December 03, 2015

QT LAMF

Seeing Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful 8” is Your Civic Duty
By Cole Smithey

Hateful_8Quentin Tarantino is a national treasure. Unfortunately, Americans don’t much appreciate their great artists. If Tarantino were French, he'd already have a statue. If he were French, film-loving citizenry would flip out (and rightfully so) if the police tried to pull as disgusting an act of character assassination as the libel war police unions are waging against this revered writer, director, and prodigious film historian. There would be protests. Here, alas, nothing.

QT ran afoul of the corrupt Blue Wall of Silence when he spoke out against the ongoing plague of police-committed murders, which occur at an average rate of two to three times every day, at a “Rise Up October” rally in Manhattan.

The Rise Up October rally’s goal was to put relatable life narratives beside the names of victims who get quickly lost and forgotten in the escalating number of citizens shot, Tasered (you can picture the trademark symbol), choked, or otherwise destroyed by America’s highly militarized but poorly hired and trained police officers.

This demonstration was different from a “Black Lives Matter” protest in that it brought together families and loved ones of the victims in order to tell their personal stories about those who were senselessly taken away from them. It was a rare chance for people directly affected by police murders to bear witness. It’s impossible to put too fine a point on the obvious necessity for this forum of social communication, in order to provide people with a communal release of emotion and suffering. People need expression. They must be heard. We must listen. The families of victims such as Eric Garner, Sam Dubose, Antonio Guzman Lopez, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott took the stage one by one to express their grief and share stories of the people they still love.

During the course of the seven-hour march, Tarantino took the stage.

“I got something to say, but actually I would like to give my time to the families that want to talk," Tarantino said. "I want to give my time to the families. However, I do just want to also do want to say, what am I doing here? I’m here because I am a human being with a conscience, and when I see murder I cannot stand by, and I have to call the murdered the murdered, and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”

Quentin-Tarantino
Tarantino’s impassioned speech clearly came from his heart. It was messy. He was upset. These are the words of a man speaking a sad truth that has been gestating in his mind and gut. Evidently Tarantino’s use of the word “murder” — but really, is there a better word? — hit a nerve with police organizations unwilling to address the crisis at hand in an appropriate, much less ethical, manner.

The National Association of Police Organizations decided to go after the filmmaker behind such modern classics of American cinema as “Pulp Fiction” and “The Inglorious Basterds.”

The police group is calling for a boycott (by police officers) of Tarantino’s hotly awaited Christmas day opener “The Hateful 8.” The alliance is requesting that its officers “stop working special assignments or off-duty jobs, such as providing security, traffic control or technical advice for any of Tarantino’s projects.” One wonders if these guys have lawyers. What if something happened bad to the director because he couldn't get police protection? Their legal exposure could be breathtaking.

Wait, it gets better.

Fraternal Order of Police president Jim Pasco said, “Tarantino has made a good living out of violence and surprise. Our officers make a living trying to stop violence, but surprise is not out of the question. Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element. Something could happed anytime between now and the premiere. And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable. The right time and place will come up and we’ll try to hurt him in the only way that seems to matter to him, and that’s economically.”

The veiled message of inherent violence and intimidation is clear. Surprise? This is like a school bully telling the nerd, “You won’t see it coming, but you will feel it.” Disgusting.

Cops are threatening to “hurt” Tarantino (um, “economically”). I don’t know about you, but the last time I heard someone use “harm” in such a threatening tone, they meant bodily harm, It’s implied here that the director might be in physical danger from the very agencies charged with protecting public safety and paid by taxpayers — like Tarantino.

There's more.

Now the LAPD is attempting to smear Tarantino’s integrity by claiming that there is “no record” of an arrest for which QT has said he was jailed for eight days for unpaid vehicle infractions. There is an obvious possible explanation for that: Tarantino has repeatedly stated that he was sent to a LA County lockup run by the Sheriff's Department, not the LAPD. Anyone familiar with the LAPD’s well-documented history of conveniently misplacing evidence — including thousands of rape kits — will recognize the “leak” as a hack effort at obfuscation. Is there “no record” of the arrest because someone at the LAPD shredded it? I wouldn’t be surprised.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see QT’s lawyers begin to open up cans of legal whoop-ass on police unions, and even the LAPD, in the days before “The Hateful 8” opens.

Apparently police union bigwigs have a problem with high-profile celebrities exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. Their message is chilling; if you have something critical to say about police officers’ nonstop killing rampage, you have the right to shut the fuck up.

I suppose we’ve learned something about where police leaders fall regarding their would-be regard for the cultural significance of the filmic arts.

Tarantino intended his presence at the Rise Up October rally to open up a public discussion for police departments to engage in, to stem the plague of police killings. Rather than taking advantage of an opportunity to engage in public discussion about ways to correct the ongoing crisis, however, police unions across the country are doubling down on a pattern of murders that cost police departments millions of dollars in settlements.

