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Issue #1754      October 26, 2016

Movie Reviews

Victims’ testimonies

Blacklisted

Conspiratorial bosses, undercover police, rigged courts, telephone tapping, victimisation, bullying, appallingly dangerous working conditions, workers dead and injured. Not a pretty list, is it?

But it’s a real one, because all these shocking factors and their consequences were part of the blacklisting which was practised for decades against British workers. And all are laid bare in this new short documentary produced by Reel News, now available free on YouTube.

Tom Wood’s film takes us back to the political stirrings among workers across Europe following the imperialist slaughter of WW1 and the actions of bosses and the state to identify, and deal with, individuals and groups of workers they saw as a threat to the capitalist system – and to companies’ profits.

In 1919, employers created the Economic League, an organisation which gathered information on trade union and political activists. Corporate members of the league could vet job applicants, checking against the league’s lists. League victims were blacklisted.

Exposure of the league’s activities in 1990 led to huge public pressure and in 1993 it was wound up. But a group involving Britain’s biggest construction companies purchased its files for £10,000 and established the Consulting Association (CA) which, concentrating on the construction industry, effectively continued its work.

The CA was itself exposed following a 2009 raid by the government’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and more than 3,000 construction workers were revealed to have been blacklisted, though the ICO left the association free to destroy at least 90 percent of the files that it kept.

Much of the strength of Blacklisted comes from the testimonies of victims. Action by trade unions and the Blacklist Support Group eventually won £70 million compensation for some of the victims from the companies responsible for their years out of work and their wrecked families. There are almost certainly thousands more.

But, as the film points out, the story is far from over. Not a single company has been prosecuted for its role in the scandal and the support group and unions are campaigning for a public inquiry. The battle continues.

Peter Lazenby


American Honey

The well-worn coming-of-age drama in pursuit of the American dream is given a fresh take in this long road-trip film, which may leave you wondering if you have been taken for a pointless ride by the end.

Devoid of a discernible plot it centres on teenage Star (Sasha Lane) who, in a bid to escape her impoverished life, joins a travelling magazine sales crew of young misfits – mainly non-actors – and criss-crosses the Midwest with them. She’s seduced by their joie de vivre, their hard partying ways and their charismatic lead salesman Jake (Shia LaBeouf), whose job is to recruit new girls to the team.

In this, her first US film, British film-maker Andrea Arnold captures the hopelessness and crushed dreams of the young and poor while providing an acute observation of the socio-economic divides in the US as it switches from fly on-the-wall realism to fanciful reverie.

Newcomer Lane shows exciting promise as the angst ridden Star and holds her own opposite LaBeouf.

He veers from charming to dangerously on the edge with effortless ease, while Riley Keough – Elvis Presley’s granddaughter – makes a formidable madame/boss of the sales crew.

You spend most of the film expecting Star to end up badly as she hooks up with pervy oil-rig workers and creepy rich middle-aged men in white Stetsons. Even so, very little happens and yet you’re lured in by the film’s stunning visuals, hypnotic rhythm and eclectic characters.

However after three hours, beautifully compelling as they are, you may wonder if you’ve just been watching paint dry.

Maria Duarte


Inferno

After the sad fiasco Hollywood made of Joseph Heller’s classic novel Catch 22, I’ve tended to approach movies based on best-sellers with caution.

Never having read 2013’s Inferno, Dan Brown’s third best-selling Robert Langdon thriller, I’ve no idea if the film stays true to its source.

No matter, because if you enjoy vigorous and fast-paced action, thrills and suspense, then director Ron Howard – reunited with Tom Hanks as famed symbologist-turned-hero Langdon and armed with David Koepp’s muscular screenplay – definitely delivers.

Langdon boldly goes where no others would to save humanity from a madman about to wipe out half the world’s population by unleashing a deadly virus.

Initially, though, rescue seems unlikely. Langdon wakes in an Italian hospital plagued by nightmarish visions and minus his memory and is soon pursued by a variety of villains – or are they?

Fortuitously, sassy doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) joins him to race across Europe from one museum to another where, employing Dante as their unlikely guide, they decode ancient clues and dodge danger and death at every turn.

Hanks, while not always entirely convincing playing an academic, makes an engaging Everyman hero Jones is good value and their various pursuers, ranging from the good to the bad and the maybe in-between, do the business.

Howard tells this tall tale briskly, maintaining a fast pace to elide improbable plot points and decorates the drama with well-used Florence, Venice and Istanbul locations.

It’s not art but it works well as a satisfying action thriller.

Alan Frank


Storks

With so many children currently accessing the internet and learning so much, it’s somewhat surprising to hear the young Nate asking storks to bring him a brother in this animation comedy.

Fun family animation comedy – Storks.

What Nate doesn’t know is that traditional avian baby delivery ended ages ago and storks now aerially deliver goods for a massive online company.

When boss Hunter – “I saved this company by getting out of babies and into package delivery” – promotes his stork son Junior, the fledgling gets charge of the human girl Tulip, whose existence has hitherto been kept a secret.

Enjoyably comic chaos ensues when she accidentally revives long-dormant machinery and produces a baby girl, leaving her and Junior to keep quiet and try to deliver the errant infant.

Screenwriter Nick Stoller, who co-directs with Doug Sweetland, flies high with this amusingly loony computer-generated fantasy.

The crazy comic action comes fast and frequently, most memorably with the posse of shape-shifting wolves who pursue the daring deliverers and then neatly switches to credible, if by-the-book, sentiment for the climax.

Vocal casting is spot on. Andy Samberg amuses as Junior and there’s sterling support from Katie Crown as Tulip and Kelsey Grammer as Junior’s bombastic father Hunter, while Jennifer Aniston – always better heard than seen – is good too as the baby-wanting Nate’s mother.

It’s a fun family film. But accompanying adults might be well advised to pay attention because, with sex education widespread in schools, the film could leave them facing difficult-to-answer enquiries regarding human procreation.

Alan Frank

Morning Star

Next article – Haiti beyond Matthew

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