From the early era of School Daze, Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X onwards, fans of Spike Lee joints have come to expect a certain well-articulated intelligence and socio-political engagement to the Atlanta-born director’s bold and unflinching brand of cinema. The last decade or so has seen a number of near misses, but with Chi-Raq, Lee once again lands resounding punches left, right and centre, deftly swinging a wrecking ball at the societal ills of contemporary America to devastating effect.
How many times has the line “Give me another shot” been uttered in a boxing movie? What is it about these fiercely stubborn, bloodied and bruised fighters that means they just don’t know when to throw in the towel? Of all the human punching bags witnessed on film over the years, and of the many, many stories of triumph inside the ring in the battered face of adversity outside it, perhaps none are as deserving of cinematic treatment as Vinny Pazienza.
Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani rose to international fame alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s 2008 film, Body of Lies. She’s been busy, and constantly on the move, since then though her most memorable role for many cinephiles was the last one in her home country, as Sepideh in Asghar Farhadi’s acclaimed drama, About Elly. This year she stars with Adam Driver in Paterson, the latest triumph from Jim Jarmusch.
“The Mozart of chess” isn’t the most hip of nicknames but it goes some way to expressing the inexplicable, impossible genius of Magnus Carlsen. The 25-year-old Norwegian Grandmaster is the focus of Benjamin Ree’s Magnus, an intimate documentary that charts his rise to fame and an all-important 2013 World Championship event in Chennai. It does so with a humility that mirrors the self-effacing nature and bashful smile of its timid, attention-averse subject. “It’s hard to be cool when I play chess,” says Magnus in home video footage as an adolescent, struggling through his formative years at school.
November 2016. A member of the Royal family is forced to defend his chosen partner in the face of an unscrupulous right-wing press, with the suggestion in some commentaries of negative racial undertones. It’s hard to fathom, and deeply galling, that this may still be the case but the theatrical release of Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom remains a sadly timely one in spite of this true story originating nearly seventy years ago.
Paterson teaches us that there is beauty to be found in all things. Poetry, meaning and further dimensions to even the most mundane trivialities of everyday existence. In Jim Jarmusch’s latest, which takes place in contemporary New Jersey, Adam Driver plays a bus driver and amateur wordsmith named Paterson. Cyclical, overlapping layers, in narrative, naming and construction, make this week-in-the-life of a lumbering, ironically monosyllabic dreamer and his wonderfully wacky and supportive other half, Laura (played exquisitely by beautiful Iranian actress tress Golshifteh Farahani), a softly spoken, spellbinding and kooky triumph.
In a city of millions, it isn’t right but it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. Lost in an ocean of lives lived from 9 to 5, spent peering into mobile phone screens, behind closed doors or simply through a blinkered field of vision, a lot goes unseen, unnoticed and unresolved. It’s in this world – and more specifically a Tottenham housing estate – that writer-director Sean Spencer sets Panic, his impressive debut feature.
Tomasz Wasilewski’s United States of Love may take place just after 1989’s felling of the Berlin Wall but little of the era’s euphoric optimism transfers to the Polish writer-director’s dispassionate yet engrossing third feature. Broken down into loosely formed chapters whose pages overlap and intersect with purposeful randomness, Wasilewski’s film sees his nation on the point of transition from its barren communist past to a new era of potential enlightenment: clothes, electronic goods and Whitney Houston posters no less.
Director Jim O’Hanlan takes us down many different London roads in 100 Streets, attempting to encompass the multiple criss-crossing tales of his debut feature’s diverse ensemble. Working from the first script by local screenwriter Leon Butler, the capital’s wide-ranging social spectrums and innumerable walks of life are all to be found here but this interweaving of stories from the rich fabric of a Battersea square mile doesn’t end up going anywhere. And what it’s trying to tell us is never particularly profound, coherent or meaningful.
The stakes of The Ivory Game couldn’t be higher. Make the wrong moves now, or fail to make the right ones, and within a generation one of the largest and most beloved land mammals on earth will be no more. The gravity of the situation faced by the African elephant will stun many of those who behold the galling facts of Kief Davidson and Richad Ladkami’s revelatory documentary – this reviewer included: an astonishing 150, 000 elephants have been killed in the last five years and if this tide is not stemmed the animal risks total extinction within fifteen.