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Filmsite Post: Catching Up for Spring 2011 Part 1 (Movies #4, #5, and #6)

Posted by Gerald on May 14, 2011

Like an old dog to an old bone, I return to gnaw at this blog some more.  I’m hoping to make major inroads on this list over the summer so I can make my goal of watching them all this year).

Just for my own ego, I’m going to mention that I’m starting here with the twenty-some movies on this top 100 list I’ve never seen (although I’ve violated that with the first two, “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane”) and then am going to move on to about ten more that I’ve seen already but, for various reason, retain little impression of or saw so long ago I need to view them afresh (“The Apartment” is a good example of the former and “Taxi Driver” a good example of the latter.)  After that it is going to be a process of re-watching films I’m more or less familiar with.

Oh, and the numbers are just the order I’m watching them in.

So, onwards.  I’ve watched five more from the list since I last posted.  I’m going to be a bit brief with them in the interests of getting caught up.

First, two Billy Wilder films: #4 “Some Like It Hot” and #5 “Sunset Boulevard”

#4 “Some Like it Hot” (1959): I really enjoyed it, but I don’t have much to say about it.  It is funny (although I’ve never really been bowled over by the who mainstream drag-humor thing – I always found Milton Berle funnier in a tux than in a dress).  I think this is a movie where you can see that “Marilyn Monroe thing.”  Her character should be an instantly forgettable Hollywood stereotype blonde bimbo, but there is something more there.  Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis were hysterical.  Wilder is at his best dealing with showbiz.  It is kind of like “Stagecoach” in that it uses but also invents a genre of films we’ve all seen a hundred times since.  Therefore it is simultaneously epochal and a bit familiar.

#5 “Sunset Boulevard” (1950): Where to start?  You have here a movie that manages to be both a loving tribute and a savage parody of Hollywood at the same time.  Gloria Swanson is funny, poignant, pathetic, and towering.  William Holden is playing that tarnished rogue he perfected and that no one has ever done quite as well since.  Erich von Stroheim, Jack Webb, cameos by half of Golden-Age Hollywood – including Cecil B. DeMille, and a dead chimp – all in a brilliant mishmash of film noir, romance, and Hollywood.  I loved it.

#6 “To Kill a Mockingbird”  (1962): Ever since my father’s death, I’ve become incredibly weepy at stories about fathers and children.  When the reverend tells Jem and Scout to stand as their father leaves the courtroom, I just lost it.  Cynics can call this manipulative, I call it moving.  This is a signature role for one of the greatest actors in American film (or anywhere – let’s face it) – Gregory Peck.  It has Robert Duvall’s first film role.  It combines a great courtroom drama with a great study of American racism, adds in an exploration of what it means to be ethical, what heroism is, and what it means to be a father – and the movie does them all well.  This is one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. 

It is late, so I’m closing this here.  I’ll try to finish the catch-up post tomorrow with #7 Psycho, #8 The Graduate, #9 Singing in the Rain, and #10 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (another I’ve seen many times, but happened to watch again a couple of weeks ago).

Posted in film, Movies, Personal | Leave a Comment »

True Grit

Posted by Gerald on December 23, 2010

I went to see the Coen Brother’s adaptation of True Grit yesterday.  My good friends Dana and Richard were there as well.  We saw it at the first showing at 11:30 am on Wednesday so the theater was less than packed.  There were a number of adolescents in the audience and I really wondered what they thought of the film because this was not a slam-bang action flick.  Instead it was a mature western with a good story and great characters and acting.  I’d say it is the best western I’ve seen since Unforgiven and maybe the best film I’ve seen this year.

First let me say that I am a fan of the 1969 version.  John Wayne yelling “Fill your hand you sonuvabitch!” and riding into the climactic gunfight (yes, there is a lot after that with caves and snakes, but seriously – isn’t that the real climax of the film?) is one of the iconic moments of movie westerns.  I think Wayne and director Henry Hathaway created a broad and enjoyable caricature of the John Wayne Western Hero that was entertaining in and of itself, but then occasionally rose above it.  Add to this an excellent supporting cast (well, except for Glen Campbell, who has criticized his own acting in that film) and wonderful cinematography and you have one of the great westerns of all time.  John Wayne dominates this film as he did so many of his pictures.

