41 posts categorized "Cannes Film Festival"

June 21, 2016

THE WAILING — CANNES 2016

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ColeSmithey.comCannes, France —No other film was repeatedly praised as much on the street at Cannes in 2016 than Na Hong Jin’s “Goksung” (“The Wailing”). Fitting neatly into the festival’s cannibal phenomena (there were five cannibalism-related pictures in the festival), “The Wailing” borrows ever so gently from “The Exorcist” to weave an intricate tale of horror that is part who-(or what)-done-it. The film’s Korean title (Goksung) refers to the filmmaker’s grandmother’s hometown, a place where Northern persecuted Catholics fled to before being martyred. In “the Wailing” a local reliably unreliable shaman stands in for the Catholic priests of William Friedkin’s “Exorcist.” Spewing bloody vomit? Check.

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Korean actor Kwak Do-won goes from comedic to terrifying as Jong-Goo, a sometimes bumbling police chief on the trail of bloody communal murders committed under the auspices of supernatural powers acting out through humans in bizarre deadly attacks. One man stabs his wife and children to death without provocation. Blood cover the walls. More such unexplained killings go on; in each gory episode the killer takes on a zombie-like appearance with demon red eyes and dark boiling skin. Grody. 

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The film leverages racial discomfort between Japanese and Korean cultures with a demonically possessed Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who has a taste for human, and wild animal, meat. This guy is about as far from normal as you could possibly get. Whether or not he is the Devil incarnate, is up for grabs. I'm sure some of the film's political commentary regarding race relations between Japan and Korea will go over the heads of most Western audiences (myself included). Nonetheless, this thematic subtext is available for audiences interested in looking beneath the story's surface for thematic substance.  

An evil spirit takes over Jong-Goo’s young daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee). The disturbing invasion of his little girl sends our personally invested cop on a desperate journey to conquer the evil powers attacking him, his family, and his town.

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Beautifully photographed and full of brutal imagery, “The Wailing” strikes a sophisticated balance that encompasses action, character, plot and thematic elements with impact and style. While far from a perfect film, this unconventional exploration in horror sends cinematic chills right through you. Its open ending seems to allow for the possibility of a sequel. Yes, please.

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Not Rated. 156 mins.

3 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

 

May 14, 2016

I, DANIEL BLAKE — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

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ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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ColeSmithey.comThere wasn’t a dry eye in the Salle du Soixantième for the Cannes screening of Ken Loach’s brilliant social drama. 

The film corresponds to Stephane Brize’s “The Measure of a Man,” which played in competition at Cannes in 2015. That picture told of dire social conditions for France’s oppressed working-class. Naturally, Loach’s film (authored by his longtime collaborator Paul Laverty) is set in the modern day United Kingdom. Where “Measure” fell short of satisfactorily enunciating a conspiracy of unethical corporatized agencies whose clear purpose is to exile citizens to the fringes of society, Laverty’s obviously researched script delves deeper into the black market underground that people are forced into choosing.

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We also witness the banal ways that modern bureaucracies conspire to abuse, humiliate, and weaken people’s daily lives. If you didn’t believe there was an international war on the working class before seeing this film, you will grasp that fact before the credits roll. “I, Daniel Blake” is a clarion call for the united sea change of social revolution represented by such humanitarian standard bearers as Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, and Ralph Nader.

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Using a cast of unknown (semi-professional) actors, Loach allows mundane social conditions that most of us are familiar with, to guide the escalating social drama. Colin Coombs gives a wonderfully contained performance as Daniel Blake, an experienced carpenter put out of his occupation due to a heart attack he suffered on the job.

A man in his mid-50s, Blake’s unfamiliarity with using computers proves a major obstacle in traversing the UK's intentionally choppy bureaucratic waters to maintain his “Employment and Support Allowance” from the government. Every government agent he encounters uses corporate double-speak to abuse him. Frustrating hours spent on hold are only exacerbated when he finally gets someone on the phone. Daniel Blake is in danger of losing his benefits because an unseen “decision-maker” has denied Blake’s doctor’s diagnoses that he is unfit to work. The state forces him to spend 35 hours a week looking for work that he can’t accept if, or when, he gets a job offer.

