Customer Reviews: Smoke
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on September 23, 2004
Smoke is a great off beat film that took me by surprise. I just happened to catch it on cable one day. For those of you that live in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, you'll love seeing that part of town on film including the "J" train as it slowly creeps up the track towards the Williamsburgh Bridge and BedStuy off in the hazy distance and the old Williamsburgh Bank in the foreground. It's a long lazy shot and I find myself sometimes watching that scene over and over again. It's a beautiful shot of that part of Brooklyn. Close enough to hear the train but far enough to keep the other city noises in the background. Utterly beautiful!

This film is full of quirky characters. Auggie (Harvey Keitel) is probably the most off beat and quirky of them all. Stockard Channing gives a stunning performance as Auggie's ex girlfriend and Ashley Judd is brilliant, even though she only has one scene, as their drug addicted, poor and bitter daughter. The film also stars William Hurt (Altered States), Harold Perrineau Jr, (Romeo&Juliet) and Forest Whitaker (Panic Room).

The most unexpected moment in Smoke is Auggie's Christmas story. I don't want to give too much away but it's sad, touching and funny all at the same time. Don't look for special effects, explosions, car chases or gun fights here. There are none. Just good storytelling.

Also interesting are the bonus attractions on the dvd. Seeing the director (Wayne Wang) direct another director (Forest Whitaker) and watching Whitaker accept and discuss Wang's directions were especially captivating.

All in all, a lovely film to curl up with. Enjoy!
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on February 23, 1999
I am your average movie buff whose taste in movies runs from the traditional movie fare such as "Ben-Hur", "E.T.", and "Star Wars". However, more and more recently I find myself attracted to the independent cinema. "Smoke" was a film that follows close on the heels of such indie blockbusters as "Short Cuts" and "Pulp Fiction" and, though not to take anything away from the former two films (which in my opinion are both masterpieces), "Smoke" lives up to the hype. Harvey Keitel was embarrasingly shut out of the Academy Awards in '95 (as was the entire film and two other gems from that year, "Heat" and "Casino", whose places in the Oscar slot were replaced by such bizarre choices as the inspirational but still rather childish "Babe" and the Italian Communist propaganda "Il Postino")for what I think is one of the most earthy and brazenly un-movie star-like performances of all time. His Auggie Wren is an enigma; at first sight you see a rugged man worn out by the day-to-day routine. Those who know him better, like widower novelist Paul Benjamin (William Hurt), find a keen philosophical spark behind the skewed demeanor of a cigar shop proprietor. The film has been read by many as too literate for its own good; why employ such insights into celluloid? The answer is not only in Paul Auster's brilliant writing (this film should have won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar), but in the minimalist conceits of Adam Holender's camerawork and the mood invoked by director Wayne Wang's leisurely pacing of scenes. The scene where Keitel and Hurt are sitting inside the cigar shop looking at Keitel's photo album is one of the most moving and provocative scenes I have ever seen on film, ditto the entire last fifteen minute segment, essaying "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story", an idiosyncratic piece that originally appeared in the New York Times in Christmas 1990. The film's closing dialogue is one of the most poignant recent lines ever to end a movie: Wren: If you can't share your secrets with your friends then what kind of friend are you? Benjamin: Exactly...then life just wouldn't be worth living. The brilliance of the entire film is precisely how minimal its plotline is. Those who disagree that the film's meandering style didn't suit them miss the point. The pacing may be lazy, but the film surely is not. It's odd, and never before has the lack of harmony as displayed by Tom Waits' boozy barroom version of "Innocent When You Dream" seemed so poetic when coincided with the images of this film. The film has a message involving race, and I realized what a true filmmaker Wang is in not losing the subtlety of this message. Cross-cultural differences cannot be solved by obsessively preaching and ranting at your audience. They can be solved through generous displays of human emotion and a good evocation of sentiment. Wang does precisely this when, as the end credits unfold, he shows Keitel's hands clenched in between the lonely fingers of an elderly black lady. In perfect contrast, Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" sermonizes when Mookie the pizza delivery boy speaks of Louis Farrakhan and the entire celluloid of the film crawls with a false reverence shown toward the man whose anti-Semitism and reverse racism ring hollow within the tolerance context that film was trying to shoot for. "Smoke" may not be for everybody, and I realize that for those unfamiliar with novelistic style and flourish the film's many shots-which-call-attention-to-themselves (such as the camera moving into Keitel's lips as he tells the Christmas story) may seem needlessly stylistic, but the idea is not to get irritated by such a thing, but to weigh how closely the story's impact becomes so much more personal as the close-up gets tighter. 1995 was a really good year for movies: right off the top of my head I can name "Braveheart", "Apollo 13", "Seven", "Get Shorty", "Casino", "Toy Story", "Heat", "Sense and Sensibility", "Twelve Monkeys", and "Richard III". "Smoke" was the cream of the crop.
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on September 6, 1999
This movie is pure art. And Wang and Auster are fine craftsman. Auster with a wonderfully dense and intricate image of the 4 main characters and the half-dozen others. And Wang in his tableau presentation of each story. The scene with Keitel and Hurt looking through Auggie's photo album reminded me of Monet's paintings at Giverney. Each painting of the same spot, but with different light, or fog or seasonal vegetation. The same of the photos. When Auggie has Paul slow down and look at each photo, true art. And of course the stark realism of the final scene with Keitel telling the Christmas story. We again see Wang the artist. First with a simple scene in a deli and the magnificent acting of Keitel and Hurt. And then the artist clears his pallette and tells it again in pictures and music with Tom Waits. Unbelieveable! The best movie of that year.
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on April 5, 2005
This is one of the best movies I've ever seen.

