Let’s face it, whether you're conservative, liberal or somewhere in no man’s land, this election year has felt like an inevitable car crash. It’s not one those where you can watch from a distance and say 'oh, thank goodness I’m not part of that car crash' – we’re all in it together; the car has gone off the rails, and now we’re in a ditch. It’s right then, that we need to take a moment to look at the films which might help us to make sense of this befuddling nightmare.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the frankly unbelievable story of an aggressively petty billionaire narcissist who blames all of the world’s problems on an undocumented alien refugee. If that sounds familiar – honestly, well done, it’s almost the exact same plot of the over-written Aaron Sorkin screenplay we’ve been living for the last year. Nonetheless, Batman v Superman can tell us a lot about this year’s US election, much in the same way bashing some action figures together can tell us about the state of international diplomacy. For instance, in Batman v Superman, its two title characters don’t share a conversation until 90 minutes into its 3-hour ultimate extended cut, demonstrating some harrowing insight into the fractured political discourse of the last 12 months. Director Zack Snyder has never shied away from clever political commentary, littering his 2011 feminist epic Sucker Punch with gratuitous arse shots as a statement against the objectifying male gaze.
BUGSY MALONE (1976)
Who would’ve thought, settling down to a Sunday afternoon watching ITV3 with a few Custard Cremes, that Bugsy Malone himself would have been one of the faded entertainers taking the stage at the 2016 Republican National Convention? Described by The Guardian as "a more affordable Al Pacino", child star Scott Baio scored his highest viewing audience since early 90s episodes of Diagnosis: Murder when he rocked the mic at the Quicken Loans Arena back in July. To be fair, as perhaps our foremost expert on a society run by dozens of feuding children, Baio is expertly positioned to speak on the current GOP ticket. Bugsy Malone ends on a light note with a dramatised massacre, wherein pie-covered child victims join hands and proclaim ‘We could’ve been anything that we wanted to be’, which, at this point, seems like a wonderful concession speech.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)
We live in a culture of leaks, be them Wiki or otherwise. In an election where email is king and conspiracies are dime a dozen, the Watergate scandal depicted in All the President’s Men seems quaint by comparison. Robert Redford plays Bob Woodward alongside Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, the two Post reporters who broke the story which resulted in the Watergate scandal – the Nixon Administration’s cover-up of a plan to wiretap the Democratic Party headquarters within the Watergate hotel. Not only is the film a shocking exposé of the Washington system, it’s also a stark reminder of the kind of investigative journalism that’s possible in an environment that supports it. But mostly, it’s a reminder of a time when shady whistleblowers lived inside shadowy parking complexes instead of Ecuadorian embassies. It’s easy to forget the trials that went into breaking such a story. Forgivably so, considering the clickbait ‘listicle’ genre has become so prominent now that news in general has become easier to swallow and harder to take seriously. Meanwhile investigative journalism is harder to support and simply costs more than “27 Things You Need If You’re Actually A Sloth In Disguise”. In current climes, we could confidently say Woodward and Bernstein would be the subject of furious online debate, accused of colluding in a crooked Liberal smear campaign as part of a larger Liberal conspiracy. It’s not too difficult to imagine their inboxes overflowing with cartoon frogs. This year’s two major political black holes, the US Presidential election and Britain’s EU referendum, have been conducted in what some have called a ‘post-truth’ society – where false claims aren’t properly addressed and facts are all too readily buried under drama. All the President’s Men reminds us that “the media” (in great big inverted commas) isn’t a given. Free press isn’t free – it’s costly, and always under threat. The film is also a timely reminder of the danger that an unchecked cartoon demagogue might pose to an industry dedicated to disseminating between fact and fiction.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989)
Stumbling his way through a derelict, crime-ridden alternate version of his home town, Back to the Future Part II’s Marty McFly remarks “It’s like we’re in Hell or something!” He’s not wrong. “No, it’s Hill Valley. Although I can’t imagine Hell being much worse!” adds Doc, the inventor of the time machine that sent him there. There he finds his father’s school bully Biff with his face on the side of a gigantic casino, practically the only beacon of wealth in a world straight out of a Daily Mail scare story. A balding, sleazy, uber-rich misogynist living and operating out of a skyscraper, it’s no secret that writer/directors Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale absolutely modelled Biff’s alternate 1985-self on one Donald J. Trump. Looking back now, the affectionately-named timeline of 1985A seems like a nostalgic breather from the far-flung future of 2016B. And we don’t even get flying cars.
GRAN TORINO (2008)
It’s been a hard and difficult road maintaining a casual affection for Clint Eastwood. Despite having a checkered political past including stints as a Republican, independent and Libertarian, Eastwood’s status as an untouchably-cool bad-ass quickly dwindled as he addressed an empty chair on-stage at the 2012 Republican National Convention. This was Dirty Harry - the “Man with No Name” – trying out awkward improv by talking to a chair as if it were Barack Obama. It’s made all the more worrying considering that this man pandering to conservatives made Gran Torino four years earlier. Eastwood plays Walt, a widowed Korean war veteran. He’s alienated and angry at the world, prizing only his car (a Gran Torino) and some peace and quiet. However, after a young Hmong American boy nearly steals his ride, Walt overcomes his prejudice and develops a friendship with the boy and his family. What’s kind of wonderful about the film is how it conceals this mainstream meditation on prejudice behind the visage of a gun-toting, typically masculine ‘Clint Eastwood movie’. It’s disappointing, then, that its message seems lost on its director and star, who now describes millennials as “the p*ssy generation” and tells Trump critics to “just f***ing get over it”. The message is hopelessly lost when the guy once telling others to respect different cultures through tolerance is now condemning its proliferation. If Gran Torino has any legacy, it’s as a time capsule to a moment when tolerance was mainstream.
The biggest film of election week is Marvel’s Doctor Strange, an Orientalist fantasy about punching people with magic spells - book your ticket here.