Thursday 19 September 2019

Film of the week: The Brink

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

Steve Bannon in a scene from The Brink
Steve Bannon in a scene from The Brink
Iggy Pop in The Dead Don't Die

As part of the Trump administration's cast of ghouls, Steve Bannon was often credited with masterminding the tactics of populism that appealed to conservative America. Having founded the right-wing news website Breitbart, Bannon understood modern media and ended up playing it and the Left like a fiddle in order to get his charge elected.

Bannon stepped down as Trump's chief strategist in August 2017 (just days after the notorious Charlottesville rallies) and it is in the aftermath of this that we join him for Alison Klayman's fly-on-the-wall documentary portrait.

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Bannon has now turned to evangelising and mentoring the rising Right beyond America's shores, conducting meetings with the likes of Nigel Farage and Marie Le Pen in Europe to bolster a global populist movement. He is candid, upbeat and self-deprecating, but Klayman is able to locate that fervour beneath the slightly dishevelled approachability, the zealous belief that what he is doing is for the wider good.

As the 2018 midterms loom closer, doubts arise about his reading of the tea leaves and what impact he can truly have beyond mere media circus acts, as a piercing interview with The Guardian's Paul Lewis shows.

An excellent subject rendered with attention to detail, this is an important documentary for our times, one that lifts the curtain on how politics really works in today's world, and shows the motivations and methods of its aspiring puppetmasters. ★★★★ Hilary A White

 

Stuber

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Only in gas-guzzling America could driving an electric vehicle be a symbol of emasculation. Stu (Marmite comic actor Kumail Nanjiani) is a store clerk by day and Uber driver by night in his quest to save money to open a women's-only gym with pined-for best friend Becca (Betty Gilpin). Writer Tripper Clancy's message is simple - wimps drive electric cars and get friendzoned.

Ramping up the effect is the hulking form of Vic (wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista). Having temporarily lost his sight, Vic needs Stu to drive him around LA on the hunt for a gangland killer (Iko Uwais). Stu shrieks about the bloodstains on the interior. Vic growls at him to grow a pair. And on it goes.

It takes a while before director Michael Dowse's film begins to make any headway on its promise of chalk-and-cheese comedy, and by the time Bautista and Nanjiani are starting to click as a screen duo, it's too late. The damage is done in the first hour as jokes fail to land and Bautista's murmured grunts prove indecipherable.

Sub-average genre kicks perhaps exist if you're not feeling too fussy, and Natalie Morales is great as Vic's daughter, rolling her eyes like the rest of us. ★★★ Hilary A White

 

The Dead Don't Die

Cert: 16; Now showing

I had high hopes for Jim Jarmusch's latest film. One of the world's more interesting filmmakers, he always works with interesting actors and many of them feature in this comedy horror. Unfortunately the film, while never bad, fails to lift off in the way that it could have.

Centerville USA is "a real nice place to live". Crime rates are so low that two thirds of the town's police force, Chief Cliff (Bill Murray) and Officer Ronnie (Adam Driver) can attend the alleged theft of a chicken.

Their main suspect is local hermit Bob (Tom Waits), Chief Cliff's former classmate. The crime is not resolved and the cops return to their colleague Mindy (Chloe Sevigny). All three wonder at the changing daylight hours - shouldn't night have fallen by now? And they wonder too why the new Scottish undertaker Zelda (Tilda Swinton) cannot take the corpse which languishes in one of their two cells.

Over in the diner, nasty farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi), in a red Make America White Again hat, tells Hank (Danny Glover) the coffee is undrinkable because it is too black. Back at home he finds his dog Rumsfeld has gone feral, along with most of the town's other domestic animals.

The news, delivered by newscaster Posie (Rosie Perez), features government denials that polar fracking has thrown the earth off its axis and that the end is near.

When night eventually falls, the first zombies (including Iggy Pop) climb from their graves to savage the locals and mutter the desires of their former life, all related to consumerism.

The messages are thick and heavy, the jokes wear thin fast. It feels a little too knowing, too self-aware; it not only breaks the fourth wall but kicks it down - and even that doesn't quite ignite. I like dry humour, I like silly, but this just didn't work for me. With all the talent involved it could have been much better. ★★ Aine O'Connor

 

Annabelle Comes Home

Cert: 15A; Now showing

In a certain light, items from our childhood can be transformed into terrifying ghouls that seem placed on this Earth purely to keep our adult selves awake at night. The horror film industry knows this and delights in flinging clowns, nuns and dolls at us.

The Conjuring franchise specialises in it. This third instalment of the possessed mannequin series is directed by Gary Dauberman, the writer behind these and the IT remakes, who makes his directorial debut with a product he knows well.

Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the demonologist couple at the core of these films, are returning Annabelle to glass-case incarceration in their basement chamber of evil artefacts. The doll's demonic inclinations remain safely under lock and key, until that is, the Warrens are called away on another paranormal investigation. Ten-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) is babysat by high schooler Mary Ellen with some help from mischievous pal Daniela (Katie Sarife). Lo and behold, Annabelle escapes and all hell breaks loose.

A strong seam of high school fun runs through this episode, ably buttressed by the fine cast. Throwaway fun, but that's it. ★★★ Hilary A White

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