I’m Gonna Tell You a Story – Smoke (1995)

“So you’re not just some guy who pushes coins across a counter.”

“Well, that’s what people see, but… that ain’t necessarily what I am.”

smokeThere are some movies that shout at you. You know the kind of movies that I mean. We see them mostly in the summer, and they tend to be talked about as though they have exclamation points at the end of their titles even when they don’t. The Avengers! Die Hard! Transformers!

There are other movies that want to whisper in your ear just enough to creep you out. These tend to get lumped into the horror or suspense category. Movies like the recent Mama or The Lady in Black.

Then there are movies that want to talk at you, maybe even flash open their raincoats and expose themselves to you. I’m thinking of movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Compliance.

Some movies want to preach to you, to show you just how important they are. In this case, as far as recent movies go, I’m thinking about ones like The Master or Life of Pi.

Now, of course, not all movies fit neatly into these little categories. Some would be hard to characterize into any of these little boxes. Others, of course, would fit into many of them. In some ways, I suppose, how you “hear” a movie also depends on what you bring to it.

Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel) behind the counter of his Brooklyn smoke shop
Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel) behind the counter of his Brooklyn smoke shop

So which kind of movie is Smoke? Actually, I’d say it’s none of the above. It’s a movie that just wants to sit across the table from you, share a beer and a cigarette, and have a nice long conversation. Maybe share a story along the way. And maybe, just maybe, if you give it enough time, it’ll let you know what it’s really all about.

Smoke is, on it’s face, a story about two (or maybe, depending on how you count them three) people, the moments they share, the people around them, and how their lives intersect. But it’s not one of those movies that lives for those “Aha!” moments. You know the ones. Their the ones where at the end you want to (or feel a need to) go back and watch them again to piece together just how the screenwriter or director, in all their cleverness, pointed all along the way to something that at the end changes the relationships of the characters or your perceptions of what they have been going through. No, it pretty much lays its cards on the table as it goes. giving the viewer all the information they need either as it introduces each character, as they choose to reveal themselves, or even as they find out more about themselves through the course of events.

Auggie and Paul share a moment over Auggie's photo albums.
Auggie and Paul share a moment over Auggie’s photo albums.

Auggie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel, runs a tobacco shop in Brooklyn. It’s a small shop, and he has a number of regular customers who either come in just to buy things or, just as often, simply to spend some time chatting back and forth with Auggie himself. One of those customers is a writer, Paul Benjamin. William Hurt portrays Benjamin in a contrast to Auggie. Whereas Auggie is one of those guys who seems able to relate to just about anybody, and seems to have a ready, if often wry, smile for anyone who pops into his shop, Benjanin is a broken man. He has, we learn, lost his wife and unborn child as they were caught in the cross-fire of a gang shooting. I mentioned earlier that there is a possible third main character, and that would be Thomas Jefferson “Rashid” Cole, a 16-turning-17 year old African-American kid (Harold Perrineau Jr, who many will know as “Michael” from Lost) who winds up interjecting himself into both of their lives, and is to an extent the catalyst for much of what is to come.

As I said before, this is a story that reveals itself in the telling, and I don’t want to take that away from it, so I’m not really going to go into much more of the plot, leaving you to discover that as you watch it. Suffice to say that it is a movie that definitely rewards the viewer for the time he or she spends with it, and by the time its story is finished, much like Paul Benjamin once he has heard Auggie’s Christmas story, will be left with a few questions still to be asked and answered, but at the same time, satisfied to, for the moment at least, leave it where it lies and just be taken in by that wry sweet smile of Auggie. Or, as Auggie and Paul themselves close things,

“If you can’t share your secrets with your friends then what kind of friend are you?”

“Exactly… life just wouldn’t be worth living.”

So here’s where I’d usually leave you with a trailer or a clip, but honestly, I think this is one of those cases where I think the trailer really both tries too hard and givs too much away. And really, if you want to watch it, it’s not hard to find on YouTube. Instead, I think I’ll point you to this 2011 segment from NPR’s All Things Considered where you can hear author Paul Auster read his short story “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story” upon which he based the screenplay for Smoke. But even here, I’m going to suggest that if you haven’t seen the film yet and plan to, you hold off until you have.

Yeah, it’s just that good.

Poll Results

smokeSo the poll results are in, and… well, it turns out it was a tie. So, I threw the top vote getters into a hat, pulled one out, and the winner is: 1995’s Smoke. So, sometime next week, look for my thoughts on it.