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While at the agency fighting for his benefits, Blake witnesses Katie (Hayley Squires), a mother with two children in tow, being refused service because she was late for her appointment. Blake speaks up in Katie’s defense when security guards attempt to eject her from the building. The two political outcasts strike up a meaningful friendship as Daniel comes to Katie's aid in helping repair conditions in her unheated apartment.

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Dramatically understated, and yet precisely composed, "I, Daniel Blake" breathes with authenticity and unaffected emotion. While some critics have a tendency to be dismissive of Ken Loach for his constancy of purpose, I would argue that it is this exact trait that makes his films so compelling. It takes a special filmmaker to maintain such constancy of purpose.

Long live Ken Loach.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

September 17, 2015

SICARIO — CANNES 2015

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ColeSmithey.comA disappointment from start to finish, Denis Villeneuve’s attempting-to-be-edifying international drug thriller fails miserably by the social realist parameters it portends to fulfill with macho quasi-military bombast and blood-splattered spectacle. That most of the violence occurs in and around the notoriously deadly drug cartel-run city of Juarez, Mexico, serves as a surprisingly dull Third World window dressing.

The action picture, written by first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, works better if you go into it looking for plenty of exploitation with your political propaganda du jour. The inherent racism comes gratis.

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This is not Casta-Gavras’s 1969 leftist agitprop masterpiece “Z.” Nor is it Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers.” “Sicario” comes nowhere near the shrewd directness of those political thriller milestones.

Villeneuve has spoken on how “America believes it can solve problems outside of its borders with violence.” It’s a valid point, but Villeneuve celebrates the violence he abhors during explosive scenes of mass murder that arrive with a stupid post-9/11 message of “Don’t Fuck With Us” that echoes around the movie.

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That life is cheap to both sides of the drug wars is clear. What isn’t is why we should care. Our collective subconscious understands that every “War” the US Government wages against anything it can get its bloody hands on is merely a money grab for the contractors who get the jobs and an ego boost for military officers out for promotions and who believe they are untouchable. America’s War on Drugs operates as a wholesale black market on an epic scale. Killing is written into the budget.

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Considering that America is currently suffering more than one mass murder every single day of the year, I question what effect a film like “Sicario” will have on an American society that already fetishizes violence and guns on an obsessive level. Do we need more movies where an audience is made to watch dozens of human beings brutally shot or bombed to death for money or just a love of killing? Not so much.

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Although handsomely filmed by renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, “Sicario” is too thematically ambiguous for its own good or to be taken seriously as a meaningful piece of editorial commentary on America’s 40-plus-year corporate-branded War on Drugs. The film is content to posit that everyone on both sides of the American/Mexican Drug War is corrupt, save for one innocent but sturdy woman of ethics whose values change over the course of the story.

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The movie tilts a sloppy glimpse of the rampant venality that permeates elite (FBI) anti-drug squads, like the one overseen by Defense Department contractor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a dirty autonomous agent with a mean streak on a hair trigger.

Graver’s partner-in-crime is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), the hitman (sicario) of the film’s title. Greed and revenge are the factors driving these cartoon creations of testosterone-and-steroid-laden characters.

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Regardless of which government office is writing checks to these mercenaries, they act as free agents looking to line their pockets and kill men they stupidly believe are worse than they are. You have two well-armed gangs, but one is just a pinch more ferocious than the other. You can guess which side gets that honor.

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The super-action dream team adopts newbie agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), although it’s never clear why such a group would recruit a new member in such a trial-by-fire fashion. Kate gets a crash course in the FBI’s secret methods of continuing their endless battle against Mexico’s brutal drug cartels. Nerve-wracking missions back and forth between Texas and Juarez allow for bullet-riddled scenes of ultra-violence and emotional and ethical crises for Kate.

When Kate asks Matt about their objective, he responds, “to dramatically overreact.” The line serves as an explicit theme line for the movie. Which doesn’t leave much room for a meaningful story.

ColeSmithey.com

Rated R. 121 mins. 2 Stars

Cozy Cole

ColeSmithey.com

 

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