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Posts Tagged ‘Ken Loach’

Dave Johns

“I, DANIEL BLAKE”  My rating: B+ (Now showing at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Is Ken Loach our greatest living filmmaker?

Granted, he’s hardly the flashiest. His films, while technically superb, never scream “Look what I can do with a camera!”

But over a career that spans five decades, the 80-year-old Loach has unwaveringly dedicated his movies to examining small lives…or at least the lives usually overlooked by Hollywood.

His vision is invariably humanistic and left leaning, and even when he tackles an historic subject (the Spanish Civil War in 1995’s “Land and Freedom,” the Irish rebellion in 2006’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” the conflict between Church and individual freedoms in the fledgling Irish Republic in 2014’s “Jimmy’s Hall”) he never lets conventional movie storytelling or ideology trump the human beings who are his constant focus.

His latest, “I, Daniel Blake” is vintage Loach: wise, sad, angry, and deeply moving.

The title character (Dave Johns) is a 59-year-old Newcastle widower and carpenter who has suffered an on-the-job heart attack. Dave wants more than anything to go back to work, but his doctors tell him he needs months of recuperation.

To survive this period of unemployment Dave must go on the dole, but qualifying and keeping his benefits proves a Kafka-esque nightmare of “Catch 22” conundrums and contradictions.

Anyone who’s ever spent an hour listening to Muzak while waiting to talk to a “representative” will identify with Daniel’s plight. Actually, that’s a relatively easy day compared to what our protagonist is about to go through.

American viewers who object to “socialized” medicine may be tempted to use “I, Daniel Blake” as a exhibit in their arguments. But not so fast.  Daniel is getting excellent medical care — the problem is the conservative government’s view that anyone receiving unemployment benefits is, by definition, a slacker who deserves to suffer in a bureaucratic limbo.

From the beginning the deck is stacked against Daniel. Government agencies expect him to communicate with them over the Internet, but Daniel’s an analog kind of guy who’s never been within 10 feet of a computer (his music is all on LPs and cassettes). He’s expected to write  up a job resume, then berated when he produces a hand-written CV.

His caseworker orders him to attend a job-hunting workshop — it’s as excruciating to experience in the context of a film as it is in real world.

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Barry Ward as Jimmy Gralton

Barry Ward as Jimmy Gralton

“JIMMY’S HALL” My rating: A- 

109 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Brit filmmaker Ken Loach always has lept in where Hollywood fears to tread. For a quarter century he has been making overtly political films reflecting his leftist/humanist point of view. He’s never been a major box office force, but he’s always been a true artist.

“Jimmy’s Hall” is in many ways the perfect Loach film, a fact-based story depicting the external struggle of left-vs.-right without stooping to caricature or shrillness and overflowing with Irish song, dance and language.

Paul Laverty’s screenplay (based on Donal O’Kelly’s play) begins with the return to Ireland in 1932 of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), who has spent the last decade in exile in New York City. As we see in flashbacks, at the time of “the troubles” Jimmy ran afoul of the authorities for operating a “hall” on his rural property, a place where local folk could go to take classes in art and music, discuss literature and politics, and hold community dances.

Doesn’t sound particularly insidious, but Jimmy’s sin was to run his hall free of the control of the Church,  for centuries (and for another 80 years) the dominant force in Irish life.

Once back in the neighborhood Jimmy is reunited with his mother (Aileen Henry) and with Oonagh (Simone Kirby), the girl he left behind who has since married and started a family. But it isn’t long before the rural folk are urging Jimmy to spruce up the dust-covered hall and start once again providing a place for common folk to gather  to expand their minds  and open their hearts.

Turns out that life in the new republic hasn’t improved appreciably for these hard-working but underemployed Irishmen. The owners of the big estates can still evict poor tenants for the slightest infraction or uppity behavior, and the Catholic Church — as embodied by Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) — once again is prepared to take on any challenge to its authority.

The film’s villains: masters and pastors.

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Paul Brannigan

Paul Brannigan

“THE ANGEL’S SHARE”  My rating: B+ (Opens April 26 at the Tivoli)

101 minutes | No MPAA rating            

The players rarely seem to be acting in Ken Loach films, usually because so many of them have never before been in a movie. But even when he casts old pros, the performances Loach gets are natural, unforced, and of an astonishingly high order.

Loach, now in his 70s and the dean of Britain’s left-leaning ashcan filmmakers, does it again in “The Angel’s Share,” a gentle comedy — with some very dramatic moments –about a bunch of kids from the Scottish underclass who become connoisseurs of fine whisky and then come up with a plan to steal some priceless century-old single malt.

We meet Robbie (Paul Brannigan, who in real life is a social worker) in a courtroom where he’s on trial for beating a fellow hooligan within an inch of his life. For reasons that not even he quite understands, Robbie gets 300 hours of community service instead of jail time. This is important since his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) is about to have his baby. Robbie makes a vow to stick to the straight and narrow and build a real life for his child.

But that’s not easy. During his days of carousing and coke-snorting Robbie has made many enemies who are still seeking revenge. Among them are Leonie’s uncles, who beat him senseless when he shows up at the hospital to see his new son. Moreover, his criminal record makes getting even a menial job impossible.

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