How can they afford the tab?

The story is as old as the hills: follow the money.

Modern-day police departments are beholden to a myriad of corporations, some backed by the Pentagon. Gun makers, Taser (which also makes body cameras — as used by the LAPD), bulletproof vest manufacturers, and car companies are just a few of the players in the lucrative business of “law enforcement.” The biggest of all may be the prison-industrial complex that has reengineered American society. This matrix of commerce, authority, and power creates an invisible call for a set of lethal and racist ideologies to find their level in personal action.

Corporations instill their personalized fascist ideologies through product placement in police departments that arm, train, and shield their police officers from ever going to jail regardless of how visible their crime. That trend, however, is changing. The Blue Wall of Silence is being peeled away, though incrementally, one layer at a time.

We are seeing more instances where police officers are being charged with murder, as in the Chicago case in which officer Jason Van Dyke was charged for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, albeit a year late.

It’s no accident that you commonly see officers emptying their revolvers, sometimes repeatedly, into their victims. Shooting someone 18 times isn’t just trigger-happy; it is the sociopathic behavior of an insane person pleading for help. These killings affect both sides of the equation — police and civilians. Killing another human being is a terrible thing that no one escapes without the experience etched forever in his or her darkest memory.

Hateful-Eight

To put things in a filmic context, notice when you watch a video of a police shooting someone more than once that it is 1000 times more upsetting than the most gory scene in any Tarantino film.

The Guardian reports that U.S. cops have killed 1,041 people so far this year. Although this is (disgracefully) the first year that such a comprehensive tally has been kept of people killed by police in America, all evidence points to police conducting this level of incremental genocide against its populace for decades.

Wake up, America! Between the mass shooters, white male terrorists, and the cops, your odds are getting worse all the time.

It’s more than a little ironic that New York Fraternal Order of Police leader Patrick Lynch is accusing QT of being a “cop-hater” (Tarantino never said or implied that he hated cops, his films don't depict cops as evil or really much at all, and has denied it) considering that hating the thing that scares the living shit out of most people would be a luxury. Lynch’s choice of words leads the discussion into a confrontational realm that also lets loose a self-reflexive inference to self-hatred. Hello, Sigmund Freud.

Let’s consider the boycott for a moment. There are 330,000 police officers in the country. Even if none of them buys a ticket to the Christmas Day release of a movie for which 100 cinemas have been outfitted with classic Panavision 70 projectors, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number of movie lovers worldwide who will queue to see a movie that promises to dominate the 2016 Oscars.

Even if his films aren’t your cup of tea, any movie lover should acknowledge QT’s mastery of writing and directing. His exceptionally original stories expand cinematic language in a myriad of provocative ways. QT hasn’t just reinvented cinema, he has rekindled an ongoing interest in the directors (such as Howard Hawks) that continue to inspire him. Quentin Tarantino is a modern traditionalist. His use of Panavision 70 on “The Hateful 8” creates some of the most beautiful and lush images ever created on film, and by “film” I do mean old-school 65mm celluloid. Magical. The screen image you see is three times more picture than you see with your average film.

There’s a reason that there are so few filmmakers as talented as QT: he’s a one-of-a-kind thinker. In full disclosure, I had the pleasure of meeting Quentin during my first visit to the Cannes Film Festival in 1992. I’d been accepted into the American Pavilion volunteer program only to be cancelled at the last minute (after I’d already booked my flight). I went anyway. After sleeping in nooks and crannies of the Palais in my tux, I got cast in a Gaumout Studios-run program for student filmmakers. Gaumout provided me with food and housing throughout the festival while I worked with a German, Arab, and French crew. Luckily we were given tickets to the world premiere of “Reservoir Dogs.” I went to the much-coveted screening in the Grand Palais with my German co-actor pal Geza, a true force of nature. There’s a YouTube copy of the movie we made online.

I met Tarantino in the press area of the Palais. I introduced myself and told him his “movie kicked my ass” the night before. He laughed with that big hearty snicker and said, “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.” Here was a first-time filmmaker, the same generation and age as me, showing a mind-blowing heist movie in the Grand Palais of the Cannes Film Festival. The energy was electric.

That screening of “Reservoir Dogs” hit me like a combination of “Fists of Fury” mixed up with “The Exorcist.” I felt as though my guts were being torn out of me. It’s interesting to revisit that "brutal" movie and realize how little violence there is on the screen. It’s not what you see; it’s what you imagine.

Police violence is an old theme in the movies, though not Tarantino's. If you watch Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon,” you’ll notice that Jim Kelly’s character Williams flashes back to the police brutality he suffered on inner city streets as a black man living in urban America. Williams is glad to be in Hong Kong. “Enter the Dragon” was made in 1973.

