"Where do you come from?" That's the question Khazar Fatemi is trying to answer. A Swedish citizen born in Iran and raised in Afghanistan, Khazar's parents fled her birthplace when they were put on a death list for dissidence. Returning to her childhood home for the first time in 20 years, she takes us on an emotional journey through a country full of voiceless victims.
It's never easy watching the stories of lives ruined by war. Walls riddled with holes and trees hit by explosions are just the physical symptoms as businesses and families suffer tragic losses at the hands of regimes and conflict. But Khazar's story gives things a personal perspective - she sees old classmates and neighbours, and returns to childhood places with a different viewpoint (literally in one bakery she visits, which has a high surface she never used to be able to see as a kid), and that heightens the emotional impact of the powerful images on screen.
"You gotta be super smart to count cards." "Maybe we should tell that to Rain Man, because he practically bankrupted a casino, and he was a retard." That's The Hangover's take on using maths to beat casinos at their own blackjack tables - but it turns out it's not just retards who can count cards. Christians can do it too. And a team of them do it every week in America, making hundreds of thousands of dollars by cheating the cheaters. They're called The Church Team. Does it contradict their religious beliefs? Oh no, says the team's founder, Ben. After all, it's not illegal. It's just... frowned upon.
So begins Bryan Storkel's fascinating look at the world of organised religious non-gambling. Ben's decision to start the scheme, which sees a group of players hit the tables, keep track of how cards have been played, and (more often than not) get kicked out by security, is an odd step, but he sees it as completely logical. It's a job for the team members, a way to make money in a short space of time so they can spend more time focusing on church. Oh, and most of them are pastors, by the way.
"Sometimes the things that are absurd make sense, and the things that make sense are absurd.” So speaks Joe Davis, the man who once genetically modified a pink apple to tempt the Devil.
We first come across him at a bar in Massachuetts, washing up the dishes for free chicken and beer. And although he looks like a lunatic, from his bright yellow mac to his sprawling white hair, you suspect there’s something more to him. An artist who uses science to explore humanity and himself, he realises the two aren’t separate disciplines, but tools that can ask and answer each other’s questions.
From his unconventional application to join MIT to his bad luck with housing and repeated evictions, Davis rushes through life from one crazed idea to the next. He recreates Carl Sagan’s Arecibo message of 1679 binary digits sent into space in the form of water bottles in an MIT library, where intelligent people might be best placed to understand it. No one does.
Then he constructs radio and audio microscopes to listen to the sound of paramecia and stentors – an excellent project (reminiscent of Semiconductor’s superb Black Rain), which director Peter Sasowsky captures with colourful close-ups and deep, booming sound waves.
These seem like the creations of a madman, but as his friends and colleagues tell the camera, Davis is a genetics pioneer and his plans are all based in hard science or (wonderfully warped) logic. Why broadcast a recording of vaginal contractions to extra-terrestrials in the universe? Why create a light stethoscope using a torch, a naked woman smeared in honey, and a thin layer of gold dust? Why design and build a laser that can neutralise natural weather and potentially save the world from storms? A quiet shot of Davis standing at the wreckage of his brother’s home, torn apart by a Hurricane Rita is as revealing as it is moving.
Premiering at the Cambridge Film Festival this year, The Last Projectionist is a documentary detailing the history of cinema, all the way from silent film and old newsreels to the modern multiplex and digital technology.
Revealing the decline of the projectionist and the rise of independent cinemas, it's a fascinating piece from Tom Lawes, a man who knows a thing or twelve about film and indie picturehouses. Why? Because he owns one.
Yes, this is the man who bought The Electric in Birmingham, the UK's oldest working cinema, in 2004 and refurbished it to create a fantastic place full of atmosphere and absinthe.
We grabbed him for a chat in Cambridge about his film, The Last Projectionist. Here's what he had to say about digital projectors, native 3D, and owning a cinema.
Director: Thomas Lawes
Cast: John Brockington, Paul Curtin, Graham Lee, Phil Fawke, Les Castree
In 2004, Tom Lawes bought a derelict old cinema. In 2005, he re-opened it to the public, and there it remains, a stone’s throw from Birmingham New Street station: The Electric, Britain’s oldest working cinema. Lawes’ documentary focuses on The Electric, but paints a wider picture of the history of film projection. It's a fascinating watch.
