The vengeance of Malcolm X

Black leader's daughter stands accused of plotting to kill her father's enemy

Malcolm X daughter on murder-plot charge

The daughter of the murdered black radical Malcolm X has been arrested and charged with plotting to kill Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam organisation and sworn foe of her father before his assassination almost 30 years ago.

STAYING IN / Video: This week's releases

The Pelican Brief (12). A new genre has arisen: the Grisham film, a variation on the thriller, replacing suspense with turgidity. They are getting better (see review of 'The Client' in the main paper) and this one improved on the feebleness of The Firm. Julia Roberts plays a sparky law student who stumbles on a conspiracy to assassinate Supreme Court Judges; Denzel Washington is the journalist who supports her. It's hokum, slowed to snail's pace by Grisham's pedantic plotting.

FILM / OTHER NEW RELEASES: The stuff that dreams are made on: Kafka (15), Director: Steven Soderbergh (US/Fr); The Pelican Brief (12), Director: Alan J Pakula (US); Cool Runnings (PG), Director: Jon Turteltaub (US); Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, Director: Aki Kaurismaki (Fin)

One morning Franz Kafka woke up and found himself transformed into a giant movie star. For it is a curious fact that, while FK and his works wouldn't exactly seem to make for feel-good, high-concept entertainment, they have been a consistent magnet for talents from Orson Welles to Steven Berkoff to Alan Bennett. Steven Soderbergh was to regret his particular encounter with the gloomy Czech: Kafka, his follow-up to sex, lies and videotape, was nuked with a rare and vicious relish by American critics two years ago and widely deemed unreleasable, although this is less a reflection on the quality of this ambitious film than on the increasing conservatism of cinema audiences. Soderbergh himself still stands, and rightly, by it.

FILM / The films of 1994: Twenty films to watch out for in the new year, selected by Catriona O'Shaughnessy

The Age of Innocence Martin Scorsese's lavish adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel about aristocratic New Yorkers in the 1870s stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Michelle Pfeiffer. 28 Jan

LEADERS OF THE PACK / Wearing the crown: Holly and the ivories: Screen Actor Of The Year

IT WAS the year of the supporting actor, starting with Jack Nicholson blowing Tom Cruise away in A Few Good Men. His portrait of the brutality that calls itself patriotism was so powerful it thwarted the film's liberalism. Watch on the video for the eyelash flutter when he feels the heat on the witness stand. Tommy Lee Jones also stole a star vehicle, The Fugitive, outshining Harrison Ford with his swagger and wisecracks. Even the turn that won the Oscar for Best Actor - Al Pacino's blind war vet in Scent of a Woman - felt like a brilliant cameo.

Notebook: Anything for a bit of a do

LEICESTER Square, the Empire, outside in the crowd, waiting. 'What is it?' 'Much Ado About Nothing.' 'Oh, yeah.' Guests start arriving for the premiere, on foot and by limo. 'Who is it?' 'I can see him, but I don't know who he is.' Stephen Fry arrives, a walking sketch of seemly embarrassment at the hoots and recognition of the crowd. He stops for the cameras and television interview. 'There's Stephen Fry being really clever,' says somebody, amiably.

CINEMA / The wild-cat turns tiger

YOU LEAVE Malcolm X on a high the film hasn't quite earned. Two great voices - a howl and a growl - lift you from your seat. Over the closing credits Aretha Franklin belts out 'Someday We'll All Be Free'. Before that, Ossie Davis, Spike Lee's gravelly eminence grise, has thundered through the lyrical eulogy he delivered at Malcolm's funeral, 28 years ago this week: 'A black shining prince, who didn't hesitate to die because he loved us so.' The pain, rage and pride that ring out in these voices are muffled in the film itself, buried under its reverence. Malcolm X is more of a monument than a movie. At times it feels like The Greatest Black Story Ever Told.

FILM / Stations of the cross

We see a hand in huge close-up, in a black glove. Abruptly the forefinger points to one side. The soundtrack exaggerates, so that we actually hear the creak of the glove leather as the finger makes its move. Obediently, the praetorian guard of the Nation of Islam turns and files away, so that what was a formidable crowd a moment ago, demanding justice, becomes a confused mob without its paramilitary front line, and melts away more or less of its own accord.

Malcolm X in the Black Country: Chris Arnot revisits Smethwick, where the Black Power leader claimed coloured people were being treated 'like the Jews under Hitler'

Malcolm X did not mince his words after he stepped out of a BBC car into Marshall Street. His message was almost apocalyptic. 'I have come,' he told the press, 'because I am disturbed by reports that coloured people in Smethwick are being treated badly. I have heard that they are being treated as the Jews were under Hitler.'

TELEVISION / BRIEFING: A man with X appeal

Friday sees the release of Malcolm X, so before getting involved with Spike Lee's agenda, you might want to check out SEVEN SONGS FOR MALCOLM X (9pm C4), Black Audio Film Collective's account of the assasinated activist. Following him from zoot-suited jail-bird to child of Islam, their film is at its best when 'X' is let off the analytical leash and allowed to talk for himself, and on his legacy to young blacks today. 'He told the truth in an unvarnished, ruthless manner; and it's still a valid analysis,' says Thalani Davis, who contributes comment along with Spike Lee and Malcolm X's widow Betty Shabazz (who join Oprah Winfrey this Thursday). Whether young blacks will find much validity in the film's rather dated agit-prop style is a different matter - actors in static poses; captions like 'the hour of bondage' and 'a revolutionary remembers his childhood'. Get with the programme, guys, for, as Nietzsche nearly said: 'Godard is dead'.

Lee spiked

Paris (Reuter) - The former Black Panther, Stokely Carmichael, hit out at the film maker Spike Lee, director of Malcolm X, in an interview in the Paris African weekly Jeune Afrique to be published next week.

BOOK REVIEW / Dying to know more: 'The Pelican Brief' - John Grisham: Century, 14.99 pounds

JOHN GRISHAM has really got it in for his characters. Just when they're getting interesting, he mows them down. The legendary 91-year-old Supreme Court judge in the wheelchair, strapped to the oxygen machine? Dead within the first few pages. The tidy assassin, Khamel? Gone after just two missions. And even that authentically crumpled law teacher gets his disappointingly early. Which leaves us tracking the story to its end in the company of a student called Darby and a journalist called Gray. When the spicy characters are dropping like flies, it is no consolation that your leading figures are apparently named after a Thelwell cartoon.
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