As a fan of that movie I experienced an interesting mix of familiarity and discovery while watching the Coen Brother’s adaptation.  In terms of story, sometimes even in terms of shots, the two movies are very similar.  What makes this so different is the deft touches in the direction and acting.  Jeff Bridges is excellent in this movie.  He makes Rooster Cogburn into a less slapstick sort of character.  He is still heroic, but in a rather different way – more brutal and less endearing, but also more real.  In a scene almost straight from the 1969 version, a drunken Rooster Cogburn falls from his horse.  In the original this was played for comedy, here it comes across as a painful reminder of the flaws and frailty of this man.  Still, the heroic sense of the character comes through strongly at the end during the long race to save Mattie’s life.  Bridges is able to bring all of these elements – heroism, brutality, and weakness – together in an excellent performance.   Comparing Matt Damon’s portrayal of Le Boeuf with Glen Campbell’s seems almost unfair, but the character becomes much less of a seeming afterthought and more a part of the whole story in this film.  Barry Pepper turns in an excellent turn in a short amount of screen time as Ned Pepper (as did Robert Duvall in the original).  As in so many of his films, the master of making much of small parts is Josh Brolin, here as the villanous Tom Chaney. 

The biggest difference is the character of Mattie Ross.  Kim Darby gave a memorable turn in that role in 1969 and held her own in scenes with Wayne, which was no mean feat.  I though the much younger Hailee Steinfeld actively dominated many of her scenes.  True Grit is the story of her adventure, but I think that is lost by the end of the 1969 version simply because of the extent to which Wayne takes over the screen.  The new adaptation keeps bringing us back to Mattie as the protagonist and Steinfeld’s performance is strong enough to support that.  While Jeff Bridges is identified as the star of this movie, I think this movie really belongs to Hailee Steinfeld.  I’m looking forward to what this actress will deliver in the future.

As much as I still love the 1969 version, the new adaptation is a more solid movie.  It achieves that rare balance in todays movies of character and action.  It also achieves that sense of “authenticity” (or perhaps verisimilitude) that modern westerns frequently seek but without the ponderous seriousness that comes with so many (Deadwood is another example of success in that area, while The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford comes to mind as a failure, although one should have expected a ponderous film given that ponderous title).  In this adaptation we see another great piece of work by the Coen Brothers.  It plays to their strengths – the visual appeal of the west, the mixture of comedy and drama, somewhat eccentric characters – all things you see done well in their best films.

This movie has Oscar written all over it (Although its excellent score has been eliminated from consideration by the Academy due to the unforgivable crime of including elements from 19th century hymns.)  I hope it garners the awards it deserves.  It is a film that takes the best elements of the classic western and the human reality of the best drama and uses them together.

Yep, I liked it.

Posted in film, Movies, reviews, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

My Response to Steve’s Review of Waitress

Posted by Gerald on August 1, 2007

Before reading this, you should read Steve’s review of the film.  I am really just reacting to what he said in his blog.  I decided to do it here because I wanted to write something rather longer than the average “comment.”

First, let me say that I agree with almost everything Steve has to say about Waitress.  In some places Steve mentioned a conversation we had about the film.  Although there was certainly no attack, I feel I need to rise in defense of my reaction to Waitress.

First, there really isn’t any “ire” in my reaction to the film.  I enjoyed it.  I thought it was sweet and funny and featured excellent performances by Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, and Jeremy Sisto (who I think deserves some extra kudos for his willingness to commit so fully to putting the “B” in Bastard.)  The movie had some fine moments, in particular when Keri Russell plays the moment when she decides to face Earl and the beautiful “moon pie” sequence.

I did not mean to say this movie had a “Hollywood” ending.  If it had such an ending, Jenna would have tried to sneak out on Earl, he would have caught her and would have proceeded to endanger her, at which point Dr. Pomatter would arrive, save her, and then he would have assumed the role of protector for her and the baby.  Curtain close and all is right with the Patriarchy.  It didn’t do that.  Instead, Jenna discovers the strength the audience could see beneath the surface (again, due to the fine performance) and she finds it through true heroism.  She doesn’t rise up to just save herself – she rises up to save her child.

