Africa Once More

Africa once more. Back in October of 2009, I wrote a piece called Africa: A Grand Setting For the Movies . Time has passed and I’ve recently watched two more films about Africa and heard about a third film that will be released later this year. The first was entitled Goodbye Bafana (2007). An alternate release title for this film was The Color of Freedom. The word bafana is the Xhosa language word for boys. 

The second film was The Wilby Conspiracy (1975). Whereas Bafana was the story of Nelson Mandela and his prison’s censor officer and prison guard, James Gregory, and easily fits in the Dramatic Film Category, Wilby was more of thriller with Sidney Poitier as a just released prisoner called Shack Twala, and Michael Caine as Jim Keough, a British mining engineer. They are on the run from the authorities after an street altercation happened literally just moments after Shack Twala had been freed in the courthouse.

Both films were set in South Africa. Bafana was actually filmed in South Africa, but Wilby was shot mostly in Kenya and some sound stages in the UK. In 1975 the political climate in South Africa was such that a film of this nature, could not be filmed in country at that time.

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Leaving

You’re living in the south of France, in Nimes. You are a married woman, you have two teen-aged children, and your husband is a successful doctor. You have a beautiful home, with modern furniture and original art works on the wall. The weather in this part of France is delightful, which is a good thing since you are no longer in the work force. What is all of this a recipe for?

Boredom.

So you have decided to resume, after 15 years, your career as a reflexologist also known as a physical therapist. Your husband and you have decided to redo the large tool shed/small barn into an office for you. A construction manager has been hired. Only one thing needs to be done before serious reconstruction can begin. This shed has to be emptied out. Years and years of storage of no longer needed stuff has accumulated to the degree that a truck and laborer is needed to cart it away.

He comes and you help him.  This is how Director Catherine Corsini and her collaborator on the screenplay, Gaelle Mace, begin the 2009 film Leaving, or Partir in French. Actually, that is Part 2 of the opening. The actual opening has the star, Kristin Scott Thomas, as Suzanne Vidal, awaken at the break of dawn. She gets down from bed, and leaves the screen. We next hear a gunshot. Who was shot, and by whom are unknown. Then we see the usual words leading to a flash back – Six Months Prior.

Kristin Scott Thomas as Suzanne

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The Quiet American

As The Quiet American begins we hear these words spoken by Michael Caine as Thomas Fowler:

I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam – that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest takes a lifetime.

As you watch this 2002 film, which is set in Vietnam, circa 1952, a series of thoughts and ideas will percolate in your mind. The film stars Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Vietnamese beauty, Do Thi Hai Yen. There’s not much of a mystery about what will happen with these three people. Their roles look self-evident.

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Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Moments into the film Mesrine: Killer Instinct, we meet Jacques Mesrine played by Vincent Cassel. He’s a Corporal in the French Army fighting in Algeria. He is part of a team interrogating an Algerian POW.

Mesrine was ordered by his platoon sergeant to kill the wife of the POW being interrogated. The POW had been beaten and tortured to get him to reveal the locations of his associates. When he still refused to give up anything, the French tried to get him to cave by threatening to kill his wife right in front of him.

However, Mesrine shot and killed the prisoner at point blank range instead. This was his first kill, and it established a few things – he was capable of killing, and he was resistant to figures of authority. This scene also established that Director Jean-Francoise Richet was not going to soften the violence.

After the war, Mesrine return to France, and was urged by his parents to accept a dull factory job that they had arranged for him. instead of rejoining the French society as a productive citizen, he took up a life of crime. Working with a friend, they robbed at gun-point, or broke into houses, as well as whored and partied to their heart’s content. Simply, they were a two man crime wave. Then they came to the attention of the local crime boss, Guido, played by grossly overweight Gerard Depardieu who looks like he has put on a 100 pounds since Jean de Florret (1986), and soon after, they joined his crew.

Soon their crimes escalate. Mesrine seems capable of brutality of every stripe. Eventually a botched bank heist lands him in jail. When he gets out, he goes straight for a while, but when economic conditions change, he is laid off. Lest you think this article is biography of a bad guy, I’ll clear the air – this is a film review but the screenplay was an adaption of Mesrine’s autobiography.

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The Lincoln Lawyer

While this is the first time all of us have seen Matthew McConaughey on screen as LA Lawyer Mick Haller, I’ll venture to say that it is quite likely that it won’t be the last. Can you spell sequel?

I first met Haller in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novel called The Black Echo which was penned nearly twenty years ago in 1992. But I just read that novel only a few months back in November. The Haller character had little more than an extended walk on in that novel, and really didn’t make an impact on me.

But now here he is, straight from the pages of his own Connelly novels, embodied by McConaughey in a brand new film, The Lincoln Lawyer. Don’t be misled by the title. It is not a reference to either Abe Lincoln, nor is it a reference to anything to do with Washington, DC and its emblematic Lincoln Memorial. Instead, it references that Haller the lawyer is office-less, or rather his office is a big black Lincoln automobile.

He’s not a celebrity attorney, nor is he an attorney for celebrities and/ or the wealthy – until his bail-bondsmen chum Val Valenzuela played by John Leguizamo (below), points Haller towards a big-ticket client named Louis Roulet played by Ryan Phillippe. Roulet has been busted for allegedly beating and raping a prostitute. Haller meets him in the lockup before his Inglewood bail hearing. Roulet declares his innocence.

