The Spirit of ’45 (UK, 2013)

Are we going back for our future?

Are we going back for our future?

Ken Loach’s documentary, which celebrates the brilliance of the post-war Labour government, is a blast from the past in more ways than one. I can’t remember the last time when I heard the word ‘socialism’ used so frequently in a text and spoken with approval; probably Channel 4’s Eleventh Hour radical strand on Monday night in the 1980s. But here we have it, Clem Atlee stating, proudly, that Britain is going to be socialist. However, Ken doesn’t have rose-tinted lenses for, as Tony Benn says, the nationalised industries were always controlled top-down, often by the same people who’d managed them before, rather than by the people. However, the achievements of the time were wondrous.

Here Loach lets witnesses speak, and they do so with conviction; for example, the guy who explains how amazing it was to find a bathroom inside the council house he was moving into. And there is plenty of footage, from the likes of Housing Problems (1936), to show how things were before the war. These witnesses are now obviously old so it is doubly important to hear their perspective; such as the doctor who, on the day the NHS started, was able to tell a patient not to worry about paying for the medicine as it was now free.

Loach is obviously not celebrating the era for the purposes of nostalgia because we are on the verge of the disintegration of the welfare state as the vandals in government seek to destroy the mechanisms of equality. The last third of the film looks at the effect of Thatcher, the great destroyer, and we currently have a government of men who wish to fill her boots by taking the country to the far right. Today’s Daily Mail features a composite image merging Chancellor Osborne with Thatcher; certainly an honest comment.

I saw the film with two teenagers who struggled to keep awake. That’s not a reflection upon them, as teenagers tend not be interested in the past, and there are a lot of black and white talking heads in the film. But, of course, it is their generation that is going to lose the most if the rich are allowed to consolidate, and increase, their grasp upon the nation’s wealth. Youngsters need to look beyond themselves, as they have been taught to do in the fall-out of Thatcher (and Blair), and think of others to both save the planet (climate change) and themselves from a future of social strife and insurrection.

The Cabin in the Woods (US, 2011)

The same but different

The same but different

Genre’s problem is having to always reinvent itself. It must, by definition, be the same but if it’s too samey then audiences are not likely to be interested (though that doesn’t seem to have stopped X Factor); successful genre texts must offer a spin on conventions. I won’t give away the decidedly postmodern spin on the ‘teens-in-the-woods-being-bumped-off-one-by-one’ trope but it is imaginative.

The writers, the ubiquitous Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (who also directed), take care to ensure we care for characters, even if only a little, so there is genuine tension in the threat. There’s also some crackling dialogue from the pothead, Marty (‘I’m going to read a book with pictures’). If anything they could have developed their conceit even further to investigate why horror attracts many but that’s a minor criticism.

Stoker (UK-US, 2013)

Demented, certainly

Demented, certainly

What happens when the director of the Vengeance trilogy (that culminated in the demented Oldboy, Korea, 2003) goes to Hollywood? Actually, not quite Hollywood as this is a Scott Bros. production (Tony’s last) and wears its indie sensibilities with its $15m budget. Park Chan-wook in America, certainly, but creating a particular Gothic world that is too uncomfortable for the mainstream.

What a cast; for the money or otherwise. I’ve despaired recently about Nicole Kidman, who seemed to have gotten lost in Hollywood, but she does a brilliantly brittle turn as the mother of the bullied, yet sinister, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska – very good). Similarly excellent is Matthew Goode, all sinister charm, as Uncle Charlie who seems to have stepped out of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Hitch visited small town America; Park visits the Gothic; the film’s title is a tribute to Bram.

Park certainly has an eye for composition and there are some stunning set ups and the cinematography, Chung-hoon Chung, is great. While there are some gut-wrenching moments, its not as visceral as Oldboy (well, not much is) and the horror is nicely balanced between shock and suspense.

Ginger & Rosa (UK-Denmark-Canada-Croatia, 2012)

Rosa & Ginger

Rosa & Ginger

I really enjoyed this although to say the film received ‘mixed’ reviews underplays somewhat the hostility. Some of the criticism surrounded the casting, 13 year old Elle Fanning as 17 year old Ginger, for instance; and Christina Hendricks as her mum. Well, for whatever reason, the arguably naff casting didn’t bother me. I thought Fanning, in particular, was great though it probably helped that I didn’t know she was actually 13.

It’s a starry cast for an arty movie, though this isn’t Potter at her obtuse, but I didn’t find the ‘stars’, Annette Bening, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall, distracting at all. So what put others off didn’t bother me, which no doubt helped me to concentrate on Potter’s fantastic direction. Her eye for a composition, aided by Andrea Arnold’s regular collaborator Robbie Ryan, is brilliant and came over very well on the blu-ray disc.

As to the narrative, a ‘coming of age’ during the height of the Cold War in 1963 story, I found it thoroughly convincing. The dialectic of personal-political might be more tense in the young (the politicised young that is) than us oldies as they are not yet sure who they are and their politics tend to be very personal rather than ideological. Potter throws in Roland, a typical male for whom his idealism is synonymous with his masculinity, superbly played by Alessandro Nivola; his egotism enraged me so much that I actually shouted at the telly. However, as Potter points out, it is difficult to disagree with him.

 

Argo (US, 2012)

Ah go...

Ah go…

This is a competently made thriller based on a great true story of the Tehran ‘hostage crisis’ at the start of the 1980s. However, best film of the year (Oscars)?! Best director (BAFTA)?! Ah go…

I couldn’t see anything special which is not to say it isn’t very well done. I found Affleck too wooden in the lead and the ‘back story’ (if such a flimsy plot line can be called that) of his character being estranged from his family was risible. There have been, justifiable, complaints that Iranians are portrayed one-dimensionally villains (housekeeper excepted); there’s even a self-conscious line in the script about Orientalism. On the other hand, the prelude doesn’t mince words about why many Iranians hate both America and Britain with our oil-based coups in the 1950s.

Strikingly Affleck’s character, in order to be trusted, says his real name is Tony Marquez. During the credits we get to see the real people and, yes!, Antonio Marquez is Hispanic. Now if a Hispanic had been cast in the lead then maybe the film would’ve deserved an award.