The moment comes in a beautiful shot where we have Jenna’s POV looking at her daughter.  Then Earl leans into frame and reminds Jenna of the promise he had extorted from her to “always love him more.”  Then we go to a tight close-up of Keri Russell’s face as she ponders for a beat, and then tells Earl to get out.  It is a moment of almost orgasmic release as she finally finds her courage to confront him.  I give extra kudos here to the late Adrienne Shelley for not even allowing us to hear Earl’s outraged protestations.  The focus stays where it should – on Jenna.  I call this heroism, because what I saw was her realization in that moment that if she didn’t finally confront Earl, whom we have already seen is not just controlling but is physically abusive, she is going to doom her daughter to the life she has been so desperate to escape.  She saves her daughter and thus saves herself.  That is heroism.

What I did intend to say is that the last scene, where we see Jenna and the girls at the pie shop Jenna now owns, is very artificial.  I think that was intentional.  I said to Steve that the shop looked like a Soho artist’s vision of what a southern diner ought to look like (bright swirly colors and what looked like poetry on the walls.)  The women are dressed in what look like the costumes worn by clog dancers.  The whole thing has an air of unreality that reminded me of the last dream sequence in Raising Arizona.  I think this might have been deliberate.  How do you visually depict contentment and joy without indulging in melodrama?  It was a happy ending, but almost like the one in Blue Velvet (but without the dark irony.)  Everything seems too perfect.  But why not?  All endings are artificial to some extent, the self-conscious use of that is a sign of true artistry.  Again, I have no complaint.

I thought the movie was good, but I enjoyed it intellectually and not emotionally.  Unlike Steve, I was never moved to tears (and I get teary all the time while watching movies).  The movie felt to me like the pies it featured.  It was sweet and tasty with interesting undertones and the occasional surprise.  I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a “meal” for me.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m not assuming it was the movie.  Maybe it was the mood I was in.  Maybe it was the timing.  Maybe it is just a “strawberry” movie and I tend to react better to “chocolate” film.  All I can say is that I didn’t walk away from this film having felt something new or having learned something I didn’t already know.  It didn’t move me, but it did intrigue and entertain me.

Posted in film, opinion, reviews | 1 Comment »

I Saw Sicko

Posted by Gerald on July 18, 2007

Rather than my usual Wednesday evening at home, I joined some good friends for dinner and a movie.  The film was Sicko.  I liked the movie.  Being one of the godless, America-hating, treasonous liberal hordes I’ve enjoyed Michael Moore’s films, although I do feel that at times he lets himself get in the way of the message.  I didn’t see so much of that here.  The themes have been well-explored elsewhere – this is an examination of the problems with the American health care system.  Like Moore’s other efforts, though, there is also an examination of what America is.

Two themes really emerged.  The first, and the one that is really still echoing inside me, is disillusionment.  The people he looked at in this film were folks that worked hard, played by the rules, payed for insurance because they were told that was how you protect yourself and your family, and were well and truly screwed by HMOs and the medical industry.  It is easy to criticize these people for being naive when they talk about how they thought “insurance companies were there to help people.”  Then again, that is exactly what the companies say, and that is the only option any of us are given to deal with health crises.  The disillusionment grows as Moore compares our system with those in Canada, Britain, France, and – ultimately – Cuba.  It is true that Moore tend to gloss over some of the difficulties associated with those systems, but still one cannot but feel disappointed in our country by comparison.

The other theme is the glory and the poison of this society – individualism.  Moore keeps asking how we can have a system where people are denied life-saving treatments, where inadequate effort is given to preventing people from getting sick to begin with, and where hospitals send indigent patients in cabs to “skid row” medical clinics because they cannot pay.  The answers point at corporations and government, but ultimately they point at us.  We have swallowed the American Delusion of individual success.  We have rejected the idea that we have any duties to other people just because they are in our community.  We ask “why should I have to pay for her problems.”  The Conservatives have sold most of this country on the idea that no one should have to do anything for anyone else as a matter of duty – only of choice.  They did so by playing on the core values of Americans – individual rights, freedom, and success (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.)

Moore’s final conclusion isn’t original but it is no less true for that – we won’t solve the health care problem, or any other of our problems, until we start thinking of “us” rather than “me.”

Posted in American culture, film, Movies, opinion, politics, thoughts | 2 Comments »

It is Sunday and I’ve Seen Children of Men

Posted by Gerald on July 8, 2007

It is Sunday morning and we are headed for a high of 96 today.

I’ve been posting and commenting a lot this weekend.  All of my friends have plans or are out of town and I have no one to go play with 😦

As a result, I was home last night and I watched a dvd of Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón.  This is a story set in 2027, eighteen years after the last child has been born.  It is set in Britain, which has realized Tom Tancredo’s wildest dreams for this country by closing itself off from the rest of the world and aggressively hunting down and deporting the “fugies” (illegal immigrants) who have tried to escape the horrors that characterize much of the rest of the world.