I had read a Paul Auster novel before (BOOK OF ILLUSIONS) and it was a fine read, but this film that he wrote and co-directed just surpasses any possible expectations I could've possibly had going in.

I highly reccomend that you put captions on this, so you don't miss a line. This is what cinema was truly meant to be. Tremendous acting, brilliant script, deep characters, thoughtful camera work...flawless.

The plot is irrelevant. It is one of those films that you just have to let unfold so to admire the intertwining of the lives that are portrayed.

Bravo to Keitel, Hurt, Whittaker, and all the actors and crew members who managed to pull this off.

Do not hesitate in checking this out.
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on February 5, 2005
Outside another yellow moon

Has punched a hole in the nighttime, yes

I climb through the window and down to the street

I'm shining like a new dime

The downtown trains are full with all of those Brooklyn girls

They try so hard to break out of their little worlds

Well you wave your hand and they scatter like crows

They have nothing that will ever capture your heart

They're just thorns without the rose

Be careful of them in the dark

Oh, if I was the one you chose to be your only one

Oh baby can't you hear me now, can't you hear me now

I know your window and I know it's late

I know your stairs and your doorway

I walk down your street and past your gate

I stand by the light at the four-way

You watch them as they fall, oh baby, they all have heart attacks

They stay at the carnival, but they'll never win you back...

-This movie is outstanding, top to bottom, start to end. This movie's got a vibe to it that just doesn't let up and if it connects with you like it does with me, you'll love it. Dialogue and writing that will just pierce through you like a round from a thirty-ought-six. Direction that is amazing. And, if you're at all familiar with NYC - I'm a SF native myself, but know NYC far better than any two-bit bowery boy - then you're in for a treat as well too. It's just got a flow to it that you're gonna connect with.

If you've seen this and like it, check out the "sequel" Blue in the Face." It too is right on par with this. Also, check out any of Jim Jarmusch's films too (e.g., Down By Law, Mystery Train, Dead Man, Coffee and Cigarettes, etc.).

Oh, the piece above? It's relevant to the movie. Those who have seen it know what it is if they were paying attention. Others may know it just by knowing it or knowing that it was written by one of the greatest songwriters/performers alive. But, it is a part of this movie and I just wanted to include it for you. Another reviewer here *hinted* at it in their excellent review when they mentioned some of the scenery. Anyway, maybe it'll serve as some motivation for some of you to finally break down and get this absolutely stunning film finally. I hope so.

