The square” of the film’s title represents an art instillation outside the X-Royal Museum, a prominent nouveau arts center run by Christian (Claes Bang), a Scandinavian everyman imperiled by the people around him. Is society breaking down? Perhaps. The lighted square represents a safe communal place where people help each other.  

Square

Christian’s troubles begin when he’s robbed while walking to work by a creative group of seemingly unrelated people. As Christian walks across a plaza a woman comes running towards him, shouting about being killed by a man chasing her. Another bystander protects the woman, and Christian joins in to defend her from the approaching brute. Only later does Christian realize that his watch, wallet, cell phone, and cuff links have been stolen. The entire episode was an act of carefully orchestrated thievery not unlike that which Christian’s overblown museum commits with works of art such as a room with many piles of rocks.

THE-SQUARE-ART

Christian’s entitled status doesn’t prevent him from doing some stupid things. At the advice of his minority employee Michael (Christopher Læssø), Christian prints out a bunch of incendiary flyers that he personally puts in the doors of a low-income high-rise where his phone is tracked.

Elisabeth-moss

After being interviewed by Anne, a loose-screw American TV journalist played by the now ubiquitous scientologist actress Elisabeth Moss, Christian makes the mistake of bedding her. In the film’s most cringe-inducing scene, Anne engages Christian in a tug-of-war for the freshly used condom that could provide her with innumerable legal options, aside from the obvious motivation of impregnating herself with his semen. You have to hand it to Östlund for typecasting Moss to play such a bad-animal character; Christian is no judge of character. He’s also not very good at tug-of-war.

The square

“The Square” fails as a social satire because Östlund isn’t capable of completing any of his slow-moving trains of thought. He creates provocative situations that he isn’t prepared to pay off on. Östlund got away with pulling the wool over many critics’ eyes with “Force Majeure” because the narrative rested on one blink-and-you-miss-it element. At two hours and 22 minutes, “The Square” puts its many weaknesses on flagrant display. Here is a lazy satire unworthy of a sneeze from such masters of the form as Lars von Trier. Perhaps one day Ruben Östlund will make a competent film; don’t hold your breath.

Square

Rated R. 142 mins.

Zero Stars

COLE SMITHEY

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 helps keep the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

October 11, 2015

STEVE JOBS — NYFF53

JobsFor a movie that resists the traditional biopic movie formula of career-high-and-low flashbacks (witness Ashton Kutcher’s disastrous “Jobs” about the same subject — now streaming on Netflix), “Steve Jobs” is a droning tone poem of a character study. That the Apple CEO seems to have never digested the milk of human kindness supports our shared realization that capitalism’s ruthless quest for unlimited profit is headed to a dead end.  

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s flawed format sets the abstruse biographical narrative in three acts, each placed in the backstage areas of auditoriums, at different points in Jobs’s career. The petulant “genius” prepares to introduce Apple products that exemplify his bloated career as a cult figure who might have been drawn from Mike Myers’s Dieter character from the “Saturday Night Live” Sprockets skits. The difference is that Jobs made people pay to “touch his monkey.” 

Screen Shot 2022-03-21 at 2.04.19 PM

Sorkin’s affinity for overlapping conversations, infused with artificial traveling tension (à la television’s “The Newsroom”), wears thin just when the movie should take off, namely at the start of its second act. In each tortured segment, we catch Michael Fassbinder’s mercurial computer mastermind getting ready to go on stage to introduce his latest creation.

Distractions abound. Jobs’s temper explodes, as when his production team fails to make the Apple II computer say “hello” to the audience of press and industry at the product launch. The Steve Jobs presented here is an egomaniacal huckster with a gift for gab and a mean streak when it comes to women. Don’t look for any humanity here because the Steve Jobs we come to know from this film may as well be a capitalist robot come to “save” humanity by extracting its money. No need to thank this cult leader, profit and worship are all he desires.  

Stevejobs_

In this ostensibly cinematically dynamic hotel environment of dressing-room mirrors and nervous assistants, Jobs suffers the company of people to whom he should be loyal, but can’t find it in himself to even be civil. First up are Steve’s ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterson) and her five-hear-old daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss). Chrisann is furious over Steve’s public denial of being Lisa’s father in a magazine interview where Jobs couched Chrisann in a brutally misogynistic analogy. Steve Jobs isn’t in the business of giving apologies. While he gloats over the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s worth, Chrisann lives in poverty. Only after she holds his feet to the fire does he finally agree to financially support her and their daughter. Talk about a wealthy skinflint not worthy of procreating, Steve Jobs puts the cherry on the cake.   

Danny Boyle does an admirable job of adding dimension and resonance to the claustrophobic atmosphere. Boyle deploys three different camera formats, one for each act. The filmmaker uses 16mm film for the first act, circa 1984 before shifting to glossy 35mm footage for the film’s 1988- era second act. Naturally the film’s final act (circa 1988) is filmed digitally. The artistic effort shines through even if it can’t elevate such a flawed script. The movie is too pat. 

Seth-Rogen

Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak (to whom Jobs refers as “Rainman”) is presented as two sides of an ongoing joke. All Woz wants, and he wants it really bad, is for his partner-in-crime (they stole the software they used to design their early computers) to acknowledge the “Apple II team” for their contributions to the company. Wozniak’s request seems more than reasonable since Jobs continues to milk that team’s success while tinkering with future failures, like the NeXT computer platform.

Screen Shot 2022-03-21 at 2.04.30 PM

Walter Isaacson’s authorized Steve Jobs biography might have been the basis for Sorkin’s adaptation, but this film is all surface and punchlines. Jobs brags that “musicians play their instruments,” but that he “plays the orchestra.” Where, you might wonder does he do that? Off-Broadway perhaps?

Stevejobsmovie

Even by anti-hero standards, Steve Jobs was a bad person who treated the people closest to him like dirt. Besides, he was no Elon Musk when it comes to inventing. This movie helps in its own heavy-handed way at peeling back onion layers of a conceptual inventor who took all of the credit for other people’s work. As many of us know, it’s not always the best idea to meet your heroes. Personally, I never found much fascination with Steve Jobs. After seeing this movie, that hasn't changed.   

2 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

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! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series