The plot centers around Theo (Clive Owen), a former activist who is now holding down a bureaucratic job and going through the motions of his life.  His state is clearly meant to echo that of the whole world.  We discover that he had been married and had lost a child during a flu pandemic (in 2008).  Theo is contacted by his ex-wife (or maybe just estranged, it is hard to tell) Julian (Julianne Moore) who is part of a radical group working to help the illegal immigrants.  She wants his help getting papers for a girl named Kee, who we discover is an illegal immigrant and who is pregnant.  What follows is an odyssey through this dystopian world as Theo tries to help Kee and her midwife Miriam get to the coast to meet a boat from a semi-mythical group called the “Human Project” which is working to solve the problem of human infertility.

The real core of this movie isn’t the story.  Cuarón provides a vivid picture of a world without any hope.  The film is at its strongest when it shows small moments against the backdrop of the end of humanity.  Theo’s cousin Syd, who helps him get the papers for Kee, is part of an art preservation project for the government.  What they are trying to do is preserve art from vandals and terrorists who are destroying it in this miasma of despair.  When Theo asks Syd how he keeps doing this when he knows no one will be around to these work anymore one hundred years on, Syd says he just doesn’t think about it.  Sitting in a long abandoned school, Miriam tells Theo about the escalation of miscarriages she had seen 18 years before and the day she realized she had no appointments scheduled more than seven months in the future – and after calling other midwives that none of them did either.

“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in.  Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”

Dystopian films can often get buried in their own world background (Soylent Green) but that doesn’t really happen here.  I think this film is ultimately about fatherhood – and hence the title.  This could have been a film about motherhood – in fact that would almost be the natural way for this story to unfold.  In this case we have a story about fathers, both good and bad, and their roles.

Theo was a father who was destroyed by the loss of his child and who comes alive again as he becomes a sort of father to Kee’s baby.  Michael Caine is fantastic as Jasper, who may or may not be Theo’s actual father but is everything a father should be for him.  The negative aspects of fatherhood are embodied in Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who wants control of the baby for his own ends and who intends to remake the child into his own image.

It would have been easy to make this into a blatantly Christ-like story – the miracle child who will save humanity – and the writer even nods to this:

Theo: “Who is the father?”
Kee: “Whiffet!  I’m a virgin.” pause “Nah! Be great though, wouldn’it?”

Kee doesn’t know who the father is among all the possible candidates.  The facelessness of the baby’s father creates a space for both of the would-be fathers in the film to step into that role.  It may also suggest the title – that men are the fathers of children and have a responsibility to them.  That there is always a struggle between Theo – the father who wants to guide and protect – and Luke – the father who wants to control and exploit.

This is an excellent piece of science fiction.  It takes a scientific premise – the collapse of fertility in humans – and uses that to tell a very human story.  This isn’t about latex and special effects, it is about using speculation to explore who we are.  I wish we could see more movies like this and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Posted in film, Movies, reviews, science fiction | 3 Comments »

An Apocalypto Question

Posted by Gerald on July 5, 2007

Just in case there is someone reading this who is real up on their Classical Mayans, I’ve got a question:

There is a scene in the city where our protagonist and his buddies, who have been captured in a brutal raid, are placed on sale in a slave market.  Folks are bidding, etc…  It strongly reminded me of all those accounts I read about the American slave markets during the Atlantic trade.  Was the Mayan slave trade that commercial?  Do we even know?  From what little I’ve read about the Maya, I had always just assumed that the slaves were simply in the hands of the political and religious elites rather than being a commercial commodity.

Anyone know?

Posted in Archaeology, film, History, Maya, Mel Gibson, Movies | Leave a Comment »

I Saw Apocalypto

Posted by Gerald on July 4, 2007

In celebration of July 4, the day that nothing happened, I saw some friends, did some blogging, started reading a (relatively) new history of the Late Roman Period while listening to British folk music, and then spent the evening watching the DVD of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

The film has an incredibly simple story, about half of which seems to be either an homage to, or a blatant rip-off of, The Naked Prey.  It has lots of gory violence and some beautiful visuals of a Mayan city.  It also has the seemingly required gratuitous historical inaccuracies, like the appearance of Spanish ships in the last few minutes (Spaniards didn’t show up until about three centuries after the last Mayan city was deserted.)