Hateful 8
In 1970, Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini spoke about the terrible problem created when impoverished young people take jobs as police officers, only to kill those in their community because they are acting as protectors of a corrupt system. The issue is much more deadly now that police departments act on, and engage, the public as militarized Robocops who escalate benign situations into SWAT team tactical maneuvers like something out of a Terminator movie. There’s a profound paradox in the fact that the lower to middle-class men and women who put on police badges to earn their daily bread are being manipulated by the shrinking economy that corporations pay politicians to squeeze through draconian strategies.

Check out “Across 110th Street” for its gritty depiction of an openly racist police chief lording over Harlem like a walking pariah. (Tarantino used the theme song from the movie for his Blaxploitation homage “Jackie Brown.”)

In his exquisite documentary “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” about the significance of LA’s locations in the many films shot there, Thom Andersen discusses the “incremental genocide” of minorities that goes unabated. Andersen points out Ethiopian-born filmmaker Haile Gerima’s 1975 neorealist drama “Bush Mama,” which shows police attacking black citizens on the streets of South LA with lethal force. About the area’s tormented citizens, Anderson states, these are “people made to feel that they live in an occupied territory.” Not much has changed.

Anderson also references Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep,” a deeply personal film that casts a damning eye on LA’s oppressive daily reality through the eyes of a black family whose father works in a slaughterhouse.

America’s systemic roots in a deadly ideology of colonialist racism has been killing many thousands of minority victims for decades but it is only now, thanks to citizens filming events on their cellphones, that the world is waking up to the scale of atrocities being committed by police officers who may or may not be incompetent, sociopathic, or suicidal. Video has contributed greatly to exposing the type, and scale, of assassinations being committed at an astonishing rate. Still, the crisis is getting worse. It’s significant to note that five-sixths of those people murdered by trigger-happy cops were unarmed. America’s militarized corporatocracy is sending coded mob signals, none of them with an iota of nuance. One of the messages is that police unions are sending is that Americans live in a country occupied by the wealthy, and unless you are one of them, you are not welcome here. Another message is, if you’re not happily siding with every U.S. police officer’s right to kill whomever they want with impunity then you don’t deserve your freedom of speech in the first place. Get in line and salute, asshole, and wipe that dumb look off your face.

This past July, respected veteran editorial cartoonist Ted Rall was unceremoniously fired from his post at The Los Angeles Times after an apparent conspiracy between the LAPD, the city's police union (the LAPPL), and probably the newspaper’s then-publisher/billionaire financier Austin Beutner, worked its intended witchcraft.

A secretly recorded (and almost certainly altered) police audio tape of Rall being arrested back in 2001 for [not] jaywalking in L.A. was illegally passed to the Times, and was leveraged as grounds for termination. The LAPD union website was quick to publish a gloating endorsement of Rall’s firing, which it praised as a potent message to journalists across the nation. (They took it down after the media investigated the story and sided with Rall against the LAPPL and their lackeys, the Times. Certainly, there are those weak-kneed writers, editors, and publishers who will never utter, write, or print a negative comment about this goon squad that makes the Nazis look like a bunch of pussycats. Fear of cops is normal, and even more pronounced under the conditions in which we live.

Less than six weeks after Rall’s unfounded termination Tribune Publishing canned Beutner. In case you don’t know, publishers are very rarely if ever fired. Heads up. While not directly attributed to the fallout from Rall’s firing, after he unequivocally disproved the Times’ false accusation of him misrepresenting his jaywalking story in a blog post containing basic audio forensics his paper ought to have done in the first place, Beutner’s firing will forever be inextricably linked to the Times/LAPD skullduggery.

The cops set out to smear Rall, but it's Rall who came out looking good while the police have egg on their face. Yet they still haven't learned their lesson, as demonstrated by the attacks on Tarantino. But why are they so touchy? It’s ridiculous that the same cop squads that send thousands of their members to Leni Riefenstahl-scale funerals of any of their fallen brothers, are freaking out over QT’s public support for victims (and their families) of police murders at the rally where Tarantino spoke out.

The Guardian reports, “shootings involving Los Angeles police officers have doubled this year” (2015). Maybe the LAPPL should focus on the real problem, not the film directors and cartoonists calling them out on it.

Proving that when you're a hammer everything looks like a nail, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch laid it on thick: “It’s no surprise that someone who makes a living glorifying crime and violence is a cop-hater too. The police officers Quentin Tarantino calls “murderers” aren’t living in one of his depraved big-screen fantasies; they’re risking and sometimes sacrificing their lives to protect communities from real crime and mayhem. New Yorkers need to send a message to this purveyor of degeneracy that he has no business coming to our city to peddle his slanderous cop fiction. It’s time for a boycott of Quentin Tarantino’s films.”

So the filmmaker isn’t a fan of the incremental genocide being committed by cops against blacks. QT certainly isn’t the only American who holds such basic humanitarian views. But it doesn't do any good for good people to remain silent. It’s important that in this dark hour, not only that Tarantino’s fans come out to support him and all that he stands for as a preeminent film artist, but that other likeminded citizens step up to show their support.