Review: Project Nim
Director: James Marsh
Cast: Bob Angelini, Bern Cohen, Reagan Leonard
Chimp is born. Chimp called Nim. Man take Nim. Man teach Nim sign. Nim learn words: Give orange Nim. Nim eat orange. Hug me Nim.
Nim wear jumper. Jumper is red. Nim look cute. Ivan say "awww".
We meet Steph. Steph raise Nim. Nim hug Steph. Steph Nim close. (Not like that.)
Nim act human. Nim use toilet. Nim like cat. Nim hump cat. Naughty Nim.
Yes, the Bobby Fischer Against the World Premiere is on Tuesday and tickets are still available. "Why should I care about a chess documentary?" you ask. Well, given that we're in the middle of Michael Bay season, it's nice to see something with a little more brains and maturity.
Plus check out the premiere's official description:
That's right, legendary snooker champion Steve Davis (OBE) will be there. And he'll be playing chess. Now this is the kind of sophistication and maturity I'm talking about.
Tickets to see the film before it's released on Friday 15th July are £9, but for £15 you can also see Grandmaster Nigel Short (MBE) play 20 opponents (including Steve) at the same time. You might even get to be check-mated by Nigel too, which would put you on the same level as Steve Davis OBE. This is serious, intellectual stuff we're talking about. (Note: Steve's OBE is bigger than Nigel's MBE.)
So in short, it comes down to this:
Now that's something I would pay money to see.
Bobby Fischer Against the World is out in cinemas on Friday 15th July. Premiere tickets at London's sexy Rich Mix cinema are available here and you can head this way to watch the Bobby Fischer Against the World trailer. It's definitely worth a rook. Plus at £9, you wouldn't even have to pawn off your chess set for a ticket.
In the meantime, follow @iFlicks on Twitter for the world's most sophisticated chess puns. And references to Steve Davis's man bits.
Trailer: Project Nim
Director: James Marsh
Cast: Bob Inglersoll, Bob Angelini, Bern Cohen
Release Date: Friday 12th August
From the Oscar and BAFTA winning filmmakers behind MAN ON WIRE, James Marsh and Simon Chinn, comes the story of Nim the chimpanzee.
In the 1970s Nim became the focus of a landmark experiment which aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child.
Following Nim’s extraordinary journey through human society, and the enduring impact he makes on the people he meets along the way, the film is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human.
What we learn about his true nature – and indeed our own – is comic, revealing and profoundly unsettling.
NEW Clip: Herb Leaves
NEW Clip: Life with Stephanie
Project Nim is out on Friday 12th August - the same day as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. See what we think will happen when Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Project Nim wage full-on chimpanzee war.
Bridesmaids painted the town pink over the weekend, strolling down the aisle with £3.4m shoved up its dress.
That's a strong opening figure for the Judd Apatow comedy, which has deservedly received a massive amount of positive buzz thanks to talker preview screenings, critical praise and a big US box office haul.
It debuted in the States with $26m, which suggested a £2.6m opening here in the UK, so Universal will be pleased with £3.4m. Clearing the £3m mark at all is excellent for a comedy (ignoring its extensive previews, Paul took £3.2m over three days back in February) so Bridesmaids' UK debut is worth getting excited about. The fat one in the film probably pooed herself when she heard the news.
Trailer: Bobby Fischer Against the World
Director: Liz Garbus
Cast: Bobby Fischer
Release Date: Friday 15th July
Award-winning filmmaker Liz Garbus presents a fascinating portrait of one of the most intriguing and enigmatic figures of the 20th century – World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer.
In 1958, 14-year old Robert James “Bobby” Fischer stunned the chess world by becoming the youngest Grand Master in history, launching a career that would make him a legend. Raised by his mother in Brooklyn, he taught himself to play chess at the age of six and started beating seasoned adult chess players at eight. Throughout the sixties, as his star rose, Bobby would appear regularly on TV and tour the world resoundingly beating all.
His career highlight came in 1972 when he played the Russian Grand Master and reigning champion Boris Spassky - a series that was equally tied in with the Cold War as it was with chess. After his victory, Bobby became the most famous person on the planet and his already erratic behaviour began spiraling out of control, turning this genius into an unrecognisable recluse and pariah...