I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a kind of film whose theme of the individual vs. the system, brutal honesty and underlying power make it a compulsory watch for everyone. The story centres on Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59-year old widowed carpenter living in the UK, who is forced to rely on the benefits system (welfare system) to support himself after his doctor diagnosed him with heart problems. What follows is his experience being part of that system where a person is just a number and where there is little place for basic human understanding and compassion. All this may sound mundane and even dull, but the film is anything but that. Under Loach’s nuanced direction, we follow Blake as he makes friends with a single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and does everything in his power to make his own and others’ lives bearable. The true power of this gentle, realistic film that displays the kindness of others and human hope, lies in showing ordinary people struggling on a daily basis against the system that is paradoxically designed to keep them in the same miserable place.
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Little Joe (2019)
Little Joe is a British/Austrian/German-produced film that was selected to compete at the Cannes Film Festival 2019. In this story, Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham) works at a special laboratory that produces genetically-modified flowers for the public market. Alice and her team have managed to produce one type of a plant that requires much attention from their owners, but, in return, is alleged to “make them happy”. The story takes a disturbing turn when Alice takes one of those new plants (flowers) home, gifts it to her son, Joe, and begins to worry that the pollen that the new flower produces may be infecting people in a sinister way. Probably. If that sounds a bit random and confusing, it is because it is, and the film never makes anything in this story compelling or clearer. Though, at first, the idea behind Little Joe sounds intriguing and the memorable production design does leave an impression, overall, Little Joe is nothing more than a very preposterous, excruciatingly dull and badly-acted picture that, in comparison, will make any episode of a British series EastEnders an immediate Oscar winner. Continue reading ““Little Joe” Review”
Parasite or Gisaengchung is a South Korean dark comedy-thriller from Bong Joon-ho (Okja ((2017)) that won the grandest award at the Cannes Film Festival 2019 – Palme d’Or. I can now happily report that this was a much deserved win and Parasite will be my best film of the year. This film must be seen to be believed – it has been a long time since I enjoyed a movie that much. In Parasite, a Kim family, consisting of a mother, father, daughter and son, is unemployed, poor and living in a basement of one derelict building. Their son, Kim Ki-woo, meets with his old friend and the latter offers him a chance to tutor for awhile one girl of a rich Park family. Kim Ki-woo successfully “infiltrates” the rich Park family, presenting himself as a knowledgeable and strict teacher, and, while doing so, does not forget about his family at home, trying to also secure for them employment positions in the Park family. What follows is the unbelievable chain of events with twists along the way. Director Bong Joon-ho is both subtle and outrageous in his direction and writing, as he tries to satirise a situation whereby two opposite segments of society (the rich and the poor) make a contact that leads to unexpected reactions and a delightful whirlpool of the funny and the macabre. Exquisitely and stylishly presented, Parasite is both darkly hilarious and delightfully shocking, setting a new sky-high standard for black comedy – the style of Bong Joon-ho. Continue reading ““Parasite” Review”
Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice) (2018)
Alice Rohrwacher may only have three major feature films under her belt (Corpo Celeste (2011), The Wonders (2014) and Happy as Lazzaro (2018)), but this Fiesole-born director proves to be the one to be reckoned with. Happy as Lazzaro is an unusual, surreal and imaginative drama which stretches the limits of belief, and makes one ponder and wonder about the significance of leading an unselfish, innocent and open life in the modern age which, in turn, is geared primarily towards ruthless money-making and twisted concepts of success. Philosophical, enigmatic and moving, Happy as Lazzaro may start as this great drama about one family’s dominion over poor working people in Italy, but, by the end, it proves to be so much more than just a tale about the swindling and corruption of the innocent. From the hardship of a simple village life in Italy to the exploration of the metaphysical, Happy as Lazzaro covers much ground and is an ambitious, multifaceted film that, amazingly, succeeds on all fronts. Continue reading ““Happy as Lazzaro” Review”
A day ago the Cannes Film Festival unveiled its Official Competition selection, and I thought I would comment on some films that were selected to compete in the main category. I will comment on roughly half of them – nine out of nineteen, and that does not mean that others are not great or will not win and become big, and I am merely guided by my own personal interests. The first thought is that I am impressed that the selection is varied (a comedy, a science-fiction film, a war movie, a period drama and a psychological thriller are all competing alongside other drama films), and I am also pleased to see Pedro Almódovar, Terrence Malick, Ken Loach, Dardenne Brothers and Xavier Dolan competing in the same category. The expected name of Quentin Tarantino and his film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was not announced because the film is still, apparently, being edited. The films below are listed in no particular order.