I found an interesting review entitled “Is ‘Apocalypto’ Pornography” by a professor of archaeology and an expert on the Maya named Traci Arden.  You can read it here.

I found her review of the film quite worthwhile, but I saw something different.  She saw an essentially colonial message with the Maya depicted as decadent and in need of saving and the arrival of the Spanish as providing the saviors.  Certainly the Maya are depicted as decadent.  There are numerous depictions of bloody violence, especially in grisly sacrificial rites in the city.

I do not disagree with Prof. Arden about the colonial message here, but I think there was another message on top of it – a cautionary tale.  The first frame of the movie shows a quote from good ol’ Will Durant about how no great civilization was ever conquered from without until it had destroyed itself from within.  This is a transfer of the standard old Gibbon, etc… narrative about the “Fall” of the Roman Empire transferred to the Maya.  I do not think Gibson was trying to tell a colonial story (although I think he did) and I don’t think he was trying to tell a Roman story (although I think he borrowed one).  I think he was trying to tell a modern story about the “decline of the west.”  The moral is that we can’t be destroyed from without unless we destroy ourselves from within.  This is right in line with his general political and religious conservatism.

Where I got my personal dose of irony here was from my reading earlier in the day.  I have started Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians.  Heather is trying to take the startling work in the study of Late Antiquity and pull it together into a new narrative to replace the older “Rome and the Barbarians in endless struggle as Rome rots from within due to a) Christianity (old school) or b) economic decline (newer school) or c) fill in your favorite Roman rotting agent here; until such time as the barbarians bring down the empire.”  The more recent scholarship seems to point to a more nuanced and surprising story that I am just starting to read.  It was just funny to me to turn on this movie about Mayans and suddenly see Gibbon all over again.

As an action film, this is pretty good.  As a historical depiction of the Classical Maya it su… isn’t so good.  For some very cool visuals of life in a Maya city, it has stuff I’m going to steal for my World Civ course – but I’ll turn it off before we get to the temple.  However, if you are going to watch it, be sure to bring you Edward Said glasses with you.

Posted in Archaeology, film, History, Maya, Mel Gibson, Movies, opinion, Personal, reviews, Roman History | 5 Comments »

I Saw Oceans Thirteen

Posted by Gerald on June 18, 2007

Some friends and I went to see Oceans Thirteen yesterday afternoon.  I really enjoyed it.  It wasn’t quite as good as the first film, but it was a definite improvement on the second.  Like the first film, this one has a single caper at the core of it, it has the same “crooks-with-a-code” get payback against a worse crook at the center of the story.  Al Pacino quickly establishes himself as a guy you really want to see lose.  The film is full of the moments of humor that made the first one a treat (the scene where Danny (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt) are watching “Oprah” was a thing of beauty.)  I didn’t think the big caper was quite up to the one in Oceans Eleven, but it was still engaging and fun.

As I was driving home, I was thinking about why this film worked where Oceans Twelve didn’t.  There were many well-founded criticisms leveled at that film, particularly it seeming lazy and self-indulgent.  I agree, but I also think there was something else missing that was back in this film.

Las Vegas.

Outside of being the natural environment for these guys, Las Vegas was another character in these movies; and one that was missed in the second film.  Las Vegas provides a proper place and a community for these stories to exist in.  It also provides a history for them to be part of – the story of the crooks, con-men, gamblers, and larger-than-life figures that come with the city.  These films fit with that, and they also evoke the original film and the original “Rat Pack” that was, and is, such a part of both the city and of American pop culture.

One of the things that attracts me to certain movies, TV shows, books, music, and even food is juxtaposition that creates contrast.  I like some comedy with my drama, some drama with my comedy, some dissonance with my melody, and some sweet with my sour.  In both Oceans Eleven and Oceans Thirteen there are healthy doses of the hip, the pretty, the funny, and the witty.  But I also felt in Eleven, and even more in Thirteen, a bittersweet nostalgia for the “Old Vegas”.  In each film, there is one scene that summed this up for me.

