Film in Detail
A deeper look at the films that matter - and more fantastic movies you might enjoy too.
In 1991, four Los Angeles Department Police Officers spotted a man speeding on the freeway, chased him, stopped him and repeatedly beat him. Rodney King, an African American, was helpless against four officers, resistance was futile. A year later, a jury acquitted the policemen after their defence lawyers asserted that they were following correct procedure in subduing a "bizarre" and violent suspect.
As a direct result of the acquittal of the four officers (all of who were white), riots flared up in Los Angeles. Subsequently known as the "Rodney King Uprising", the riots lasted for six days, more than 50 people were killed, over 4,000 were injured and property damage was estimated at $1 billion.
The South Central Farm was started to try and heal a city many felt had been torn apart by racism. A 14-acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles, it is one of the largest of its kind in America. Planted and operated mostly by low-income Latino families, it became a Garden of Eden in the city, providing not only fruit and vegetables to feed local families, but also a much-needed sense of community.
In 2004, the gardeners received notice to vacate the 14 acres. And this is the point at which director Scott Hamilton Kennedy decided to document the story in a film that became The Garden. He has said that the first time he stepped into the garden, the city vanished. He has described the people as "warm, humble, generous in spirit" - not political by nature, perhaps, but forced to make a stand with the threat of bulldozers only weeks away.
The tug of war over the garden is long and arduous. It's surprising to learn who opposes its presence - including an African-American activist. Yet Doris Bloch, the farm's founder, is unable to see what the fuss is about. "Land, people, food - it's a pretty simple idea." Even in the original Garden of Eden life wasn't that straight forward - and with 21st bureaucracy to confront, the community face a tough battle to keep their land.
Japan's most celebrated and well-known cinematic export is Studio Ghibli, which scored its most mainstream success to date with this year's Ponyo. Yet, much as Japan embraces anime and manga, it also produces some exciting - if slightly leftfield - directors. Kazuaki Kiriya is a perfect example. Once a fashion photographer and a music video director, he is a visual stylist unafraid to let rip on the screen.
After making his debut with the low budget, post-apocalyptic fantasy Casshern, Kiriya returns with a lavish production of Goemon. The story is as close to Robin Hood as Ponyo is to The Little Mermaid; Goemon is a Japanese ninja bandit folk hero who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. The characters may be familiar, but the setting is radically different; here the action is placed in 16th century Japan and both the heroes and villains are superhuman.
Goemon begins specifically in 1582, as the warlord Nobunaga is assassinated and succeeded by his right-hand man. The country is being torn apart by war. The gap between rich and poor is huge and Goemon, a master thief, does his best to share his takings with those less fortunate. By chance, he steals a beautiful box from a rich merchant and gives it to a street urchin. The box is not, of course, just any old box and the new warlord's assistant puts his trusted ninja on Goemon's trail to find it.
Goemon ultimately has to choose between his freedom and his destiny - if he chooses the latter, he must avenge Nobunanga, who rescued him from bandits when he was a child. In doing so he can free Japan from eternal war. And perhaps get back together with a lost love.
Goemon is visually stunning. The heroic thief soars into the sky and plunges down cliffs; he destroys handfuls of enemies in one go. It takes the best elements of video games and comic book panache and puts them boldly on the big screen. It's also a fantasy epic about one man's individual struggle to do the right thing in a country in desperate need of a hero. If you want to look for deeper ideas behind the breathtaking fight scenes, they are floating just beneath the surface: is it better to work for or against the system, to put the individual or society first, to accept or reject betrayal? As such, it may be set in the 16th century, but Goemon is a very modern and pretty smart take on the myth of Robin Hood.
Every so often a film comes along that's such a phenomenon it makes the whole idea of the movies more popular. Even people who don't normally go to the cinema are suddenly taking their seats and excitedly waiting for the lights to go down which is one of the reasons why here at FILMCLUB we're all big fans of Avatar.
Of course, as film fans we're sure most of you will already know about (and may well have seen) director James Cameron's amazing tale of life on the distant moon Pandora proved so popular that it became the most successful movie at the box office in cinema history. A spectacular film experience that makes full and brilliant use of every technological advance possible, it's also a movie that takes its place in a long and proud tradition of films that break new ground in the very way movies are made.