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on July 14, 1999
I find it really very strange that throughout his long and illustrous carreer Harvey Keitel has been nominated just once for the Academy Awards! His lazy way of telling a story at the end of "Smoke" should have deserved at least a nomination, not to talk about his brilliant performances in "Taxi driver", "Pulp fiction", "Mean streets", or "The piano".
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on January 29, 2003
In a world where Big-Budgeted Blockbusters rule,'s a nice refreshing turn to see "little films" soar! I had the distinct pleasure of viewing this simplistically, yet elegantly shot masterpiece in the art-house theaters,.and it's just damn good storytelling,with NO special digital effects or CGIs from ILM!
William Hurt and Harvey Keitel (in his best performance since Mean Streets and Bad Lieutenant) are incredible followed by a bunch of supporters like Stockard Channing, Forrest Whitaker,Ashley Judd (like you've never seen her!)and Oz's Harold Perrineau Jr. All of these characters are intertwined like the best Robert Altman film you've ever seen plus some! Be warned! It IS slowly paced,.but the highlight of the film is the story Keitel tells Hurt in the coffee shop at the end. Just notice how slowly Keitel tells the story,and the slowest dolly push in shot, and how beautifully framed that one shot that covers the whole scene pretty much looks. It's ALL character-driven performances are top-notch all around,and Auggie's(Keitel)Brooklyn Cigar Shop (the central setpiece) will mesmerize you long after the credits roll! Once again,.this film is not for kids, or Steven Segal or Van Damme fans with 1/2 hour Springer time-slot-esque attention spans! Enjoy, and e-mail me with your opinions!( Also check out the sequel called Blue in the Face!It's from the same writer/director team (Paul Auster and Wayne Wang) who brought us Smoke. New music from the Jerry Garcia Band,too!)
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on November 14, 2003
"Smoke" is one of those movies that you'd probably be better off buying rather than renting. It deserves --perhaps even requires-- multiple viewings. `Great,' you may say, `another movie that I have to watch a dozen times to understand.' No, no. Don't be afraid. The reason I suggest this is not because the film is presented in a haphazard format (like the double helix-like antics of "Pulp Fiction"). It's not because the dialogue is cryptic or scant, the story unfolding with minimal explanation. And, no, don't worry, it's not because it's so damned pretentiously quirky that things seem to be going absolutely nowhere, reminiscent of highly overrated films such as "The Royal Tennenbaums", "Punch Drunk Love", and "Adaptation": those where ultimately, you learn virtually nothing about the plot and characters. So why do I recommend that "Smoke" be watched more than once? There are actually a couple of primary reasons: First, I'll explain why it 'deserves' multiple viewings, and secondly, why it may 'require' them:
1) Simply put: This is a comforting film. If you need to be loved or wanted, or just want to hang out with some friends who have been in your shoes and will listen and provide solace... then this is the story for you.
Compassion is the essential theme of "Smoke". We have a drugged-out girl (Ashley Judd) who gets pregnant, with an alcoholic mother (Stockard Channing) struggling to reunite with her ex-boyfriend (Harvey Keitel) --who is also the purported father of her daughter-- in order to assist Judd's character with raising her child, and to provide a family atmosphere. Enter next a seventeen year-old boy (Harold Perrineau Jr.) attempting desperately to obtain employment from an amputee owner of a nearly bankrupt gas station (Forrest Whitaker) whom he believes to be his long, lost father. The boy ends up befriending -the last of the six characters-- a once popular writer (William Hurt) who, as a result of multiple traumas (mainly because of the loss of his wife), has lost his literary mojo; consequently, he is reclusive and somewhat paranoid of others. These are all seriously confused people, folks. But as the story progresses --at a pace that is neither hurried nor lagging behind, echoing the pace of the characters' deep thought and introspection, and thus allowing the viewer time to synthesize the consequences of their realizations-- these people become involved with others that share their pain and loss, and they console one another. There really are no antagonists in this film. Of course, none of the characters are even close to perfect, evidenced when they engage in some questionable and objectionable acts (never extending the scope of realism as to make them ridiculously quirky, I must add); but the important thing is that they all learn from their mishaps and paranoias, and bequeath their knowledge to influence positively each others' lives. To conclude why "Smoke" deserve multiple viewings: There's a lasting effect that I liken to listening to a comforting song, over and over and over again.
