politics

REVIEW: The Brink (2019)

A fly-on-the-wall documentary following former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s global mission to spread extreme nationalism.

The Brink spans across about a year, from Autumn 2017 to late 2018, and gives unbridled access into the life of Bannon as he meets with politicians and campaigners and discusses the next move in forwarding the nationalism agenda.

The thing that the The Brink did really well is show how Bannon is a hypocrite and almost constantly contradicts himself. The type of documentary it is means the filmmaker doesn’t make their own commentary on what is happening, instead they allow the camera and the actions of the people on screen to tell the story. While Bannon speaks out against the rich and the elite, you also see him going to the dinners at the Upper East Side, flying in private jets, and staying fancy hotels. It is clear he is a hypocrite as he enjoys the lifestyle that being a part of the elite can bring. He also lies and contradicts himself when questioned on past statements, even when journalists have the evidence to back it up.

Bannon’s meetings and dinners with far right and nationalist politicians from across Europe are often uncomfortable to watch. There is Nigel Farage, former leader of UKIP and now the leader of the Brexit Party, who says increasingly inflammatory things as well as members of the National Front in France and other right-wing politicians across Europe. However grimy these dinners might make one feel; they are illuminating as you see how these people think and the propaganda they believe in without any filters.

The Brink is often shocking, with one of the most surprising things being how much access the filmmaker got, sitting in on so many dinners, meetings and private conversations. You get to see exactly the kind of man Bannon is – he can be charming and charismatic, he is smart – though not as smart as he believes he is – but he is also aggressive, rude, and will talk down to anyone who is not acting quick enough to achieve his goals.

The Brink is an engaging documentary though it does help to have a lot of background knowledge on Bannon, his time in the White House and certain events he was involved in. It throws you straight in, following Bannon and his aims without giving a lot of context. There are titles that appear every now and then, giving more information, but really, if you don’t know all what Bannon did as a part of Trump’s campaign staff did as, then the film is more of a character study. 4/5.

As an aside, The Brink would make a good double bill with another political documentary – Knock Down the House. Both of them cover the same amount of time and culminate at the results of the 2018 US midterm elections, however they follow people on complete opposite sides of the political spectrum – showing just how divisive politics has come, not just in America but around the world.

READ THE WORLD – El Salvador: Looking for Trouble by Roque Dalton

A collection of poems from Roque Dalton, a Salvadoran poet and revolutionary.

The thing I really liked about this collection of poetry was it had Dalton’s original work in Spanish side by side the English translation. It’s a great way to see the words that would’ve rhymed in Spanish and it’s nice that the original text isn’t forgotten. Also at the start of the collection there was a short biography of Dalton which was interesting and helped me understand where his poetry was coming from.

Each poem was very short, often no more than a page and many were only ten lines or so. This made them punchy, getting across the ideas and emotions in a concise way. His poems were often sarcastic which was an interesting yet strangely fun way for poems about love, death, revolution and politics to be. His sarcasm definitely shone through in his more political poems and I love sarcasm in writing.

My favourite poems in the collection were the political ones like “Poem XVI” and “My Military III the P.S. (Prodigal Sons)” Thanks to the biography at the start of the book you have a rough idea of the political turmoil going on in El Salvador at the time of his writings, with the ideas of a revolution being rife in the country after the Cuban Revolution in the 1950’s. One of the poems I liked a lot because it made me think and put a wry smile on my face was “Miscellaneous” – this one is about socialism and imperialism and how the two could attempt to shape El Salvador. My other favourite was “On Headaches” which is about the pain different movements cause while Communism is like “an aspirin the size of the sun.” It was an amusing look at different political ideologies and a great insight into the mind of a revolutionary.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read poetry for fun – I think having to learn everything about Seamus Heaney and Caroline Duffy’s work for my GCSE’s kind of put me off poetry as a whole genre for a while – but I found Dalton’s work really accessible. It’s a quick read and reading his poetry was an interesting snapshot into a country’s history. I think I might look for more poetry collections as I continue to attempt to read the world!

REVIEW: Miss Sloane (2016)

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most sought after lobbyist in Washington D.C. But when she turns down the job of working against a gun control bill and instead joins Rodolfo Schmidt’s (Mark Strong) firm which is working to ensure the bill passes, she finds herself against her most powerful opponent.

Miss Sloane is a gripping political thriller. While it does feature the hot topic of gun control and putting restrictions on who can go and buy a gun, the film uses that to show the tactics lobbyists use to get congressmen onside, and how politics can be corrupted. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain of American politics and while this story is fiction, it is an interesting look at how bills can succeed or fail.

Elizabeth Sloane is amazing. She’s one of those characters who isn’t a nice person at all and will happily use people to get the result she wants but there’s something about her that pulls you in. She is a master tactician and a thing the film does really well is it not only has multiple characters say how smart and formidable she is, but actually shows you how smart and formidable she is. Jessica Chastain knocks it out of the park in this role, showing there are some very hidden layers to Elizabeth and she has no problem with who she is.

While Chastain stills the show, the whole cast is truly brilliant. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Waterston, Alison Pill and John Lithgow all deserve a mention as they all give great performances.

The music and set design make everything about the world these politicians work in look clean and perfect but it really helps hide the truth that there is shady business going on in politics every day. All the costumes are great, with suits and office attire adding another facet to each character.

Miss Sloane is a brilliant film that will have you rooting for the underdog. Jessica Chastain is amazing in the role and it’s a film I can’t stop thinking about. 5/5.

REVIEW: An Insignificant Man (2016)

an-insignificant-manA political documentary following Arvind Kejriwal an activist who wants to end political corruption but soon realises that the only way to do that is with politics and so newest political force in India is born – The Common Man’s Party (AAP).

An Insignificant Man is fascinating, well-structured look at India’s political landscape, especially the campaigning leading up to the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections. It follows Kejriwal and his party as they struggle to make themselves a formidable force against The Congress, Mahatma Gandhi’s party and the party that’s ruled India for the majority of the years since India’s independence, and he opposition party BJP.

Other notable people featured in the documentary are Yogendra Yadav, an academic and co-founder of the AAP. Yadav was often the most pragmatic person in the party having studied politics for so many years. He is the kind of person who knew you could only pick certain battles and not go promising everything to everyone. His and Kejriwal’s relationship was interesting as Kejriwal was often stubborn and make big promises to do with free water and energy bills that many people, Yadva included, thought were too extreme. Santosh Koli was another interesting AAP candidate, she was a formidable woman and while her story was cut short (it’s a documentary so you can google her if you like) I really liked what you saw of her in An Insignificant Man and wished she could have had the opportunity to make a bigger political impact.

I knew nothing of Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP and the political landscape in India in general before watching An Insignificant Man but this film did a great job of showing who the man is, both the good and the bad, and what he and his party stands for. It made this recent piece of political history exciting and almost thrilling at times while also still showed the farcical side of politics. There are indeed laugh out loud moments in this, for instance when one politician is told to stop shouting over other campaigners in an interview and he said “I’m not shouting, I have a loud voice.” An Insignificant Man really shows how politics is just as absurd and flawed in India as it is anywhere else in the world.

An Insignificant Man is an interesting documentary about a group of people who do almost the unthinkable of starting a new political party. It feels honest and does not try to judge Kejriwal or AAP, it simply follows them through the ups and downs of campaigning, showing the successes and the failures. It really is a fascinating film. 5/5.