May 09, 2020

THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER



CookThiefLoverPeter Greenaway's reputation as Britain's most ferocious intellectual filmmaker reached its apex in 1989 with his sixth feature film. Although everything about this black comedy including its tongue-twisting title challenges audiences, "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" remains Greenaway's most successful effort. Methodically constructed in the Jacobean form of Elizabethan revenge tragedies, the movie is an unrestrained attack on Margaret Thatcher's version of Ronald Reagan-style capitalism that infected the globe.

Greenaway conceived his film as a play, "a performance," with which the audience is meant to engage. His strict adherence to formal laws of theatrical dramaturgy, including proscenium staging, is attenuated by a non-stop assault of physical and verbal violence from the film's loathsome antagonist Albert Spica. In the role of Albert, Michael Gambon embodies his boorish character with a virulent toxicity of epic scale.

Cook

Greenaway lets the audience know what it's in for during a tense opening sequence. Albert dislodges the owner of a haute cuisine restaurant named Le Hollandaise. The restaurant's proprietor "Roy"--note the allusion to a "king" — hasn't been keeping up on his protection payments to Albert, a mean-spirited mob boss with a taste for fine dishes he can barely pronounce. Peter Greenaway predicted a future he hoped wouldn't arrive. It did. The vicious way Albert tortures Roy and smears his nude body with feces reflects the same cruel brand of devastating psychological humiliation later committed by guards at Guantánamo prison.

The-banquet-of-the-officers-of-the-st-george-militia-company-in-1616-frans-hals-1616-f941d503

Against Albert's orders his elegant wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) smokes cigarettes as a singular act of insubordination. Knowing her turn will come, she nevertheless tolerates Albert's brutish behavior toward others. Inside the grand restaurant Albert confers with his "employee," a veteran French chef named Richard (Richard Bohringer), about the menu. The dining room's red color scheme is watched over by Dutch painter Frans Hals's "Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard Company" —  another thematic poke by the filmmaker. Albert spews his cockney variety of verbal bile at a large rectangular table that allows for Greenaway's formal tableaux compositions to blossom. Challenging thematic ideas come in spades.

CookWife

Striking costumes by Jean-Paul Gautier and a haunting musical score by Michael Nyman augment the film's purposefully artificial execution. Georgina strikes up an affair with Michael (Alan Howard), a solitary man who reads as he dines across from Albert's table of savages. Over the course of the next few nights the lovers retreat to the restaurant's bathroom and kitchen to make love between courses. Their trysts represent a desperate escape of independent thinkers from an oppressive outside world that would just as soon eat them alive, or dead.

Cook_Thief_Wife

"The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" is a masterpiece of British cinema built on several hundred years of literary tradition. The film must be viewed more than once to begin to digest its pungent and subtle layers of rope-thick satire. There are far worse cinematic fates to be had. 

Cookwifethieflover

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!  Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

February 16, 2020

MADE IN SHEFFIELD

MadeThe industrial city of Sheffield, England was the birthplace for the electronic pop explosion of cool post punk bands such as "Vice Versa," "The Human League," "Heaven 17," "ABC,” and "Cabaret Voltaire." Slick style and a rejection of cultural limitations at hand, these daring musicians created a utopian attitude of romanticized clarity and precision. 

Cabaret Voltaire

Songs pulse, heat up, and grow on an international level in a bastion of fearless creativity. Here is an essential chapter of musical history brought to relevant life and context in fun documentary.   

In this enthusiastic, if brief (it clocks in at only 52 minutes), documentary filmmaker Eve Wood charts the lineage of musicians whose music inspired modern-day bands such as "Stereolab," "Ladytron," and "Peaches."

Made In Sheffield

Through insightful interviews with band members (such as Phil Oakey of The Human League), and rare live performance footage, "Made In Sheffield" fills an essential period that linked Punk to the British New Wave with bands intent on destroying rock music.

John-peel

Interview subjects such as the late John Peel, The Human League’s Phil Oakey and Ian Craig Marsh, and music critic Andy Gill shed light on the indispensable influence of Sheffield’s electronic music scene. This thrilling documentary is an important film for any serious music lover to learn about the origins of a time and place where musical creativity ran wild. Perhaps the best thing about this essential documentary is that it might inspire new audiences to discover this music, and perhaps be inspired to create original music of their own.

Humanleague

Not rated. 52 mins. (A-)Four Stars

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

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 15, 2020

ROCKETMAN

RocketmanHindered by faulty construction and lax editing that tires out the audience long before its two-hour run time passes, “Rocketman” is nonetheless an energetic fantasy version of Elton John’s incredible career in music.

Inspired musical vignettes set to magnificent Elton John songs such as “The Bitch Is Back” or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” arrive with dance sequences that put “La La Land” to shame. There are times when it feels like the scattershot story gets in the way of the music.

This film’s overall success derives directly from Taron Egerton’s infectious performance as Elton John. His facial expressions deserve their own chapter in the latest book on the craft of film acting. There is magic here.

Rocketman-Taron-Egerton

This picture should serve as Egerton’s break-out feature film role given the vast gifts of physicality, emotional register, and dynamics on display here. You may not be familiar with Taron Egerton from his part in the forgettable “Kingsman” movie franchise, but Egerton’s Elton John blows Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury off the stage. Judging from Egerton’s work here, it seems as if there is nothing this fine British actor cannot, or will not, do.

Rocketman

Jamie Bell elevates his supporting role as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s songwriting partner, to something sublime. Bell matches Egerton note for note, beat for beat, in every scene they share. The effect is mesmerizing. Bryce Dallas Howard fulfills her role as Elton John’s cruel mother Sheila with laser-like precision. It makes you want to see Bryce Dallas Howard in more movies.

Rated R. 121 mins. (B+)

Four Stars

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a bunch pal!

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