Monday, 24 October 2016

I, Daniel Blake (15)

You may, possibly, have heard of this film already - the comedy community is raving about it, film critics are raving about it and just about everyone we know who has seen it is raving about it.

It's not, by any means, the most fun you'll have at the cinema this year - but it is the most important thing you can watch.

And should watch.

And be prepared to be angry.

Even now, sitting here, I can feel my blood pressure rising as I remember scenes of Daniel Blake trying to use calm, rational thought with the people whose job is - essentially - to help those in need.

Only the system is broken. And it wasn't an accident.

If you've missed all the chatter, Blake - played perfectly by Davy Johns - is a man who has been told by his doctors that he can't return to work yet following a massive heart attack.

However, this causes him a problem. Because he's failed the Employment Support Allowance assessment as the person behind a desk has run some tests and concluded he's fit to work.

So he should be out there, job seeking.

And if he's not job seeking - against the advice of nurses, doctors and consultants - he'll have his only source of income taken away from him.

Think this sounds ridiculous? You're right. But try living it.

Thanks to director Ken Loach, you don't have to - because I, Daniel Blake lives it for you, bringing the pain, heartache, anger, frustration and despair of a system designed to help to a wider audience.

Helped hugely by winning the Palm d'Or at Cannes, what is taking this film and its message to the multiplexes is the performances of the two main characters.

Comedian Davy Johns and actress and writer Haley Squires bring their characters to life with warmth, compassion and understated rage that leaves you breathless.

Thanks to the pair of them, what could be a bleak watch has true humanity. You care for these two, you're on their side from the minute you see them.

And you share every painful sling and arrow the system throws at them.

If you aren't sniffing and blubbing at least once during this film, you are simply dead inside.

I thought we'd both done well to make it to the foodbank scene before losing control of our tear ducts, but it turns out someone else had already been quietly dabbing her eyes long before that.

And I thought that scene - which is easily the best single scene I've seen in a film in years and should net Squires every award going - was the toughest thing I'd have to watch here.

But I was wrong.

Loach had one more trick up his sleeve.

Now let's be clear about this - this is not an easy film to watch. It's light on laughs (although the first third has its share, and if you're a football fan the Charlie Adams bit will have you in stitches).

But that's the bloody point.

There are people living this every day, through no fault of their own. They are simply trying to exist, but they are fighting a system that strips them of their humanity.

And Loach - through Johns and Squires - is giving it back to them.

It's not a perfect film - I have no idea why we needed a shouty man outside the job centre, and I would have liked to have seen the patching up of a key friendship - but these really are the nittiest of nit-picks.

I, Daniel Blake is a film that shouldn't exist. Simply because our Government should have never been allowed to take a system that was designed to help the most in need and use it to break them.

Much has been said in certain quarters about how, since 2008, the plan has been to simply stop helping people.

To leave those already destitute to starve, to be passed over and forgotten, to be thrown in the nearest gutter.

And I'm sure you've read those stories and thought them fantastical. Ridiculous. After all, what kind of society would we be living in if that was happening?

You may even think, albeit quietly and to yourself, that in some way 'these people' have brought it on themselves.

Because, again, no just society would treat people like that.

And no, it wouldn't.

But as Loach shows us, this is no longer a just society.

There's a war being waged, and it's against those who can't fight back.

And if you aren't sitting there as the credits roll feeling angry that such situations can exist, you're not human.

In the screening we were in, only two people left as the credits came up. Everyone else was just sat there in stunned silence, taking in what they had seen.

And as people started to leave, you could see they were thinking. They had been affected by what they had seen. Loach, Squires and Johns had done a good job.

Maybe now we can start treating each other as equals, and help those worse off than ourselves rather than buying into the poisonous rhetoric currently being peddled in certain sections of the media.

In a just society, this film wouldn't need to be made. But sadly it does.

Thankfully, Loach has taken the job on and done us all proud.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Bone Tomahawk (18)

There is something of a Western revival going on at the moment.

The Magnificent Seven has been given a make-over, Jane Got A Gun hit the big screen fleetingly, and Bone Tomahawk likewise spent a seemingly brief period at the multiplex.

Sadly, due to life dong what life does best, this summer was one of missed films rather than a worn-out loyalty card - but as winter hoves into view, the DVD releases are upon us.

So, at last, Bone Tomahawk can be feasted upon.

With Kurt Russell, Lili Simmons, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, David Arquette and Richard Jenkins heading the cast, this is no low-budget affair either.

It's packing heat in all areas, and not just the pistols.

But - and this is the real beauty of Bone Tomahawk - this is no ordinary western.

You look at the cast, you hear the plot - people need rescuing from wild tribe - and you figure you've got the whole thing boxed off and sorted from the off.

But you'd be wrong.

Oh so wrong.

Bone Tomahawk takes your preconceptions and tears them apart.

Rips them in half.

And that's why it's such a brilliant, brilliant film.

The start is quite grisly, with people's throats being cut open and blood going everywhere, but after that things calm down.

But that's your warning of what's to come, because when the business end of Tomahawk kicks in it gets brutal.

And not just visually.

The sound guys were having a field day here, and you find yourself squirming in your seat as legs fail to heal, throats are examined in great detail and machetes do what machetes do.

Thankfully, it's not all gruesome gore and dusty horse joggings - writer/director S. Craig Zahler knows what he's doing and lifts the mood periodically with some sharp shooting in the dialogue department.

The jokes are dark at times, sure, but there are laughs littered all over this film to offset the visual horrors that you're beset by.

And that's just another reason why this film is so good - the balance between light and dark, gore and humour is near perfect.

In fact, there's very little to criticise here.

Performances? Great. The look? Spot on. Dialogue? Nailed it. Fights and action scenes? Hard hitting.

For a first time director (and only his second writing credit), the lad's done good.

Sure, this is not the relaxing, Sunday afternoon cowboy flick you might be expecting.

Sure, instead you get a brutal, tense, thrilling ride across the plains which will have you staring at the screen while wishing you could look away (but you don't, in case you miss something).

This is not a film for everyone - in fact half of the audience I was with never want to hear mention of this film again, and she's no wimp - but if you are willing to take a chance you'll be treated to a future cult classic.