Blue privilege rolls on. Blood fills the streets.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGindy announced an “expert’s report” that found “reasonable” the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Rice, armed only with a toy gun, was shot less than two seconds after the officer arrived on the scene.

Two Louisiana State Police officers (Norris Greenhouse and Derrick Stafford) were arrested and indicted on second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder charges for shooting to death Jeremy Mardis, a six-year-old boy, along with his father as they sat in their pick-up truck after being pulled over for no apparent reason.

Theantimedia.org reported that the Los Angeles police union (LAPPL) took umbrage at the creation of a new award intended “to encourage police officers to find more peaceful resolutions to conflicts.” Can’t have that.

In Chicago, the police scandal involving the public execution of Laquan McDonald shows explicitly how the city’s corrupt chain of power reaches right up to the top. If there’s any justice left, Chicago mayor/former Clintion flack Rahm Emanuel’s career is toast.

The American public is in a state of perpetual fear fuelled constantly by daily police-committed murders of civilians. Smart people avoid cops at all costs. Some people are afraid to leave their homes for fear that they might be pulled over and shot like so many others have been. It feels like wartime anywhere you go, even though we supposedly live in a free country, and not just in the slums anymore. America is being occupied by the same systems we built to protect us. There’s no need to worry about robots turning on humanity; cops already have that territory covered.

Quentin-tarantino
Tarantino is releasing “The Hateful 8” as a “Road Show” release similar to the glorious way epic spectacles such as “Gone With the Wind” and “Lawrence of Arabia” came out in the days when people got dressed up to go see a movie that came with a program, a musical overture, and an intermission. This nod to cinema tradition provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enjoy a long lost aspect of movie culture thanks to a filmmaker just as committed to his audience as he is to the films he makes. Quentin Tarantino wants nothing more than for people to come together to enjoy the magic illusion of movement that only 24 frames per second of celluloid running though a projector can provide.

Quentin Tarantino’s status as America’s most inventive, impassioned, and consistent filmmaker is justified. Even with its (albeit microscopic) flaws, “The Hateful Eight” is more fun and stimulating than any other movie that came out in 2015.

When you watch “The Hateful 8,” pay heed at how Tarantino leads up to the murders that occur with much discussion related to ingrained racist ideologies that persist in America, and are being actively exposed and supported in nearly every news media outlet in the country, Fox News and CNN especially, as well as from faux lefty outlets like NPR. Each death of a character in “The Hateful 8” arrives with a specific narrative theme attached.

The police unions have dared set foot inside Tarantino’s wheelhouse and inside our revered bastion of social discourse, the cinema. It is your civic duty to buy a ticket to “The Hateful 8.” As you watch the film, think about what makes these characters so hateful, and about the culture that made them that way. The discussion is yours — as long as you keep the cops out of it, they don’t want to hear it, and they can hunt you down and ruin your life.

Je suis Quentin.

Hateful-Eight

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July 03, 2015

The Best Films of 2015 So Far

By Cole Smithey

It’s a stretch to call “Mad Max: Fury Road” a Hollywood picture but we'll pretend so the left coast isn’t utterly left out of contributing to the best films of 2015, so far.

5. Ex Machina

Ex-machinaScience fiction has been a dying film genre in recent years. Largely this is because there are too few screenwriters or filmmakers with the imaginations to create compelling futuristic stories. Alex Garland has been an exception to the rule.

Smart, sexy, and back-loaded with a terrific twist ending, “Ex Machina” is an elegant sci-fi movie that considers the possibilities of artificial intelligence in thought-provoking ways. The stark narrative is essentially a three-hander for actors Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander to play out their diametrically opposed characters in an isolated “No Exit” game of winner-take-all.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad-max-fury-road“Mad Max Fury Road” makes up for what it lacks in storyline and character development with a groundbreaking blend of feminist politics and action-movie tropes in a broad physical spectacle featuring death-defying stunts atop and between a constantly moving canvas of motor-driven insanity. “Fury Road” is to cinema as the Ramones’s “Teenage Lobotomy” was to rock ‘n’ roll. The picture’s deceptive depth lies in its blistering backbeat of fast-paced action fulfilled by a cast of gnarly Wild West-inspired characters “living to die and dying to live.” A lack of water and oil has turned humanity into hordes of people living by their primal instincts.

Miller proudly announces the movie as a feminist think piece. Charlize Theron’s implacable bionic-armed heroine Imperator Furiosa leads the lion’s share of the action. The steely Furiosa turns a fuel-delivery (via the giant oil truck she drives) into a rescue mission to transport five “wives” to Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne in a franchise return), the demonic despot who controls the flow of water to the starving masses. The Australian filmmaker balances the motherly power of femininity with tougher aspects of womanhood, namely a cold-blooded will to kick serious ass LAMF. Instant cult classic? You bet.

