Archive for the ‘Filmed in Africa’ Category

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

10 Jan

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom – directed by Justin Chadwick. BioFlic. 141 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★

The Story: A black country boy in South Africa becomes a lawyer and strives for the political equality of all his nation.


My cavil with it is that the leading role is miscast, and I keep seeing it in every frame. Idris Elba is the actor playing Nelson Mandela, and Elba is a wonderful actor in this, but he is built like mack truck and Mandela was built like a skiff. Idris Elba has the neck of a line-backer. That Mandela was slender in neck and frame was part of his appeal and power: to think that so frail a man in appearance could withstand so much physical torture. Elba has immense dark gravitas; Mandela was a light. The part needed Bill Bojangles Robinson not Jackie Robinson It doesn’t work.

But what a story! The material is fully dramatized including Mandela’s relations with his wives, particularly with Winnie Mandela who remained bellicose when Mandela became the peace-maker. We are taken into Robben Island Prison and the 26 years of hard labor there, and we are taken into the years as Mandela became the center-pin of the anti-apartheid scandal burning South Africa.

We see the villages and the townships of the cities, what they were like, how folks lived, how Mandela moved through them to prominence and natural moral leadership and eventual capture as a terrorist. We live through the days of the infamy of the forces linked against him.

But the fact was, he was too famous to kill.

Or was he?

No matter. I lived in the time of Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR and Churchill and Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer and Sister Kenny and Helen Keller. Shaw, O’Neill, Thomas Mann were my contemporaries. There were many Great Humans alive in those days. People on the order of Nelson Mandela. But in our time,  he was almost alone. Now he is gone. The Dali Lama is left. No one else that I know of.

Therefore it benefitted me to visit his biography once again. It’s a Great Man’s Tale. Don’t deprive yourself of it, even if you imagine you already know it. Great Men’s Tales are never heard  if only heard but once.

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10 Oct

Hatari – Directed by Howard Hawks. Wild Animal Action Adventure. A company of animal collectors snares big game in Africa. 156 minutes Color 1962.

* * * *

Howard Hawks had no signature visual style, even when he used the same photographer. Nor was he much of a director of actors. His films are plainly shot in simple setups. What he had was a freewheeling attitude about scripts which in the morning he would make up among the actors or who ever passed through the shooting, and then film it later in the day. This openness and casualness produced a big permission for actors, so sometimes wonderful performances arrived. John Wayne’s, for instance. He is an actor who often chooses to “come from strength”, but here he pretty much lets that slide, and what comes to the fore is his wisdom, forgiveness, and rueful wit. He does not have any other actors in the picture who are on his level of artistry or humor, save Red Buttons, which is a shame, because that and their variety of foreign languages slows things down to the level of competence, which is a local train not a superchief; John Wayne is a superchief. However, what results here is a very amiable party indeed, casual, agreeable, and fun. This is not a movie you intently watch; it is a movie you hang out with. The story line is flimsy and contrived, and it all takes place indoors on Paramount sound stages, and looks it, as do the actors slathered in thick tan pancake. The story involves, if that is the right word, a couple of unconvincing romances, one of them between Wayne and the Italian actress Elsa Martinelli who is of all things called Dallas, the name Claire Trevor had in Stagecoach. (One must cover one’s eyes when John Wayne kisses anybody.) But, in the long and beautiful African scenes, Elsa Martinelli has such a terrific rapport with wild animals that I took her to be a professional trainer. She is remarkable with three baby elephants, and seems to harbor a leopard as a watchdog. The episode with the monkey tree is fascinating – evidently all the actors did the animal work in the picture – and wildebeest and rhinos and cheetahs and ostriches are caught in long and very exciting sequences. The chasing down and capturing of the wild animals feels authentic and was the raison d’etre for the film. These are interspersed with drunk scenes, which are not funny (at what moment in history did drunk scenes in Hollywood cease to be funny) and with sophomoric hijinks, which are not funny either. Hatari means danger in Swahili and the relaxed and genial nature of the story with its foolish excesses is just a necessary relaxation from the real and intense excitement of the hunts. Henry Mancini has written a brilliant score.





Boesman And Lena

13 Jun

Boesman and Lena – Directed by John Berry. High Tragedy. A South African couple, dispossessed and refugee, work out their destiny in a wasteland. 84 minutes Color 2000.

* * * * *

I did not know it had been made; I knew I would be a fool not to see this. Atol Fugard is one of the greatest of modern playwrights, and this play is his King Lear. It takes place in a wasteland and a storm. It is a two character piece in which both characters play the fool, play the monarch, play the bastard-son Edmund. It offers up to us a married couple at rock bottom in their marital and material lives, bulldozed out of their township and now forced to scrounge in desolate mudflats by the sea. The man, Boesman, played by Danny Glover has become stone-hearted by cynicism and reduction, as he knows, to the non-human status of white-man’s-rubbish. Lena Played by Angela Bassett is his alcoholic wife, whose brain has become damage by drink, by circumstance, and by the violent abuse of her husband. I would never have believed Angela Bassett had in her the intelligence, the technique, or the temperament to play as I see her play here, with uncanny daring and immediacy in a range that goes beyond even this great script — which is what you want from the play King Lear, and what you want from the play Boesman and Lena. It is what  such plays exist for. The extraordinary depths to which the script takes us, and the heights to which this actress takes us you will seldom see combined. These two people have become junkyard junk in their marriage and in society. Yet they live. And they fight tenaciously, ignorantly, deeply, not knowing if their fight even leads back. Would you be a fool to miss it? I am happy to say I was not.








Ghost Boy

12 Apr

Ghost Boy – Directed by Lamberto Bava. Thriller. Two lovers work out their eternal love after death. 97 minutes Color 2006

* * *

Gosh. Laura Harring is awfully good as the beset mother. And Pete Postlethwaite, of course, lends his natural ambiguity to the kindly but incredulous doctor. I loved roaming around inside that huge thatched African mansion among all those artworks, and I liked seeing those African folks, villages, landscapes. I found the movie held me, and the actress certainly was convincing as the woman who was haunted by lust for her husband and whose child becomes possessed by that husband. The African lore and ju ju certainly carry weight here and so does the soundtrack. Melodrama must have melody.


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