Archive for the ‘Film reviews’ Category


The following is the text of a talk delivered by veteran journalist and film-maker John Pilger at the British Library in London last Saturday (Dec 9).  His talk was part of a festival called “The Power of the Documentary” organised by the Library.  The festival was held to mark its acquisition of the archive of his written work.

by John Pilger

I first understood the power of the documentary during the editing of my first film, The Quiet Mutiny. In the commentary, I make reference to a chicken, which my crew and I encountered while on patrol with American soldiers in Vietnam.

“It must be a Vietcong chicken – a communist chicken,” said the sergeant. He wrote in his report: “enemy sighted”.

The chicken moment seemed to underline the farce of the war – so I included it in the film. That may have been unwise. The regulator of commercial television in Britain – then the Independent Television Authority or ITA – had demanded to see my script. What was my source for the political affiliation of the chicken? I was asked. Was it really a communist chicken, or could it have been a pro-American chicken?

Of course, this nonsense had a serious purpose; when The Quiet Mutiny was broadcast by ITV in 1970, the US ambassador to Britain, Walter Annenberg, a personal friend of President Richard Nixon, complained to the ITA. He complained not about the chicken but about the whole film. “I intend to inform the White House,” the ambassador wrote. Gosh.

The Quiet Mutiny had revealed that the US army in Vietnam was tearing (more…)


by Daphna Whitmore

The_Young_Karl_Marx_film_posterThis movie is two hours of non-stop Marxist banter. Tossing around the ideas of Marx, Engels, Proudon, Bakunin and Weitling, with references to Hegel here and there, it should be as dry as hell, even for a hardened Marxist. It’s not. It is rivetting. At the Auckland International Film Festival the audience stayed and applauded as the credits rolled.

The opening scene has destitute folk collecting firewood in a forest, and moments later they are savagely beaten by police on horseback. Marx contemplates how gathering dry wood, fallen from the trees and destined to rot on the forest floor, can be treated as an act of property theft?  (more…)

downloadby The Spark

Before electronic computers, and multifunctioning calculators, there were human computers. Black and white women mathematicians were tasked with turning numbers into meaningful data for NASA. Their calculations made possible many ground-breaking missions. These calculations, done by hand, with pencil and paper, often took more than a week to complete, filling six to eight notebooks with data and formulas.

Hidden Figures follows three black women “computers”: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – and their work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in the ‘60s.

All three of these women were brilliant mathematicians living and working in segregated and sexist Virginia. The film gives a sense of the indignities and humiliations these women endured. At one point Katherine Johnson is sent to a new department to calculate the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s space flight. The men – all white – were not (more…)

The article below first appeared in the Living section of revolution magazine (#6, May-June 1998), a print predecessor to this site.  The original article appeared under the title “Meddling in generics”.

downloadBeneath Gattaca’s serene exterior lie the clichés of the nervous nineties, argues Andrew Welch

The most striking aspect of Gattaca is its serene nineties style.  Every shot has obviously been carefully planned and the locations carefully chosen.  Newcomer Andrew Niccol has crafted a pleasantly non-commercial film – obviously not cynically constructed from the usual marketing analyses and box office recipes.  Niccol has written an excellent screenplay, with strong dialogue, balanced pace and, as a director, he displays an eye for period style.

Where it likely appealed to the corporate cinema machine is in its highly-marketable treatment of contemporary nervousness about genetic technology.

As far as its science fiction credentials go it is a sign of the times that there has been no doubt that this is one of the greats.  One reviewer gushed, barely able to contain himself: “with Gattaca we’ve finally discovered our generation’s 2001 – a film so boldly important, so vastly intelligent and so beautifully rendered that it will likely revolutionise the sci-fi genre like Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam, Niccol dares to elevate the sci-fi realm to poetry.”

Yet behind this outwardly quite captivating film are a number of (more…)

by Yassamine Mather

The film director, painter, poet and photographer Abbas Kiarostami, who died on July 4 2016, was one of Iran’s most important contemporary artists.