3. Amy

Amy_The must-see-documentary at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was Asif Kapadia’s ambitious biography of Amy Winehouse. It’s a devastating look at how some of the people closest to the singer/songwriter contributed to her untimely demise. By sticking with his voiceover-only narration (rather than taking the standard talking-head approach) Kapadia stays out of the way of his fascinating subject. The method is so much the better for rapt audiences to absorb Winehouse’s raw talent and sophisticated mastery of melody, songcraft, and delivery.

Most captivating are studio-recording sessions in which Winehouse delivers her unique voice and phrasing with a stark honesty that charms all. Watching her record her famous song “Back to Black” is nothing short of stunning. A duet recording session with her hero Tony Bennett reveals much about Winehouse’s craftsmanship as a singer and about the high standards to which she held herself. The instant rapport that she shares with a glowing Tony Bennett is a dreamlike moment of musical delight.

2. What Happened Miss Simone?

What_happened_simoneDirector Liz Garbus (“Bobby Fischer Against the World,” 2011) eloquently sets the film’s tone with an eerie quote from Maya Angelou.

“Miss Simone, you are idolized, even loved, by millions now. But what happened, Miss Simone?”

It proves to be a provocative question about a complex woman caught in a web of domestic and social abuse. Through dazzling archive performance and interview clips, and upfront contributions from the likes of Simone’s articulate daughter Lisa, Garbus hits every note in a biography that, like Nina Simone’s dynamic vocal range, goes from gravel to frosting. Intelligent audio interviews allow the outspoken singer to narrate in her own inimitable voice. Documentaries don't get much more intimate than this.

The rich narrative and musical material on display allows Garbus to work the audience into a compulsive lather of mixed emotions. The film flashes to modern day relevance over Simone’s scalding protest song “Mississippi Goddam,” a response to forty churches burned in Birmingham, Alabama.

Simone sings with a fury that explodes, “Alabama’s gotten me so upset, Tennessee made me lost my rest, And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.“

From a political perspective, “What Happened Miss Simone” arrives at a key moment of crisis for Blacks in America, when the ongoing incremental genocide of Blacks is on the rise.

Nina Simone’s definition of freedom rings with the same truth as is found in her music.

“What is freedom? No fear.”

1. Girlhood

GirlhoodYou might read the title “Girlhood” and think that some ambitious (perhaps female) filmmaker is taking on Richard Linklater at his most recent game. Indeed, if you consider Céline Sciamma’s substantial pedigree, as the masterful writer-director behind such youth-centric LGBT triumphs as “Water Lilies” and “Tomboy,” you could arrive at the conclusion that Richard Linklater has been taking some notes from her.

When compared to her first two tour de force films, “Girlhood” reveals itself to be every bit as insightful and authentic a cinematic representation of a personal female coming-of-age experience in modern-day France. For the record, “Girlhood” stands up well opposite Linklater’s “Boyhood” as another essential filmic chapter in the global political, socioeconomic, and cultural challenges facing young people in the 21st century, albeit from vastly different cultural backgrounds. “Girlhood” is a stunner.

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June 01, 2015

CANNES 2015 — COMPLETE

CANNES 2015 — THE AWARDS

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 3.45.27 PM

YouthOnly two of my predictions for Cannes’s feature film awards held any note of accuracy. As certain as I was that Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” would take a prize (either Michael Caine for Best Actor or a Jury Prize for the film) it came up empty handed. Still, the film’s provocative poster will surly help ensure that it find its audience far and wide.

I did manage to predict better than half of the Best Actress award however. Not only did I foresee Rooney Mara winning for her splendid performance in Todd Haynes’s “Carol” but I also guessed that the honor would be shared with another actress, even if I did fall short on foretelling that Emmanuelle Bercot (“Mon Roi”) would be the other selection (I supposed Cate Blanchett would split the prize).

DheepanWhile critics such as The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw feigned indignation at Jacques Audiard’s social realist drama “Dheepan” for winning the Palme d’Or, I had it down to win Best Screenplay (that award went to Michel Franco for “Chronic”). “Dheepan” (played by Jesuthasan Antonythasan) is the name of a Tamil Tiger, a freedom fighter in the Sri Lanka Civil War. Dheepan flees the country for Paris with two strangers (a mother and daughter). Upon settling into a rundown Paris suburb, the makeshift family discovers a different but equally violent social condition that requires Dheepan to once again take on the role of a tiger.

AssassinTaiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien has been a household name in Cannes for many years. His 1987 film “Daughter of the Nile” premiered in the Director’s Fortnight at the 1988 festival. Hsiao-Hsien’s 1993 film “The Puppetmaster” won the festival’s Jury Prize that same year. That the much-admired director should be awarded this year’s Best Director Palme for “The Assassin” seems fitting. The film is a visually lush story about Nie Yinnaing, a general’s daughter abducted by a nun to be trained as an efficient killing machine. Ordered to kill the man to whom she was once promised Yinnaing must choose between two opposing ways of life. It isn’t a martial arts film per se, but the action scenes fit the storyline with blinding economy and breathtaking ferocity.

Vincent LindonFrench native Vincent Lindon’s win in the Best Actor category, for his skillfully understated performance as an unemployed French family man who finally finds a job working as a security officer at a department store (in Stephane Brize's "The Measure of a Man"), is in accord with this year’s thematic through-line of films in the festival regarding social injustices in France. Lindon's persuasive bearing as a seen-it-all French everyman conveys a rare breed of integrity, well deserving of the Best Actor honor for which he eloquently thanked the Cannes jury. 
 

Son of SaulIt isn’t often that a first-time filmmaker captures the imagination the way Laszlo Nemes did with his Grand Prize-winner “Saul Fia” ("Son of Saul"), a devastating holocaust drama about a Jewish Hungarian father (Geza Rohig) forced to work in the Nazi extermination machinery. The prestigious award should aid in bringing audience attention to this powerful movie that impressed everyone who saw it at the festival.

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CANNES 2015 — DAY 7

Cannes Day 7

Neither Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario” nor Stephane Brize’s “The Measure of a Man” was able to hold a candle to Todd Haynes’s latest masterwork “Carol.” Although “Measure” features a solid performance from Vincent Lindon as Thierry, an unemployed French father trying desperately to get a job to provide for his wife and special-needs son, the script doesn’t go far enough toward addressing the systemic issue of joblessness currently crushing the lives of millions, if not billions, of people around the globe.

Cannes Birdy
“Sicaro” gives the muscular Emily Blunt space to stretch as an actress but the politically vague script, about corruption on all sides of America’s trademarked drug war with Mexico, drags and settles into a cheesy revenge-plot. Benicio Del Toro plays Alejandro, the “hitman” of the film’s title. Del Toro’s character plays all ends against the middle to avenge the brutal murder of his wife and daughter by a Juarez drug-lord who has learned every skullduggery technique the CIA has been busy teaching by example for decades.

Open-secretHot on a lot of people’s list is Amy Berg’s documentary “An Open Secret,” about young boys sexually abused by Hollywood managers, agents, and casting directors. The picture has been picked up for U.S. distribution; it opens on June 5th in Seattle and Denver, before rolling out to 20 other cities thereafter.   

One of the great pleasures of the festival is its beach screenings of select classic films. What could be better than reclining in the sand in a beach chair and watching a film such as the one playing tonight, Bo Widerberg’s 1971 “Joe Hill,” about the

Still to come is Hou Hsiao-Shien’s “The Assassin” and Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love,” a two-hander starring Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu.

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CANNES 2015 — DAY 5

32015 is the year that art-house directors loaded their competition chances in Cannes by utilizing Hollywood A-listers to beef up their movies.

Matteo Garrone (“Tale of Tales”), Justin Kurzel (“Macbeth”), Michael Franco (“Chronic”), Paolo Sorrentino (“Youth”), Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”), Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”), Gus Van Sant (“The Sea of Trees”), and Danish auteur Joachim Trier (“Louder Than Bombs”) all feature big name American stars in films that are about as far from typical Hollywood productions as you can get.

Still, not even Matthew McConaughey’s presence can do much for Van Sant’s latest snooze fest. Speaking of sleepy movies, Natalie Portman's directorial debut "A Tale of Love and Darkness" caused more than a few audience members to go into snore-mode.

Cannes Day 5With three features under his belt, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos keeps improving in baby steps. Each film gets a little bit better than the last. “The Lobster” is his best film to date, behind such time-wasters as “Dogtooth” and “Alpes” but decent performances by Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz can’t elevate “The Lobster’s” flawed source material. The movie is mediocre at best. Perhaps, in another five movies, Lanthimos will make a good one.

“Sicario” is Denis Villeneuve’s drama about a lawless no-man’s-land between America and Mexico where Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Mercer is brought in to battle America’s wrongheaded war on drugs. Benicio Del Toro also stars in what promises to be a gritty political thriller.

It remains to be seen whether the ever-annoying Jesse Eisenberg can pull off a naturalistic performance in Joachim Trier’s “Louder Than Bombs,” which also stars Amy Ryan, David Strathairn, Gabriel Byrne, and the ubiquitous Isabelle Huppert.

YouthMore promise lies in Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” which features Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as a couple of old friends facing the last days of their lives on vacation in a plush hotel in the foothills of the Alps. If I were placing odds on which of the 18 films competing for this year’s Palme d’Or has the best chance of winning, I’d put my money on “Youth.”