I. Pain & Glory by Pedro Almodóvar
This film by Almodóvar stars Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, and is about a film director who “reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him” (IMDb). I love Almodóvar, but he has not been too even in quality regarding his latest films – though I thought The Skin I Live In (2011) was great, his film I’m So Excited! (2013) was misguided. It is nice to see Almodóvar pairing again with his muse – Penélope Cruz, and something tells me this movie could be good since the director again is in the territory of drama. The trailer certainly looks both artful and moving, and perhaps comparisons will be drawn with Federico Fellini’s 8/12 (1963).
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In 2012, a science-fiction film titled Antiviral hit both the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival, and what everybody talked about was that this film is from David Cronenberg’s son – Brandon Cronenberg. People started to look for similarities between Antiviral and David Cronenberg’s films and trademarks, and they found plenty of those. One of the points of this review is that Antiviral is an impressive film debut from Brandon Cronenberg, irrespective of his link to his famous father. That film and that director should be recognised in their own right. Antiviral is not a perfect film, but it has many interesting ideas and a good execution. It also has a feel different from David Cronenberg’s filmography. In Antiviral, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)) is an employee of Lucas Clinic, a place where the dream of obsessed fans to be closer to their celebrities may be realised by injecting them with a live virus from one of the sick big celebrities. This way, customers will experience a one-of-a-kind union with their idols. One such celebrity which has a link to the clinic is beautiful Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon (Indignation (2016)). When Hannah falls ill after a trip to China, Syd flouts company regulations and becomes a host to her virus, not even realising that Hannah is on the brink of death. Continue reading ““Antiviral” Review”
“You don’t have to convince yourself that a mandarin orange exists, you have to forget that it does not exist.” (Haemi, when explaining the art of pantomime in “Burning”).
In Chang-dong Lee’s film “Burning”, Jongsoo (Ah-In Yoo) is a country lad who rekindles friendship and begins a romance with Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon), a girl from his childhood, only then to discover that Haemi vanishes soon after meeting the handsome and wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun). “Burning”, which received much praise at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, is the kind of a film commenting on which people would pride themselves by saying that they liked it, only for others to secretly tell themselves that they do not. Slow-moving or “burning” films with intricate psychological character studies and with unhealthy doses of inexplicability are fashionable nowadays, and, in that vein, “Burning” also would like to take its place among this elite unfathomable group of films. However, the result is a clumsy, uncompelling and excruciatingly tedious film that is as much of a mystery as any non-mystery and that has as much high tension as waiting patiently for a catch when fishing (only then, predictably, not catch anything substantial at the end of the day).
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Yesterday, the Cannes Film Festival 2018 unveiled its list of films to be presented, and Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows” will be shown at the festival’s opening night. Why it has the the signs to be a great psychological thriller? It comes from the director who crafted Oscar-winners “A Separation” (2011) and “The Salesman” (2016) plus it stars such great actors as Javier Bardem (“Skyfall” (2012), “Mother!” (2017)), Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin (“The Secret in Their Eyes” (2009)). The story itself even seems to have something of an Agatha Christie-vibe to it; definitely something to look forward to.
The Florida Project (2017)
Sean Baker, director of “Tangerine” (2015), has produced something special – a powerful, unforgettable film about the innocence, joys, freedoms and wonders of childhood played out in the context of social and economic exclusion in Florida, US. “The Florida Project” has been very unjustly ignored by the Academy in the forthcoming Best Picture Oscar race, an omission which is incomprehensible. “The Florida Project” is about a little girl Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a simple motel with a big name “The Magic Castle” overshadowed by a large Disney resort. Moonee goes on happily with her daily activities full of wonder and mischief, barely registering the true hardship and deprivation which stalk economically-disadvantaged in the area.
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It’s Only the End of the World (2016)
This is my second post for the amazing O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy (check out some of the amazing entries here).
“There I was…after twelve years of absence, and in spite of my fear, I was going to visit them. In life, there are a number of motivations…that force you to leave, without looking back. And there are just as many motivations that force you to return. So after all those years, I decided to retrace my steps. Take the journey…to announce my death.” Such are the thoughts of a young man named Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) as he takes a plane journey to visit his estranged family after twelve years of absence. Louis suffers from a terminal illness, which means that death is at his doorstep. Few directors working today can convey the depth of emotion through a cinematic lense as masterfully as Xavier Dolan can, and “It’s Only the End of the World” is yet another film which is a proof of that statement. In this movie, Dolan demonstrates that he can exercise visual restraint, but “It’s Only the End of the World” still ends up being as potent, emotionally-moving and convincing as his previous work.
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