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Mandela : Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela: Long Walk to Feedom film posterSynopsis

Biopic about Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) from being a lawyer in 1940s South Africa to ANC activism, his imprisonment in 1964 and his life in prison and release to global eminence.  It looks at his personal life and at Winnie Mandela (Naomie Harris) and her struggles with apartheid officialdom.

Review

The timing of this film couldn’t be better, released just after Mandela’s death.  Although this film doesn’t flinch at Mandela’s self serving treatment of his first wife, and it acknowledges Winnie Mandela’s struggle, it is mostly predictably hagiographic so it reinforces the myth.  Interestingly, according to a South African producer Oks Mseleku, South African women regard Winnie’s role as more important than Nelson Mandela’s (is this fair considering his imprisonment?).  She suffered solitary confinement and never forgave her persecutors whereas Mandela became martyr-dependant on his Afrikaan jailers.  I confess that I am not a Mandela admirer, for me he was a flawed politician. because he was too intent on being a “good man”, moral superiority can hamper political effectiveness.  Bertold Brecht wrote about the unpolitical temptation to be good.  As President he failed to speak out against evil dictators (he was said to have given his support to one!).  He could be pompously autocratic with his own comrades, even as he cultivated his Kumbaya prose with his captors.  From his prison years his growth into Gandhi-like moral stature compensated for the enforced parenthesis of political activism during his prison life, and this moral myth factored into a global need for the saint who would dwarf our moral pettiness as we continue to be anti-racial at no personal cost.  The film takes this easy way out: we get the usual gushing orchestra as he strokes the wheat in the African. landscape.  Opposition to racist stupidity is the usual stoical humour plus photogenic anger.  His years as a lawyer and activist are rushed through, which is unsurprising because here he is merely a human being rather than the world’s saint.  The courtroom scenes glaringly pay tribute to his obvious bravery and eloquence.  Once he’s behind bars the film focuses on his moral image especially when, after the Soweto riots, newly imprisoned young activists challenge him on his moral patience, he seems to be turning into the wise patriarch deigning to listen to criticism.  In his negotiations with de Klerk’s politicians they turn into reverential schoolboys, he would have got a feistier reception from any apartheid victim

Mandela gives it’s subject the sort of sentimentally reverential treatment that Attenborough would have given to it, indeed it seems to imitate Attenborough’s Gandhi and Cry Freedom.  Attenborough also does the aging saintly patriarch routine quite well, as long as there is nothing ordinarily human to tarnish the icon.  What the film doesn’t need is the song at the end, it’s by that would be saviour of Africa, the creepily opportunistic Bono (Bonehead).  Spectacular but unconvincing.

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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Skyfall

Skyfall posterSynopsis

Latest Bond film in which Daniel Craig tries to track down a list of his colleagues targeted by an ex-insider Silva (Javier Bardem).  He is shot chasing an enemy agent in Turkey.  He goes into hiding and when Silva attacks MI6 headquarters killing six employees.  Bond returns and fights with his foe from Turkey in Shanghai, and in Macau meets Severine (Bérénice Marlohe).  Silva’s a prisoner, escapes and searches for Bond and Q (Judi Dench) who stays in Skyfall Bond’s Scottish home…

Criticism

I read somewhere that the author of the Bond books, Ian Fleming, overheard his wife and the critic Cyril Connally laughing aloud from a Bond novel.  Then in 1962  Dr No turned up and Fleming did not care for Connery as Bond.  Skyfall is the 50th anniversary film.  From hack lowbrow paperbacks Bond has achieved cultural significance.  From being a working class fantasy the franchise has now become a popular cultural phenomenon yet in content it’s still the same old escapist infantile nonsense.  What’s interesting is how the film has tracked cultural change over the years.  From the ’60s consumerist aspirations we get the jaded effeteness of Moore, then the classier hi-tech Brosnan, and now we get Daniel Craig competing with Batman, Bourne, Bruce Willis and co.  The Bond movie has gone from self parody to self congratulatory self referencing in occasionally poignant ways.  One heart tugging plot of this Bond film is the relationship between M and Bond.  She is his mother, sister, and overall confidante.   M is threatened with retirement by Ralph Fiennes’ Malory, then she is up before a government enquiry into MI6 activities.  She eloquently (if not too convincingly) fights her corner as she explains the changed nature of the enemy: not cold war transparency but the opacity of the terrorist who can be anybody, the case for hi-tech paranoia.  How do you, though, make war on terror if terror is the result of war in the first place?  War makes war on the result of war?  This leads us to the strange business of cold war espionage as such, it is inherently futile since neither side could be allowed to win because both cold war enemies were symbiotically sustaining bureaucracies, mirror images providing a mutual raison d’etre:  M then quotes from Tennyson to illustrate her beliefs then we cut to Silva and his goons intending to kill M (this is borrowed from Coppola’s Godfather christening scene cutting to gangster killings).

Q is now played by Ben Whishaw.  The lab clowning has been replaced by a serious young computer nerd equipping Bond with a gun only he can use.  There are rueful comments on youth and age.  Moneypenny is played by Naomie Harris, she starts out in the field but goes back to the office.  Bond himself has to retrain in MI6’s new underground headquarters.  The icy killing machine of previous films is still there but now he is self lacerating, the human flaws more apparent beneath the flippant thuggish-ness.  The heterosexual athlete of the 20th century is even prepared to admit being gay.  The franchise is in the confessional box even as it continues to wallow in Brit smugness (after its helicopter stunt in the 2012 Olympics).  Javier Bardem as the villain is plausibly complicated, he is wounded by what he sees as M’s capacity for treachery and deceit, the villain-good guy boundaries have become more nuanced and uncertain.

The killer gadgets here are the computer, a tube train, and a Shanghai elevator.  One fight sequence is back-dropped by a giant screen showing a jellyfish, so we go from cold hi-tech to tortured family issues in a grimly austere Scottish house.  I suppose this is meant to be a journey from sin to redemption.  We  get more sentimental referencing as Bond uses the Goldfinger Aston Martin (M makes a joke about being ejected from it).  Nature’s dangers are macho fetishes: the scorpion poised on his hand as he drinks, the fight in a Komodo dragon pit.

There is frantic action enough for the Bond fan, and it could be the best of the lot as it raises a glass of fifty year old malt whiskey.  It is after all directed by Sam Mendes.  Reliable action man nonsense.

Bérénice Marlohe
 
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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