He always said he wanted to be a painter, but he “stumbled accidentally into film making” and was known principally for his achievements in this area. He gained international recognition with three films known as the ‘Koker trilogy’ (1987-94), named after a small village in Mazandaran province in the north of Iran, although his first film was Where is the friend’s home? (1987). This was followed by Life, and nothing more (1992), when he tried to blend fiction and documentary in the aftermath of the devastating 1990 earthquake in northern Iran. In 1994, Kiarostami directed Through the olive trees, which revolved around the making of a fictional second instalment of Life, and nothing more.

Although Jafar Panahi is rightly credited for directing the award-winning film White balloon, it was Abbas Kiarostami who (more…)


by Allegra Kirkland/Alternet

On any given night in New York City, while most of us are sleeping, an entire workforce is moving through the streets. They’re taking the elevated 7 train out to Elmhurst, Queens on their way home from late shifts, cleaning midtown office buildings and delivering boxes of fresh produce to cavernous restaurant basements.

Immigration activists like to use rhetoric about “living in the shadows” to describe the status of the undocumented, but for many without papers, life literally is conducted in shadows, as they work through the night to support themselves and send remittances home. In New York, these undocumented laborers work in construction, childcare, and above all else, in the food service industry.

In The Hand That Feeds, a powerful documentary opening in theaters on April 3, film-makers Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears chronicle the plight of workers at one Upper East Side deli. At the 63rd Street location of Hot & Crusty, employees—many of whom are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, Ecuador and elsewhere—toil seven days a week for less than minimum wage, with no overtime pay or sick leave. They receive a constant stream of verbal abuse and threats from their manager, who frequently reminds them that at any moment they could be fired and deported. In one of the opening scenes, a worker shows (more…)


by Louis Proyect

Selma, the stunning new film based on Paul Webb’s screenplay and directed by the previously unheralded African-American Ava DuVernay, makes for an interesting side-by-side comparison with Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. Both films revolve around the circumstances attending the passage of key legislation affecting Black America: in the first instance, the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery and in the second the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that sealed the doom of Jim Crow, a legacy of white America’s abandonment of Reconstruction.

Selma, however, has exactly what Lincoln lacked, namely the agency of Black self-emancipation dramatized by the Selma to Montgomery march. If Lincoln was seen as a wise benefactor of a sidelined Black population whose leaders like Frederick Douglass failed to materialize on screen, the prime mover in Selma is Martin Luther King Jr. who is played to perfection by David Oyelowo, the actor last seen as a cartoon version of a Black Panther member in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. He is far better served in this new film.

Both films pay close attention to period detail and use the speeches that are part of the backbone of American progressive politics, including Lincoln’s and LBJ’s. It is of some significance that the speeches given by King in Selma are only approximations of what he said in (the town) since the King estate refused to allow the speeches to be used by DuVernay. So she wrote the words herself after steeping herself in the original for months.

And why did the King estate refuse to grant permission? Once again there is a Spielberg angle. Around the same time that Lee Daniels was trying to get The Butler made, he had an option to make Selma using Paul Webb’s screenplay. Since there was not enough money to make both films, he went with The Butler. We benefit from his decision since I am afraid that Daniels’ penchant for melodrama might have led to cartoonish results.

After Daniels abandoned Selma, Spielberg purchased the rights to King’s speeches in 2009 with the intention of producing his own film. One can easily imagine such a film making Lyndon Johnson another Lincolnesque figure, a Great Man of history challenging the forces of Deep South reaction with Black people an afterthought. Fortunately, DuVernay’s film is the one that got made.

The four main characters in the film are LBJ, George Wallace, MLK Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth, two British actors who most often are cast as Americans, play Johnson and Wallace respectively. DuVernay made the wise decision to have them avoid impersonating their characters but focus more on revealing their (more…)