Archive for March, 2021

Surrounded by Wolves

The Mauritanian

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Denis Menochet, Benedict Cumberbatch, Clayton Boyd, Langley Kirkwood

The Last King of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald tackles a divisive subject in his latest film, The Mauritanian, which focuses on the mistreatment of inmates at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba run by the Americans post 9/11 for the rendition, capture and torture of suspected terrorists linked to the Twin Towers attack in New York in September 2001. 

The Mauritanian was shot in the Western Cape, South Africa in 2019 and features an international cast including French actor Tahar Rahim as the unfortunate prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Rahim’s performance is superb, displaying a levity which conceals the horrific torture that Slahi endured included waterboarding and psychological torture.

To add some significance to the cast, is another brilliant performance by two time Oscar winner Jodie Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs) as the hard-edged defence attorney Nancy Hollander who is joined by her young assistant Teri Duncan played by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Fault in my Stars) to build a case for Slahi’s release.

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) plays American military prosecutor Stuart Couch who is meant to convict Mohemedou Ould Slahi of colluding with the 9/11 terrorists in Germany back when he was living there. Couch’s prosecution rests on the assumption that Slahi is definitely guilty until all the redacted files on his capture and initial confession are released as privileged information for both sides of the law.

Told in a series of flashbacks to Slahi’s childhood in Mauritania which is a North West African country located at the edge of the Sahara Desert, The Mauritanian is a fascinating true story of one man’s wrongful detention and the years it took through justifiable legal processes to release him from Guantanamo Bay.

As a film based on a real life event, director Kevin Macdonald tends to over-emphasize the torture scenes, which are numerous and disturbing and under-emphasizes the American political climate in which the legal case was being conducted in.

Audiences must remember that The Mauritanian is a British film, which justifies the inexplicable casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as a quintessential American complete with a Southern accent. What holds this film together are the two diametrically opposed performances of Jodie Foster as defence lawyer Nancy Hollander and the outstanding Tahar Rahim as the client, Mohemedou Ould Slahi, a foreigner trapped in a strange prison which is above the law, basically a victim surrounded by wolves.

The script for The Mauritanian was not brilliant and the film could have been edited extensively, which explains the reason this BBC film missed the cut at the 2021 Oscar nominations.

The Mauritanian gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is worth watching but comes with a warning of some disturbing torture scenes.

The Prince of Queens

Coming 2 America

Director: Craig Brewster

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Wesley Snipes, Shari Headley, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Kiki Layne, Tracy Morgan, James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman

Paramount Studios had plans to release this sequel theatrically but they sold the rights to Amazon Studios due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Fortunately, Coming 2 America had a theatrical release in South Africa on Friday 5th March 2021.

Firstly, a big thank you to Ster Kinekor for sponsoring a ticket for the highly anticipated sequel to the 1988 John Landis directed film Coming to America, simply titled Coming 2 America reuniting the original cast Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy (Dream Girls) and Arsenio Hall as Prince Akeem and his faithful advisor Semmi.

Over 30 years later and Prince Akeem is married to the gorgeous Lisa played by Shari Headley and they have three lovely daughters as they preside over the mythical African kingdom of Zamunda. Akeem’s father, King Jaffe Joffer is dying and Akeem’s daughters cannot inherit the throne due to the law of patriarchal descent that only allows a male heir to inherit a royal throne. Legendary Hollywood star James Earl Jones (The Lion King, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Hunt for Red October) reprises his role as King Jaffe Joffer.

Akeem learns that he actually conceived a son while on his trip to America in the original film, thirty years earlier. Akeem’s son, now 30 Lavelle Junson played by Jermaine Fowler is living in Queens with his outrageous mother Mary played by Leslie Jones.

In the neighbouring African militarized kingdom controlled by General Izzi wonderfully played by Wesley Snipes (New Jack City, Expendables 3, One Night Stand), Izzi is threatening war against Akeem if his new found son does not marry Izzi’s daughter.

Akeem and Semmi fly to New York and arrive at the borough of Queens where they go in search of Lavelle and naturally have to bring the young prince and his crazy mother back with them to Africa.

The comic trick about the original Coming to America was that Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall played multiple characters and their comedic talents are used again quite successfully as they both take on multiple roles including two characters in a New York barber shop and a crazy priest.