And if you voted for something else, well, don’t worry, they’re all on the list, so I will get to them eventually.

So, a special thanks to everyone who voted, and look for another poll coming soon.

And, until next time, Happy Viewing.

Just a Quick Poll Reminder

Not a lot of time for writing today, unfortunately, but I did want to remind everyone that I’ll be closing the poll tomorrow evening, so if you’ve been putting off voting or haven’t yet for whatever reason, now is the time to do it! It’ll only take a second and the input would mean a lot to me. Just look in the sidebar to the right and cast your choice for one of the movies I’ll be watching and writing about next week.

Once again, your choices are:

Nuvola filesystems desktop poll

1) Compliance (2012)

2) Smoke (1995)

3) Tremors (1990)

4) The Thief of Bagdad (1924) or

5) Fear In the Night (1947).

For full details and trailers for each of the movies just see this post.

There haven’t been many votes, so the chances a good that your choice will win!

Thanks, and Happy Viewing!

Poll Time! You Pick the Movie!

film night | self portrait
Movies, movies movies. (And just for the record, no, that’s not me, though it definitely feels that way sometimes.) (Photo credit: Adam Foster | Codefor)

If you look over in the sidebar to the right, you’ll notice a new addition – you may have to scroll down a bit to actually see it – a poll asking which movie I should watch and write about. I’ve decided that every once in awhile (probably once a month or so) I’m going to run one of these polls to let you guys and gals give me your input on what you want to read about. Of course, that’s not to say  that I don’t always want your feedback/input/suggestions, this is just a more formal way of doing it.

Sometimes one of the hardest parts of doing a blog like this is choosing which movie I feel like writing about. Obviously there are thousands I could choose from – heck, as I type this there are 454 in my Netflix streaming queue alone, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account all the ones I already have on disk in some way, shape, or form here at the house. So what I’ve done for this poll is to narrow the list down to five that I’ve currently got under consideration and now it’s up to you to determine which will be the next. That doesn’t mean that I won’t get around to the others eventually, but the one y’all pick will simply be moved up to number one. In designing this initial poll I’ve also tried to spread the movies out over a variety of genres and time periods to maybe get a bit of a feel for the type of movie you’re most interested in reading about. I considered including an “other” option, but that’s what the comments are for. If you’ve got a particular movie you want me to throw my two cents worth in on, let me know in the comments either here or over on the facebook page.

Now, obviously, I don’t expect all of you to know all of the movies on the list. Some of them are definitely better known than others. So I’ve provided a little bit of a guide to them below – basically just a couple of lines and the trailer – to help you in making your pick. Okay, with all of that said, here are the five nominees in no particular order:

1) Compliance (2012) – This is one of those movies that I intended to see when it came out last year, but somehow just never got around to. From what I’ve heard, though, it’s disturbing enough on it’s own, but even moreso when you take into account that it’s based on a true story.

2) Smoke (1995) – I’ll say it up front, this is one of my all-time favorite movies, but it’s on the list because it’s been a number of years since I’ve seen it, and it’s definitely time for a re-watch.

3) Tremors (1990) – This is one of those “just for fun” movies. Plus, young Kevin Bacon and even a starring turn from country singer Reba McEntire!

4) Thief of Bagdad (1924) – This makes the list as one of those “I really sshould have already seen it” movies. Of course, due to the age of the film, I couldn’t find a period trailer, but here’s one from the Cohen Film Collection for their Blu-ray release.

5) Fear in the Night (1947) – A bit of B-movie noir featuring DeForest Kelly (“Bones” from the original Star Trek). No trailer here, but I was able to dig up a short clip to give you a taste of it.

So there you go. Those are your five picks, so head over to the sidebar and make your choice. And, of course, if you want more info on the movies, you can always find it by checking their IMDB or Wikipedia pages. Oh, and just a couple of final notes: I’ve set the poll up to be open for about a week, so get your vote in soon, and though I do look forward to your feedback on this – if you want to, feel free to not only let me know how you voted but why, and to make any other suggestions about movies I should be considering – only votes made using the poll will be considered “official”.

Okay, I think that covers it, except for one thing. I definitely appreciate all of the response and input I’ve been getting on this little effort of mine, and I want to let you know that you guys out there are important to me and to say “Thanks”. Whether you’re a regular reader, a first-timer, or somewhere in between,  your feedback means a lot, and this is just one way I’m trying to show it.