FILM / Tongue in radical cheek: Cousin Bobby (PG) - Jonathan Demme (US); The Power of One (12) - John G Avildsen (US); Straight Out of Brooklyn (15) - Matty Rich (US); Knight Moves (18) - Carl Schenkel (US); White Sands (15) - Roger Donaldson (US)

A swanky Park Avenue apartment, sometime in 1970. At an exclusive soiree thrown by Leonard Bernstein, the Black Panthers are nibbling daintily on balls of Roquefort cheese rolled in crushed nuts and making small talk with the creme de la creme. And the then- journalist Tom Wolfe is there with his notebook, carefully recording a curious phenomenon he calls 'radical chic'.

Harlem, circa 1990. A burly, balding white man in a dog-collar is leading a demonstration campaigning for a new traffic light. 'We're poor, we're black, we're Hispanic,' he declares. Meanwhile, his cousin, a leading Hollywood director, is recording the event for posterity. Jonathan Demme is filming his long-lost Cousin Bobby.

Demme (whose last work was the multi-Oscared Silence of the Lambs, but who has also made fine documentaries such as the Talking Heads portrait Stop Making Sense) wanted to make a film about the New York ghettos. Coincidentally, he was contacted by his cousin, Robert Castle, whom he had not seen since childhood. Imagine Demme's delight when he discovered that his relative, now 60, was a radical minister plying his vocation in the heart of Harlem.

Castle emerges as a kindly, well- meaning man, though the film discreetly skirts around the breakdown of his marriage; one supposes he was too firmly wedded to his parish. Certainly he's always espousing some community cause - he's seen in the film (shot over 30months) variously campaigning for a traffic light, fighting to save a children's unit at the local hospital or simply lobbying to have a hole in the road filled in.

Half-way through, Demme embarks on a sharp detour. Back in the Sixties, Castle, it seems, was involved with the Black Panther leader Isaiah Rawley. And so we have reminiscences, we have tributes, we have a pilgrimage to his forgotten grave. At one point Bobby can be heard anxiously telling his cousin: 'I don't want to romanticise the Panthers,' but the damage has been done. We hear how great it would be to have a film made about him. Soon we are wondering why the hell this film isn't about him.

But you can guess why Isaiah Rawley is only the dedicatee of Cousin Bobby. This is no self-effacing documentary; it oscillates uneasily between personal family scrapbook and chronicle of a beleaguered community. In the end it's no contest. Demme, who refers to himself throughout, rather archly, as Cousin Jonathan, is constantly lurking there in the corner of the frame; you have the impression that Castle is being filmed, not because of his own work, but because he's the director's relative (the same reason, of course, why the film is being shown in cinemas at all). At one point Demme even saunters in front of the camera during the conversation he's supposedly filming. Harlem and its people wind up as just a colourful backdrop, the brothers and sisters a poor second to the impeccably PC cousins. However worthy its subject, however sterling its intentions, this comes across as another piece of radical cheek.

For a patronising (and ill-made) white film about black issues, however, The Power of One takes a lot of licking. This was directed by John Avildsen, who made Rocky and The Karate Kid, and contains elements of both. It's about a little English boy growing up in South Africa during the Second World War. He survives orphanhood and bullying at his Afrikaner school by learning to box and by sitting at the feet of a string of elderly, disposable mentors, none of whom seems to last more than about 20 minutes of story-time. Finally he becomes a kind of mythic, Messianic leader to the adoring township dwellers and African tribes. This film is both dull and deeply insulting, and is a prime example of Hollywood sanctimoniously pointing the finger at racism on distant shores when, as last May's riots proved, it would do better to put its own house in order.

And so to black-on-black with Straight Out of Brooklyn, a first film by the 19- year-old Matty Rich. What, you groan, another film about a bunch of housing- project youths toting a gun? But this isn't another gang movie (there is a crime, but it's executed with endearing ineptness). It doesn't have a deafening rap soundtrack; the music is lyrical and plaintive. And it isn't afflicted by the casual sexism of almost all new black cinema. In short, Rich has eschewed all the easy choices than would have made his movie commercially attractive - a hit of the order, say, of New Jack City. But his film is infinitely the better for it: in his story of a youth contemplating crime as an escape from the ghetto, and of the family and friends around him, Rich has succeeded in creating a large gallery of sympathetic, rounded characters.

The technique is primitive: in most of the (crudely lit and sound-recorded) scenes, he just points the camera at what's happening, often recording it in a single take - but then that's excusable considering the film cost a princely dollars 100,000. Its power springs from what happens in those scenes - Rich has drawn remarkable performances from all concerned: a confrontation between the crushed, alcoholic father and his battered but still loyal wife segues with virtuoso ease from comedy, to threat, to tenderness. The script has some understandable navetes, but it is passionate, and rather more complex in its grasp of the characters and choices facing them than, say, Juice, whose writer-director is in his forties. By the way, Demme can claim brownie points for helping this gifted beginner complete the picture.

Two flawed thrillers complete the week. In Knight Moves, Christopher Lambert plays a master chess-player and serial killer suspect, and the plot revelations plod along several leagues behind the audience. White Sands, by contrast, has a smart-aleck script that loses itself in endless entanglements before fetching up with our old friend, the military- industrial complex. But there are compensations - the stunning New Mexico sandscapes and energetic character acting, from Willem Dafoe as a local sheriff who bumbles into an international gun- running conspiracy, Mickey Rourke as his friendly neighbourhood CIA spook and the ever-reliable M Emmett Walsh as an autopsy doctor with a refreshingly pragmatic approach to his craft.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star