In Oceans Eleven there is a scene after the caper has been pulled when the guys are standing watching the dancing fountains as Claire de Lune (I think) plays.  Then, one-by-one, they walk away.  There is a lot happening there.  This is the moment of really feeling the success of the evening. There is also a strong sense of the remaining bond between these men even as they go their separate ways.  It is a quiet and an emotional scene.  At the end, we are left with Carl Reiner standing alone with a look on his face that has moved me every time I’ve watched the film.  Here is someone who knew the original “Rat Pack”, who was part of that “Old Vegas”, and who was a link between that tradition and this new film.  Watching that scene, I’ve always felt this sense of bittersweet nostalgia for that time and place – and for that whole part of American culture that has really passed away.

In Oceans Thirteen there is another quiet and emotional scene that is more on point.  Danny and Rusty are standing on the Strip talking about their past with Reuben (Elliot Gould), which then leads to them remembering and pointing to where the old casinos were.  Danny says something to the effect of “They build them bigger, these days” to which Rusty replies “They seemed plenty big at the time.”  Again, it is a little scene, but we can feel here the same sense of nostalgia for the Las Vegas that used to be, for the stars that used to be, maybe even for the country that used to be.

I think it is those moments and that sense of loss and memory that gave an excellent counterpoint to the fun of these two films.  All of that is so well established in Las Vegas, where the history of so much of American popular culture meets the ongoing American drive to develop and grow and advance, while plowing under what went before; where our memories meet the impermanence of our culture. 

Posted in American culture, film, Movies, opinion, Personal | 2 Comments »

Idi Amin and Steve Biko

Posted by Gerald on June 15, 2007

I just finished watching The Last King of Scotland.  Like many other people, and even film critics, I was very impressed by Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin and I thought it was a good film.  One thing bothered me, though.

I generally do not care for criticism of a film for not being a different film.  For example, criticizing the Pirates of the Caribbean films for not being very dramatic or historically accurate.  They were never meant to be.  I do have a problem like this with The Last King of Scotland and it reminded me of a similar problem I had with another biographical file set in Africa – Cry Freedom.

In both films we have a story concerning a significant figure in Africa, in The Last King of Scotland it is the dictator Idi Amin of Uganda and in Cry Freedom it is the anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness movement Steve Biko.  In both cases we see fantastic performances, in the first case Forest Whitaker’s and in Cry Freedom the brilliant performance of Denzel Washington.  In each case, it is the African-American actor and the African character that dominates the screen.

My complaint about both films is that neither of them is actually about the African character.

The Last King of Scotland is actually the story of Nicholas Garrigan (ably portrayed by James McAvoy), a Scottish doctor who winds up as Amin’s personal physician.  He begins by being charmed then winds up horrified as he discovers who Amin really is and then winds up escaping Uganda, to go tell the world the truth about Amin (note this), aboard the airplane that evacuated the non-Israeli hotages aboard Air France Flight 139 before the Israeli commando raid at Entebbe airport.  Garrigan is a fictional character loosely based on a man named Bob Astles.

Cry Freedom is actually the story of a white journalist named Donald Woods (ably portrayed by Kevin Kline), who meets Steve Biko, becomes more radical through his acquaintance.  He finally earns the official displeasure of the South African government, especially due to his reporting after Biko’s death while in police custody.  The last part of the film chronicle’s how Woods and his family escaped from South Africa so he could write a book to tell the world the truth about Biko (coincidence?).

While both films are fine, both seem to assume that a story about Africa has to be told through the eyes of a white guy.  In each case a brilliant performance by an African-American actor is given second place to a capable performance by a white actor.  This is a common Hollywood trope, to give the film a “familiar” character through who the audience explores an “foreign” or “exotic” situation (see Dances With Wolves).  This makes some rather racist assumptions about what constitutes a “familiar” viewpoint, though.  It also isn’t necessary for a film to be successful (see The Last Emperor or Gandhi.)  Both films are laudable enough, but both would have been better if they had told the African’s story from the African’s viewpoint.

Which gets me to my last problem with The Last King of Scotland.  It contained a fascinating portrait of Amin, but there isn’t much of a portrait of Uganda.  There are images of poverty and of violence, but there is no real examination of why there is poverty or why there was violence.  The last part bothers me more here.  The rise of Amin, like that of any brutal dictator, is the result of specific circumstances.  It is the tragedy of Africa that this story isn’t completely unique, but it is still a disservice to Uganda to treat it and it’s history as an interchangeable backdrop.

Of course, this could be just because I teach African history and I’m overly sensitive, but I don’t think so.

Posted in Africa, film, International, Movies, opinion, reviews | 5 Comments »