2) Though the pace of "Smoke" was concurrent with the goings-on in the characters' lives, these people are nonetheless complex. They are intellegent, introspective, and contemplative --and also great storytellers and listeners, to boot. But complex stories and complex characters both demand a high degree of attentiveness, and as a result, there is a greater probability of something being missed. For this reason, additional viewings may be required.
For whatever reason, I highly recommend at least one viewing of "Smoke". The acting is highly realistic --even improvised many times during the film, eliciting an occasional chuckle. Few times have I seen a film where personal highs and lows are so well-balanced. Then why only four stars? Well, the improvisation seems to get a little out-of-character sometimes, and the direction is occasionally shoddy. But overall, this is a great DVD to buy -not rent.
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on December 15, 1998
In an era where big budget glitz rules the film industry, a well crafted movie like Smoke is a breath of fresh air. Harvey Keitel, who plays the central character of Augie, is the one constant in an ever-moving stream of humanity that is Brooklyn. Augie is both witness and participant,and through the lens of his street corner perched camera, we realize that the world is made up of millions of stories, nearly all of which are in some way compelling. William Hurt's character is one such story. Once a prolific writer, Hurt's talent has been thwarted by life's brutality, one which we are reminded of constantly thoughout the film. Finally, he is able to deal with the grief of his wife's loss throught the selfless act of helping a young runaway. The scene where Hurt spots his wife in one of Augie's street corner photographs is one of the films many poignant moments. Great performances are delivered without exception by all the actors, but as is the case in so many of his films,Mr. Keitel steals the show. Probably more so than any actor of his generation, Harvey Keitel has mastered the ability to create characters who are both human, warts and all, yet also sympathetic. The telling of his Christmas story to the faithful customers of the smoke shop is probably the highlight of this film and is simply a brilliant piece of story-telling. What makes Smoke so different from mainstream movies is the fact that one can't help but feel that one is watching a well acted play, in that every line of dialog is so crucial, every character so meaningful.Not a scene could have been deleted without seriously damaging the final product, and when was the last time you could say that about a film? Smoke portrays Brooklyn convincingly as an exotic stew of diverse cultures and personalities, and in at least some of these personalities we must surely see a bit of ourselves.
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on December 6, 2002
If you thought your life was boring, meaningless, and without any deeper perspective than what you see on the surface...then you haven't seen SMOKE! This brilliant story was created by author Paul Auster and brought to life through the extroadinary talents of Harvey Keitel and William Hurt. Keitel plays Brooklyn tobacco store owner, Auggie Wren. Hurt portrays his customer/friend, Paul, a struggling writer,left emotionally devastated by the death of his pregnant wife and unborn child. There is so much to absorb in this film, but the show belongs to Auggie who finds some order in his disorderly life through photos he takes of his store the same exact time...same exact place...every single day into the years. As time passes before him, the store front is the same, but life evolves into a procession of changing faces and scenes. This unique concept unravels to express the greater continuity of life and totally captivates the viewer. Exceptional photography adds depth to this startling level of awareness and totally captures your complete attention. Stockard Channing, Forest Whitaker, and Ashley Judd are perfect supporting characters in this intertwining tale of tales. Keitel's Christmas story is so thought provoking that characters and audience alike are perfectly connected in the rarest of moments. Sadly, the movie leaves many questions fully unanswered, but perhaps as in life itself, that is the final point to be made!
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