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Limitless

Ah, Limitless, as in enough ‘brain power’ so that no problem will remain unsolved, or with the sky being the limit ergo limitless, you can acquire any skillset you need to enable you to have everything you ever wanted … Wealth beyond imaginable limits, the ability to capture any woman you want, and to be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it.

That kind of power or ability is the glittering bauble dangling from the end of the stick that is always just beyond our reach;  just like winning a lottery so that you are set up for life . For most of us, that is the everyman dream  that we all visit from time to time – ultimate and unattainable.

Writer Eddie Morra, is suffering from a severe downward spiral of his life, as well as writer’s block which has bedeviled him, especially after getting an advance to do a book. Word one has yet to appear on either a paper page or an electronic page.

But after popping just one pill, Morra was able to knock out the first fifty pages of the book in a few hours. After he got some more of these NZT pills, he was able to finish his book in a matter of days, and he also suddenly has the limitless abilities described above.  In fact, Eddie turns $12,000 into $2.3 million in just 10 days.

When asked how he has been able to accomplish so much, and so quickly – he answers truthfully yet enigmatically – medication.

We are talking about Limitless by Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist). This is only Burger’s 4th feature film in the last decade, but this one has the hook to pull a lot of people into the theaters. I mean, haven’t we all had our own dreams to have a life like Eddie’s?

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Battle: Los Angeles – My review will have to wait

Although I had noted on my Coming Attractions page that I would review Battle: Los Angeles, I’ve decided to forego doing so for the time being. Instead of forking over some dead presidents to the AMC Movie Theater chain, I’ll wait until Netflix makes it available.

Why?

How about a sampling from some of my favorite Film Critics:

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times): “Battle: Los Angeles” is noisy, violent, ugly and stupid. Its manufacture is a reflection of appalling cynicism on the part of its makers, who don’t even try to make it more than senseless chaos.

Andrew O’Hehir (Salon): … and suddenly what had been up to that point a brainless but competent $100 million action spectacle became fatally ridiculous.

A.O.Scott (New York Times): it is during his long speech on the meaning of everything that’s happened so far that “Battle: Los Angeles” undertakes what certain savvy show-business types might call “the reveal.” Usually this refers to an especially salient plot point, but here it has a more specific meaning. Right then, as it lurches from Act II to Act III, “Battle: Loss Angeles” reveals itself to be a lousy movie.

Of course, there are alternate opinions. I’ll offer my opinion at another time.

The Art of Winter

Winter Windfall by John Buxton

Winter hasn’t quite left us just yet. Some areas are still dealing with temps that would have to climb to get to freezing. Old man winter still has an icy cold grip on some parts of the country.

This morning , Thursday, March 10th, as I looked at the weather maps, I noticed some astounding temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit:

00° – Bismark – North Dakota

02° – Pierre – South Dakota

29° – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Los Angeles – 55°, New York – 40°, and Chicago – 32°. But whatever your local temperatures might be, if you are living in the Northern Hemisphere, you know that Winter is really on its last legs. It will punish some of you with more severe weather, but it definitely won’t last.

To celebrate that fact, I’m going to share some art that will show winter phasing itself out but with some remnants stills visible. Others are indeed wintry.

Speaking of which – our first painting (top left) is called Winter Windfall by John Buxton. It shows some woodland Indians who have discovered a broken cart and some supplies. Evidently, the cart couldn’t navigate the stream. Someone’s misfortune turned out to be someone else’s windfall. Just look at the details in the tree shadows and the ripples of the water in the stream bed. This painting was the Winner of the Patron’s Choice Award at the 2009 Quest for the West show at The Eitleljorg Museum in Indianapolis. John Buxton lives in Pennsylvania, and this painting is from his historical vignettes series. Continue reading

Wasabi – Reno and Ryoko

Today was one of those Saturday afternoons with an open couple of hours to kill. I was in the mood for a light movie. Having seen Black Swan back in December, then having watched Natalie Portman walk off with the Oscar for Best Performance by a Female – she was in my thoughts. So I consulted her filmography, running down the list until I had come to The Professional. Portman had appeared in that film about hired assassins back in 1994. She was only a kid in 1994, and her costars were Jean Reno and Gary Oldman.

After Black Swan, I wasn’t about to watch Portman as a kid.

So I headed back to the lists. I had just recently watched and reviewed Rain Fall, a contemporary thriller set in Japan, and Oldman had been in that one too. So after a little bit more research I found Wasabi. This was a French film shot mostly in Japan and it played in the theaters in 2001. In this one, Jean Reno played a Parisian detective who had all of Dirty Harry’s style and none of Inspector Clouseau’s pratfalls.

But despite that pedigree, this was mostly – a comedy. Sure, such genre tags as Action, Drama, Crime, and Thriller were attached to Wasabi according to the IMDB. But trust me – this one was played for laughs.

Reno plays Hubert Fiorentini, a cop who would punch your lights out first just to get your attention, then, he’d ask you his questions. But as expected, his rough house techniques frequently got him in trouble with the suits – otherwise known as his bosses. After his latest dust up in a disco, he’s been commanded to visit his victim, the chief of police’s son, in the hospital, apologize, then go somewhere  – as in anywhere – on vacation.

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