At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with this warmly involving rant against government bureaucracy. The film takes a blackly comical approach, gripping the audience as its engaging characters take on a system that seems utterly devoid of compassion. And by remaining centred on the people rather than the message, the film is involving and important.
Set in Newcastle, the story centres on Dan (Dave Johns), a carpenter in his late 50s who is recovering from a heart attack. His doctor says he's not ready to return to work, but the disability office, which is run by a private company, stops his payments because they think he looks perfectly healthy. He appeals this cold-hearted decision, but is now stuck in limbo while he waits for his case to be heard. Along the way, he meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a young woman struggling to take care of her two young children (Briana Shann and Dylan McKiernan) because new regulations are making it impossible for her to get the help she needs to get back on her feet.
Both Dan and Katie are caught in impossible situations, so they band together to help each other out and take on the system. But the rules keep changing, and neither the government employees nor private contractors offer any understanding at all. This lack of general human respect is infuriating to watch, especially as they force needy people to jump through a series of increasingly impossible hoops. Both Johns and Squires are likeable and energetic, adding earthy humour and righteous anger to each scene. And there are several side characters who bring various layers of texture to their stories. These people are all far from perfect, but at least most of them are trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Continue reading: I, Daniel Blake Review
In Glasgow, Robbie (Brannigan) narrowly escapes a lengthy prison sentence and is assigned to community payback under the supervision of Harry (Henshaw). At the same time, Robbie's girlfriend (Reilly) is about to give birth to their son, forcing him to rethink his life as a street thug. After Harry introduces him to single-malt whisky, Robbie decides to further explore whisky-tasting with his fellow workers (Maitland, Ruane and Riggins). And after meeting whisky broker Thaddeus (Allam), he hatches an idea that might get them all out of trouble.
Continue reading: The Angels' Share Review
Costa (Tosar) is producing a Spanish film that's shooting on location in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Writer-director Sebastian (Garcia Bernal) is insisting on raw authenticity to recount the story of Christopher Columbus' first encounter with Native Americans, and subsequent dealings between locals and the priests and conquistadores. For a lead role, he casts the indigenous Daniel (Aduviri), who spends his spare time campaigning against a British-American corporation that controls Bolivia's water, including poor people's right to collect rain water. And the brewing riot could disrupt the film's schedule.
Continue reading: Even The Rain Review
Fergus (Womack) is a hotheaded ex-SAS officer who can't come to terms with the death of his best friend Frankie (Bishop in flashbacks), who was working in Iraq for a private contractor. Determined to get to the truth of what happened on Route Irish, the road from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone, he teams up with Frankie's widow (Lowe) and gets in touch with his old pals in Iraq. And what he discovers is a conspiracy of torture and murder that private companies seem able to get away with.
Continue reading: Route Irish Review
Loach casts the narrative birth of the IRA at the feet of two brothers: Damien and Teddy O'Donovan (Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney, respectively). Damien's passive-aggressive nature towards the Black and Tans (the British Army) quickly gets sucked into Teddy's volatile rage when he witnesses a beating at a train station, moments before he was to leave for med school. Through torture (nail-pulling that makes Syriana look like a Friday afternoon in the Hamptons), shootouts, and political ebb and flow, the IRA fights dirty for independence. When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed (giving Ireland Free State/Dominion status), the IRA splits into the Old IRA (Damien's boys) and the National Army (Teddy's Treaty-friendly pack).
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Joe turns out to be a recovering alcoholic, and in 28 Days fashion, winds his way to recovery, stopping only for a tepid romance with a lady friend. Then My Name is Joe turns gangsterish, before an abrupt and uninteresting ending -- which might have been redeemed if the film was remotely interesting anywhere along the way.
Continue reading: My Name Is Joe Review
Young Pakistani student Tahara Khan (Shabana Bakhsh) sets off a campus melee with a fiery speech about her claim of individuality. This brings in her big brother Casim (Atta Yaqub) for a rescue from the milling crowd, helping her flee to safer quarters. They take refuge in the classroom of Irish, blond, sexy music teacher Roisin Hanlon (Eva Birthistle). Talk about contrived, but Loach likes to set up his boy-girl meets in an action context.
Continue reading: A Fond Kiss Review
What September 11 has that the other films don't is star power and international perspective. The 11 directors who submit work here represent a walk of fame of international cinema. Though I'm not familiar with the work of Samira Makhmalbaf (Iran) or Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina-Faso), to name a few, names like Penn, Lelouch, Iñárritu, Nair, and Loach represent some major names.
Continue reading: 11'09''01 - September 11 Review
Fifteen year old Liam (Martin Compston) is a standout among his peers for his natural creativity and audacious leadership, as he graduates his money-making enterprises toward increasingly illegal and remunerative use. We meet him as he and his closest mate Pinball (William Ruane) sell cheap fags to the gentry on the street and in a local bar. But the result is slim pickings, and not nearly enough to realize his dreams of providing a fresh start for his mum Jean (Michelle Coulter) when she gets out of prison. While this appears the noble desire of a dutiful son, it will become clear that it's more the obsession of a boy too immature to put relationships in their proper perspective.
Continue reading: Sweet Sixteen Review
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