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CANNES 2015 — DAY 3

In spite of the fact that there isn’t a lounge for critics and journalists to hang out and drink free beer like there used to be in the pre-austerity days of Cannes, you can pick up on conversations if you have good ear.

Cannes Day 3
MarylandAlice Winocour’s Un Certain Regard film “Maryland,” about a French ex-Special Forces soldier suffering from PTSD who gets a bodyguard job protecting a wealthy Lebanese businessman, is getting talked about. It doesn’t hurt that the film stars the versatile Matthias Schoenaerts and secret-weapon-actress Diane Kruger.

Cannes Style 4Every other girl on the croisette favors the Amy Winehouse eye-make-up style of heavy black eyeliner turned up at the outer edges. From the looks of it, director Asif Kapadia has a surefire hit on his hands for “Amy,” the documentary for which he and his team interviewed around 80 of Amy Winehouse’s friends, associates, and family members.

Auro 3D AudioMovie technology has a presence on the beach with Auro 3D Audio CEO Wilfried Van Baelen giving private exhibitions of the sound technology he masterminded. The process was used on the latest “Spider-Man 2” movie, and it truly does deliver on its promise of “immersive sound.” Just don’t get the loquacious Wilfried going on how his technology is not related to any “channel or object-based technology,” you might miss that screening of Natalie Portman’s directorial debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Still, she’s hard to miss on the red carpet.

Amy

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May 13, 2015

CANNES 2015 — DAY 1

During the festival there are more exotic fast cars per square kilometer in Cannes than anywhere else in the world. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, McLarens, and Maseratis ostentatiously rev their engines through Cannes’s crowded narrow streets. Scooters and motorcycles somehow manage to slip past. Driven by brawny young men busy talking on cellphone headsets, or by statuesque women with big hair, the flashy cars embody all of the glamour, celebrity culture, and excess of Hollywood on the Rivera.

Cannes Day 1
It’s ironic then that the film that opened this year’s festival should be a reflection of France’s unsteady future in the face of rampant unemployment. Following the horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks, the festival heads made a conscious decision to deviate from its usual habit of giving the opening night slot to a piece of Hollywood tripe in favor of “La Tete Haute” (“Standing Tall”), a French social realist drama from director Emmanuelle Bercot. “Tete” avoids clichés as it digs into deep-seeded problems of psychological and social conditions. The powerhouse casting of Catherine Deneuve as a juvenile detention judge centers the film. Benoit Magimel more than pulls his weight as Yann, a counselor assigned to guide the rehabilitation process of Malony, a troubled victim of terrible parenting. The fiction that all mothers are innately good people is given a proper trouncing here.

Newcomer Rod Paradot is a revelation as Malony. His gut-wrenching naturalistic performance is as good as it gets. Paradot owns the movie with an instinctive portrayal that’s up there with Marlon Brando’s best work. If some critics recoil from “Standing Tall,” it says more about their inability to grapple with the genre than it does about the movie. “Standing Tall” is the kind of uncompromising film Ken Loach would love.

Cole with Peanuts
There were fireworks on the first night, but the cumulative emotional power of the films in this year’s festival promises to leave indelible memories and lessons far greater than burning bits of paper in a night sky.

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March 21, 2015

SOCIAL MEDIA GOVERNMENT

How to Make American Democracy Work For Real Now
By Cole Smithey

RevolutionThe 2012 Presidential election doesn’t matter. Not at all. A social media mechanism that allows every American citizen to propose public policy (foreign and domestic) and vote on such proposals, on the other hand, would effectively put every single politician out of work. Firing American’s political functionaries will necessarily include the office of the President. The new face of American leadership will be an accurate compilation of all of its citizens.

Modern technology is about to allow for an absolutely pure form of Democracy run by and for the people. It couldn’t have happened ten years ago, but it’s on its way now. We don’t need anymore stinking corporate-controlled monkeys pretending that they’re working in the interest of the public good. The public will decide on all policy priorities, big and small.

We’ve already seen the power of social media to effect immediate change in a mathematically democratic way. When Verizon announced it would impose a two-dollar charge upon payments made online, social media enabled the public to effectively vote down Verizon’s decision. The company retracted its would-be surcharge. That’s Democracy in action. It doesn’t matter who identifies as a Democrat, Tea-Partier, Libertarian, or Leftist — voting is an intrinsically independent and egalitarian action. How you vote on each particular proposal —not one of two corporate-backed candidates — will add up to your true political identity.

For all of the chest-beating American politicians do about how well Democracy works, those elected men and women have no clue about how a purely mathematically driven form of pure democracy could put them out of work. The Occupy Movement is already situated to execute the necessary revolution that will send senators, congress people, and White House staff packing once our new social media platform of automated Democracy is in place. It won’t take long.

How will it work?

