The Day Shall Come 2019 ****

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Chris Morris is Britain’s most scabrous working satirist, and is probably best known as the creator of The Day Today, a parody of both news and news reporting that’s yet to be bettered. For his first feature, Four Lions, Morris attempted to make comedic hay from the idea of an incompetent terrorist cell, and it’s to his credit that he managed to make something that was much more than just a few gags on a topical theme. His follow-up, arriving almost a decade later, has a similar notion at its centre; outsiders in their Miami community, Moses (Marchant Davis) and his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks)struggle to make ends meet until an opportunity comes their way; to hide some guns…

Of course, guns are just the starts of Moses’s absurd journey, which brings him to the attention of Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick), and her FBI team, who are keen to nab prospective terrorists in the act by feeding them bogus information and equipment, then sending in the SWAT teams after the misguided participants press the nuclear button. This is, Morris’s film makes clear, entrapment, and what‘s being entrapped is not ideological terrorists, but the poor. The Day Shall Come has good fun with Moses’s weird beliefs, and his understanding that blowing a small horn might just conjure dinosaurs out of the earth; the point is that Moses is just a misguided individual, and has no idea that his own brand of idiocy might make him vulnerable to being a political dupe.

There’s a certain brand of modern satire, via In The Loop, Veep and The Death of Stalin, that relies on absurd swearing tropes, convoluted insults and all characters speaking thinly disguised locker-room talk to fill in between the actual jokes; The Day Shall Come is admirable in that it rarely stoops to crude gags. Instead, Morris mines a ridiculous situation to great effect, with vibrant central performances and a fun, prissy support-turn from Kendrick.

“Next thing you’ll know, the Statue of Liberty will be wearing a burkha and we’ll be beheading Bruce Springsteen,’ one of Glack’s team observe, but the stakes are carefully defined in Morris’s intelligent, trenchant comedy. America is not under attack from outside, but from within, by those who seek to profit and further themselves by creating enemies from outside. It’s a laudable, modern sentiment, and fully articulated by the Ace In The Hole finale that Morris creates with genuine cinematic verve.

Wag the Dog 1997 ***

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In the ‘post-truth’ era, it’s easy to get nostalgic for a time when news was news. David Mamet’s playful Wag The God, back in 1997, shows there’s nothing new under the sun as a Hollywood producer and a spin doctor contrive a war to cover up a Presidential sex-scandal. With heavyweight leads in Robert de Niro (as the PR) and Dustin Hoffman (as the Robert Evans-type producer) , Wag the Dog feels stagey in a good way, never resorting to action when it can show through character and conversation how the media can create it’s own truth. Now that it can be divorced from the Bill Clinton era, Wag The Dog seems to hold a more universal truth and ever. Anyone looking at the Trump/Clinton debate circus and wondering ‘how could this happen?’ would do well to take a look at this clever film about what sticks and what doesn’t, and why post-truth is one step closer to post-apocalypse.

Network 1976 ****

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Way ahead of its time in terms of disaffection with the media, Sidney Lumet’s 1976 drama is still frequently referenced today; the character of Howard Beale, weatherman turned prophet, has come to stand as a symbol of social anger about the way television in particular can distort and suppress public thought. Played by Peter Finch, Beale is a force of nature, wigging out on air and challenging authorities to stop his messianic message of revolution. Paddy Chayefsky’s knowing script also takes the time to establish firmly what Beale is rebelling against; Faye Dunaway and William Holden do great, if less iconic work as the network execs who try to figure out how best to control and exploit Beale’s sudden popularity. Inspired by a real on-air tragedy, network is a monumental film in the history of media self-analysis.

The Ploughman’s Lunch 1983 ***

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Richard Ayer’s film from an original script by prestigious British novels Ian McEwan was catnip to the chattering classes in 1983; made for Channel 4 television, it was released in cinemas and seemed to represent the mood of the time in the UK. Parts of the film were captured against real backgrounds, with the Falkland’s war in the background and scenes filmed at the Conservative party conference. This Medium Cool verisimilitude extends to the characters; Jonathan Pryce is James Penfield, a journalist who is facing up to his own financial and spiritual bankruptcy; Rosemary Harris, Tim Curry and Frank Finlay are amongst the gallery of characters who he bounces off. The Ploughman’s Lunch has a title that refers to the simple meal that workers used to enjoy; this film represents the kind of unequivocal, intelligent television that Britain used to make before it sold out to game-shows and reality television filler.

Wrong Is Right 1982 ***

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Also known as The Man With The Deadly Lens, writer/director Richard Brooks adapts a novel by Charles McCarry called The Better Angels. Sean Connery stars as TV newsman Patrick Hale, who discovers that two stolen nuclear bombs in suitcase are the catalyst for an exploration of late 70’s geopolitics that eerily predates the Iraq war; even the World Trade Centre finds itself under threat. The intention of Brooks’ film is satirical, but amidst the escalating absurdity, Wrong Is Right does a good job in nailing sociological tends in both media and politics, presumably the reason this film is so rarely seen.