From the very earliest days of cinema, filmmakers were pushing the boundaries of what was possible in order to amaze and thrill audiences, and with FILMCLUB you can see the work of one of those pioneers with Melies the Magician, a collection of the films of French "cinemagician" Georges Melies. Then, as movies quickly became incredibly popular across the world, all manner of innovators crowded into the medium throughout the era of silent film if youre looking for a movie to convince you that silent cinema is well worth checking out then we would recommend the incredible Metropolis, a futuristic sci-fi film from the 1920's that is every bit as imaginative as Avatar.
As movies were able to feature sound, more innovation followed one of the most famous groundbreakers being Citizen Kane, the multi-layered story of an all-powerful press mogul by director (and writer and star) Orson Welles that's sometimes talked about as being "the greatest film ever made." And from there things only became more daring and adventurous as technology allowed more and more experiments and spectacle. To our modern eyes movies like Jason and the Argonauts and director Stanley Kubrick's 2001 might seem so old-fashioned as to almost be "quaint", but at the time they were made the special effects they used were downright revolutionary.
And eventually, odd though it is to think of it now, Avatar will seem that way too cinema's knack of always finding something even more spectacular to amaze viewers with being one of the things that we think makes it so special...
Every now and then a film comes out that we feel so passionate about, we want to make sure as many filmclubbers as possible have the chance to see it.
This month that film is Africa United
Set and filmed in the run up to the last World Cup in South Africa, it tells the story of exuberant motor-mouth Dudu, his studious little sister Beatrice and his best friend Fabrice. When Fabrice's football skills are noticed by a scout, the trio set off on an epic two-thousand mile journey from their home in Rwanda to the World Cup Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg.
An uplifting adventure story, which touches on serious issues like the AIDS epidemic, child soldiers and sex trafficking, Africa United is both challenging and age appropriate. It's also refreshing to watch a film for young people which never resorts to tired stereotypes about African life. In short, we think it's brilliant and we hope you will too. It's in cinemas on 22 October and will
be available to order through our website soon after.
The cheery 3D animated movie Gnomeo & Juliet isn't exactly William Shakespeare's great play as you might study it in English class. For a start, the two main characters are garden gnomes - his lot wear blue hats, hers red, and the two sides are divided by an ancient feud. Lawnmowers have an important part to play. The songs are by Elton John (who is also a gnome). But then Shakespeare’s story about a boy and girl from warring families who fall in love has been an inspiration for all kinds of films.
Some stay reasonably faithful to the play: Romeo and Juliet has been filmed dozens of times, dating right back to the very start of film. The earliest surviving version is from 1908. Probably the most famous are the 1968 film made by the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli and 1996 one made by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Unlike most stage productions, both films had stars almost as young as the characters they play - only DiCaprio was past 20. Zeffirelli's sticks to Shakespeare's setting - 16th century Italy (although you can tell it was filmed in the 1960s) - and is lushly romantic. Luhrmann's version is set in a crime-ridden but glamorous modern city (both Miami and Mexico City were used for filming). Instead of swords, the two families are armed with big guns. It drops big chunks of the play, which annoyed some purists, but it’s fast, exciting and entertaining. It never for a second looks like a stage work that has accidentally ended up on screen.
Some films mostly borrow the basic idea. Take West Side Story: this classic musical is set in New York City in the 1950s where two gangs battle for control of the streets. And then a girl (Maria), sister of one of the Puerto Rican Sharks, falls for a member of the all-American Jets (Tony). Is this starting to sound familiar?
Forty years on, Romeo Must Die added hip-hop, martial arts and business conspiracies to the mix. At its heart, though, it's still about a couple whose secret relationship is under the shadow of the dangerous rivalry between their families.
Bringing us back to the original play in a different way is Shakespeare In Love, which starts off with the writer working on Romeo And Ethel, The Pirate's Daughter. Over the course of the film, several things happen to Shakespeare that he then uses for the re-titled Romeo And Juliet.
However it is updated, the play has kept its grip on people's imaginations. Proof of that comes in the true story behind the romantic drama Letters To Juliet: visitors to Verona really do leave notes asking for help in love from Shakespeare's heroine, even though she's a character from a work of fiction from four hundred years ago. That’s the power of a great writing.
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