Red-StarFirst of all a group of computer specialists and hackers will need to build the site’s infrastructure. It will need to be absolutely impervious to attack. It will also need to be organized in a thoroughly transparent way so that an ongoing record of all voting is always available for inspection. No more hanging chads or voter fraud. Everyone will be able to see exactly where every single vote came from. No more lobbyists. No more corporate string-pulling. You want Democracy; this is what it will look like very soon.

A group of moderators will need to be hired (I propose a modest annual salary, say $65000.00). These moderators will handle the tasks of organizing the proposals that people post. Once a proposal reaches a specific numerical threshold, it will be put up as a bill which citizens will vote upon. If it passes, it goes into effect immediately.

There will be many bugs to be worked out, so it’s important that the system be put into place alongside our current structure of Government. Once Washington begins to be eclipsed by our more automated form of Democracy the Occupy Movement will need to take physical action to take over their offices, which will become completely open to the public. 24-hour voting will be available via cellphones and computers. An open-door public policy will add to a sense of well-being in the country. Unlike revolutions that leave behind a power vacuum, the gaping hole of Democracy will already be filled by the people—all of the people.

If this idea sounds anti-elitist and full of humanitarian social responsibility, that’s because it is. But what we the gathered masses do with such a pure form of Democracy is entirely up to us, the people—not a corporation or a bunch of rich white-guy bankers. Social Media Government is coming.

This article was first published on January 2, 2012 

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February 23, 2015

2015 OSCAR WINNERS

2015 oscars
 

Best Supporting Actor:

Robert Duvall in The Judge
Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
OSCAR WINNER — J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

 

Achievement in Costume Design:

OSCAR WINNER — The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero
Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges
Into the Woods, Colleen Atwood
Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive 
Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran

 

​Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling:

Foxcatcher, Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
OSCAR WINNER — The Grand Budapest Hotel, Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
Guardians of the Galaxy, Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

 

Best Foreign-Language Film:

OSCAR WINNER — Ida, Poland
Leviathan, Russia
Tangerines, Estonia
Timbuktu, Mauritania
Wild Tales, Argentina

 

Best Live Action Short Film:

Aya, Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
Boogaloo and Graham, Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak), Hu Wei and Julien Féret
Parvaneh, Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
OSCAR WINNER — The Phone Call, Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

 

Best Documentary Short Subject:

OSCAR WINNER — Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
Joanna, Aneta Kopacz
Our Curse, Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
The Reaper (La Parka), Gabriel Serra Arguello
White Earth, J. Christian Jensen

 

Achievement in Sound Mixing:

American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and Thomas Varga
Interstellar, Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, and Mark Weingarten
Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and David Lee
OSCAR WINNER — Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley

 

Achievement in Sound Editing:

OSCAR WINNER — American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
Interstellar, Richard King
Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

 

​Best Supporting Actress:

OSCAR WINNER — Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
Laura Dern in Wild
Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
Emma Stone in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

 

Achievement in Visual Effects:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
OSCAR WINNER — Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

 

Best Animated Short Film:

The Bigger Picture, Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
The Dam Keeper, Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
OSCAR WINNER — Feast, Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
Me and My Moulton, Torill Kove
A Single Life, Joris Oprins

 

Best Animated Feature Film:

OSCAR WINNER — Big Hero 6, Don Hall, Chris Williams, and Roy Conli
The Boxtrolls, Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable, and Travis Knight
How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dean DeBlois, and Bonnie Arnold
Song of the Sea, Tomm Moore and Paul Young
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

 

Achievement in Production Design:

OSCAR WINNER — The Grand Budapest Hotel: Adam Stockhausen Set Decoration Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game, Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
Interstellar, Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
Into the Woods, Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner, Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

 

Achievement in Cinematography:

OSCAR WINNER — Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert Yeoman
Ida, Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
Mr. Turner, Dick Pope
Unbroken, Roger Deakins

 

OSCAR WINNER — Achievement in Film Editing:

American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
Boyhood, Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg
OSCAR WINNER — Whiplash, Tom Cross

 

Best Documentary Feature:

OSCAR WINNER — CitizenFour, Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, and Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam, Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
The Salt of the Earth, Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, and David Rosier
Virunga, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

 

Best Original Song:

"Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie, Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
OSCAR WINNER — "Glory" from Selma, Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights, Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell…I'll Be Me, Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again, Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

 

Best Original Score:

OSCAR WINNER — The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar, Hans Zimmer
Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon
The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson

 

Best Original Screenplay:

OSCAR WINNER — Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
Boyhood, Written by Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel,  Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler, Written by Dan Gilroy

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

American Sniper, Written by Jason Hall
OSCAR WINNER — The Imitation Game, Written by Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything, Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
Whiplash, Written by Damien Chazelle

 

​Best Directing:

OSCAR WINNER — Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum

 

​Best Actor:

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
OSCAR WINNER — Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

 

Best Actress:

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
OSCAR WINNER — Julianne Moore in Still Alice
Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon in Wild

 

Best Picture:

American Sniper
OSCAR WINNER — Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

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