Movie Reviews: Spectre, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Taxi Teheran

The latest James Bond adventure, Spectre (12A), opens in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, the macabre celebration foreshadowing the movie’s main theme as Bond (Daniel Craig) creates an international incident involving the elimination of the ruthless assassin Sciarra during a particularly gymnastic helicopter ride.

Back home in London, 007 is informed by M (Ralph Fiennes) that he should keep a low profile, as plans are afoot to retire the outmoded double-0 programme in favour of a drone-based system of data-gathering.

Driven by a desire for revenge, however, Bond goes rogue, embarking on a solo mission which is designed to bring down the organisation that has haunted his career: Spectre.

What follows is perhaps a tad more preposterous than has been the norm in the Bond movies since Craig inherited the role in Casino Royale (2006), but director Sam Mendes ensures the various car chases and sticky situations Bond finds himself in are given a stylishly retro feel, while also subverting many of the standard Bond scenarios with pithy humour.

 

Monica Belluci and Léa Seydoux provide the glamour, the former (briefly) compelling as the widow mourning her assassin husband, the latter as delicately beautiful as a perfume model and — unfortunately — about as convincing in her role as a psychoanalyst who knows how to handle her guns.

Craig, meanwhile, appears to have lost the steely-eyed conviction he brought to previous portrayals of Bond as a borderline sociopath; in the process, however, he makes Bond a more sympathetic character. Spectre certainly ticks all the boxes.

Opening in 1966, just as the ‘flower-power’ generation was coming into bloom, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (12A) is a documentary about a very different kind of counter-cultural movement.

Led by Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Party was set up to fight back against an oppressively racist white dominance that still prevailed in many parts of America.

 

Exploiting a loophole in the law, which stated that it was permissible to bear arms providing the weapons weren’t hidden, the Panthers began by patrolling the streets of their neighbourhoods; and where the Panthers encountered violence, or the threat of violence, they responded in kind. There are a host of contributors to Stanley Nelson’s documentary, however, all of whom played some part in the Panthers’ rise, and most are keen to stress the diverse nature of the Panthers’ appeal.

While the Panthers first came to the wider public’s attention for their armed response to police brutality, the political programme quickly broadened out to incorporate demands for equality, justice, education and housing (indeed, one of the most enduring aspects of the Panthers’ legacy appears to be its ‘breakfast for children club’).

Equally, the film is fascinating in the way it details cultural rise of black power: the more militant Panthers dressed in black leather jackets, berets and sunglasses, but the afro hairstyle became ubiquitous at a time of increasing black pride that manifested itself in politics and the arts.

Convicted of making ‘subversive’ films and banned from filmmaking in his native Iran, director Jafar Pahani (Offside) now makes films by stealth before smuggling them out of the country.

Taxi Teheran (12A) features Pahani playing himself as he drives a taxi around Teheran, filming via a dash-cam as he picks up passengers whose bickering, debates and offbeat adventures give us a sense of the modern Iran that lurks behind the headlines.

A stricken man demands that Pahani film his last will and testament; a DVD bootlegger uses Pahani’s fame to flog his hooky movies; and Pahani’s eight-year-old niece, an aspiring filmmaker herself, steals the show with an irrepressibly ebullient performance.

The staging and delivery can be crude at times, but the ramshackle quality gives the film a charming quality, particularly when the audience is aware of the risks Pahani is taking simply by making his movie, not least when the characters engage with the ongoing treatment of women as second-class citizens.

The recurring theme is not just censorship but the danger of self-censorship — Pahani’s niece cheerfully informs him that ‘sordid realism’ is banned from her filmmaking school project — but while Pahani certainly addresses a number of serious issues in Taxi Teheran, there is as much humour to be gleaned from his various encounters as there are lessons to be learned.

Spectre ****

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution ****

Taxi Teheran ****


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