Friday, May 27, 2011

Mugabe and the White African

Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe said "then let me be Hitler tenfold" in a speech in 2003. That sums up Mugabe in one of his own sentences.

This intriguing documentary follows the story of a farmer who is fighting the Mugabe regime's efforts to take his farm and give it to important members of the government. We learn how all the farm owned by white people are being confiscated to be "redistributed" to those with powerful connections. All the surrounding black-owned farms are being left alone, only those owned by whites are being overrun. Mike Campbell, the farm owner, is fighting, in a multi-national court to keep his home and land. He bought the farm from the Mugabe government over 20 years ago, but they no longer recognize that sale. He employs over 500 people, primarily blacks, but the farm needs to be transferred for "justice".

This is a strong story of racism, governmental abuse and the never-ending saga of individuals attempting to live their lives without interference. The film makers took great personal risk in filming this story. It is both illegal and dangerous to show-up Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. Mugabe runs the country, like any petty dictator, with slogans about justice all-the-while abusing his own citizens and getting rich off the backs of the people.

Mugabe and the White African is a powerful story. There are squeamish moments for the viewer, but the life of the Campbell's, and many other Zimbabweans, should be seen by the world.

In 1980 Stevie Wonder, in his song 'Master Blaster', sang "Peace has come to Zimbabwe". I'm sorry, but it is now 2011 and that is still not true.

Filmed in 2009, directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Red River

Happy birthday to The Duke himself! Enjoy one of his hidden classics.

This is the film that turned John Wayne from an actor into John Wayne the on-screen force. Before Red River, John Wayne was already a movie-star. Stagecoach had seen to that. And he was an academy award nominee. Sands of Iwo Jima had seen to that. But the persona that we know as John Wayne had yet to develop on screen. Red River changed everything. Wayne portrays Tom Dunson, a hardworking, no b.s. rancher who decides to lead his massive cattle herd on a long cattle drive. His ward Matt Garth (played in his first film by Montgomery Clift) is his lead assistant. When Clift feels Wayne is being dictatorial and oppressive he takes the herd away from Wayne and leads the drive himself. Wayne vows vengeance and pursues Clift and his herd along the Chisum trail.

This film is often called 'The Mutiny on the Bounty' set in the American West. The comparison is accurate, but incomplete. Except for the climactic ending the stories are very similar. But I find Red River to be about opposites. Older & grizzled John Wayne vs. young & attractive Montgomery Clift. Take no prisoners employee management vs. an inclusive management style. Follow orders vs. question authority. Risk vs. reward. Questions that still intrigue us today.

Director Howard Hawks does a fantastic job. The characters are deep and real, the photography is spellbinding and the acting he gets from Wayne and the cast are first-rate. Few critics consider John Wayne to be much of an actor, but he sure does a fantastic job in Red River. Clift, in his debut, is compelling as the heir apparent that rebels against the very man who saved him. Walter Brennan, Noah Berry, Jr. and John Ireland are also featured. The score, by Dimitri Tiomkin, adds a wonderful, western feel.

Even if you are not a fan of John Wayne you should enjoy this film. Red River is a classic American western!

Filmed in 1948, Directed by Howard Hawks, written by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan and John Ireland. After filming was finished, Red River could not be released for over two years. Legal action brought by Howard Hughes held-up the release. Hughes felt this film was too similar to his 'The Outlaw'.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Out of the Past

Film noir at its best. This 1947 noir classic stars Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer. Mitchum plays small-town gas station owner Jeff Bailey. Mitchum makes a few bucks, fishes often and has a lovely girlfriend. A seemingly idyllic life. Then his past catches up with him. The past in the persona of Whit Sterling. Sterling is played, with his usual aplomb, by Kirk Douglas. Douglas has summoned Mitchum to his Lake Tahoe home for a "chat".

As with most film noirs, Mitchum spends his time on the way to this chat telling his story in the past tense. Whether it is Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity or Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce noir uses the lead character telling the story in flashback as a main device. Out of the Past is no exception. We learn of Mitchum's hiring by Douglas to locate Douglas's love Kathie Moffat. Kathie is played to evil temptress perfection by Jane Greer. Mitchum follows Greer to Mexico with the intent to bring her back to Douglas for a big payday. But, of course, plans go awry. Mitchum falls hard for Greer's feminine wiles and instead goes on the run with her. But that soon falls apart. Years later Douglas and Greer re-enter Mitchum's now Norman Rockwell' life with the intent to bring harm. But can Mitchum foil their plans?

Director Jacques Tourneur does a fantastic job with the simple noir plot. Greer's evil temptations pull good guy Mitchum over to the dark side. Douglas and his money are the bait, but it is the fabulous Greer that seals the deal. But it is the script, by Daniel Mainwaring from his own novel, that is the most important part of Out of the Past. It is biting, dripping in sarcasm and wit, and filled with classic film noir emotion. It seems that each sentence was crafted for maximum impact with minimum words. The script almost reaches out and grabs the viewer on its own. It is powerful and moves a simple story along to keep the viewer riveted.

Filmed in 1947, directed by Jacques Tourneur, written by Daniel Mainwaring with uncredited help from noir master James Cain, starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer and Rhonda Fleming. If you like film noir, and I do, this is must-see! I have previously written about other noir classics like Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Big Clock and Chinatown.

Friday, May 6, 2011

King Rat

Both Steve McQueen and Paul Newman turned down the lead in this intriguing film.

George Segal portrays Corporal King. King is an American POW in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War Two. The camp has no fences nor wires. Just an impenetrable jungle from which there is no escape. Cpl. King decides to try to make the best of a horrific situation. He is a street hustler extraordinaire and he uses those skills to obtain small luxuries. Like food. King Rat focuses upon the trials of life within a POW camp.

King finds he has not one, but two enemies. The Japanese guards are one, but the jealous British prisoners within the camp also become a source of difficulty. Most of the camp is British and they prefer a more traditional view of relations with the Japanese. King is always "working the angle" to find a way to make life more bearable. Many other prisoners become more of an obstacle than the guards themselves. With the British prisoners on one-side and the Japanese guards on the other, King must walk a fine line between them if he is to survive.

This film also has a secondary storyline about the role of class in our society. Most of the British POWs are officers of fine breeding while King is an enlisted man of a questionable background. Some of the "upper-crust" British feel it is beneath them to work with someone like Cpl. King, let alone be bested or dependent upon him. This class-warfare intrigue is still in question today. Are some people better than others because of who they are? Rich vs. poor, male vs. female, white vs. black, educated vs. street smarts are all still issues plaguing humanity.

This film is based upon a best-selling novel by James Clavell. Clavell spent much of his literary life writing a series of best-selling novels about Asia and its interaction with the West. From 'Shogun' to 'Noble House' to 'Gai-Jin' all of Clavell's novels about Asia are intriguing. The mini-series based upon 'Shogun', starring Richard Chamberlin and Toshiro Mifune, is still one of my favorite television events. And this novel is one of his best.

Whether you like intense drama or prefer intellectual action, King Rat will provide some enjoyable entertainment. Upon viewing please keep one question in the back of your mind. If you were in a similar situation, would make a deal for food or would you starve for principle and honor?

Filmed in 1965, directed by Bryan Forbes, written by Forbes from the novel by James Clavell, starring George Segal, John Mills, Tom Courtenay, James Fox and Denholm Elliott.