Audiences should look out for rising star Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) as the beautiful Meeka and cameo appearances by Morgan Freeman and Trevor Noah.

While Coming 2 America is funny, vibrant and colourful, Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewster does rely on too many flashbacks from the original John Landis film to keep this sequel grounded although there are some funny scenes especially Lavelle’s attempt to capture a lion’s whisker.

Unfortunately, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall’s comic moments in Coming 2 America are limited in this version unlike in the original which was absolutely hilarious and back in the late 1980’s, they were not afraid to push the envelope. Thankfully Wesley Snipes performance as the flamboyant General Izzi is next level and really eye catching. It’s really great to see Wesley Snipes back on the big screen.

Ultimately, Coming 2 America is a very light and vibrant family comedy which luckily does not take itself too seriously and is perfect entertainment for the whole family.

Coming 2 America is recommended viewing at all cinemas in South Africa including Ster Kinekor and is also available on Amazon Prime for overseas territories. This much needed sequel to the original film gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is worth seeing for a good laugh.

78th Golden Globe Awards

Took Place on Sunday the 28th February 2021 in Los Angeles and New York and hosted virtually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – Here are the 2021 Golden Globe Winners in the Film Categories:

Best Film Drama: Nomadland

Best Film, M/C: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Director: Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Best Actor Drama: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress Drama: Andra Day – The United States vs Billie Holiday

Best Actor, M/C: Sasha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Actress, M/C: Rosamund Pike – I Care a Lot

Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian

Best Foreign Language Film: Minari – Korea

Best Original Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Animated Feature: Soul

The Kings of Miami

Critical Thinking

Director: John Leguizamo

Cast: John Leguizamo, Rachel Bay Jones, Michael Kenneth Williams, Corwin C. Tuggles, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Angel Bismark Curiel, Jeffry Batista, Will Hochman

Colombian born actor John Leguizamo has made a name for himself as a character actor in many American films including Regarding Henry and playing Toulouse Lautrec in Baz Luhrmann’s fantastic Moulin Rouge in 2001. American bred, Leguizamo has followed many of his fellow actors into the director’s chair.

In his second directorial attempt, Leguizamo acts and directs in the true story Critical Thinking about a group of impoverished Miami high school boys who manage to win the American National Chess Championships.

Critical Thinking had a positive debut at the following international film festivals in 2020: South by SouthWest, Deauville and Taormina before being released in cinemas.

Critical Thinking’s cinematic release is well timed in the wake of the hugely successful Golden Globe winning Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit and while the film is nowhere near as glamourous it is worth watching. Both this film and The Queen’s Gambit has placed chess back into the cinematic spotlight.

Set mainly in Miami, Gainesville and Fort Myers, Critical Thinking focuses on a group of high school boys: Sedrick Roundtree played by Corwin C. Tuggles; Oelemy Paniagua played by Jorge Lenderberg Jr (Spiderman: Homecoming); Rodelay Medina played by Angel Bismarck Curiel; Marcel Martinez played by Jeffry Batista and Gil Luna played by Will Hochman (Let Him Go) who encouraged by their passionate chess coach Mr Martinez played by John Leguizamo become committed to the game of chess, a game of strategy and manoeuvre with the aim of outwitting your opponent.

In this case all the opponents in these boy’s cases are drugs, violence and poverty. Mr Martinez is keen for these boys to rise above becoming a statistic on the streets of Miami and turns them into becoming chess championships and proving that high school kids from impoverished backgrounds can also achieve distinctions and become the figurative Kings of Miami.

With a screenplay by Dito Montiel (Man Down, The Son of No One), Critical Thinking is an independent film about social development and encouragement focusing on a group of high school boys who could have slipped effortlessly into a life of crime, but overcame that temptation and become chess championships through the encouragement of a mentor and teacher who was passionate about teaching the youngsters some critical and strategic thinking.

Critical Thinking is an enjoyable film about chess, social improvement and taking responsibility, but unfortunately the sound editing is not very good.

As director John Leguizamo’s second attempt at directing it is not bad and there are some expansive exterior shots of Miami, a gritty and humid city in Florida, a far cry from the flashy Miami of the Bad Boys films.

If viewers enjoy low budget independent cinema, then Critical Thinking is worth seeing and gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10. Critical Thinking is showing in cinemas.

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