Out of Africa sweeps one up

Thematically, Out of Africa (1985) has got some interesting points, of one’s place and connection in the world in spite of the transient nature of life, seeing the life God intended although the world is imperfect, and the small details of life carrying some significance for good or ill. A bit of a smorgasbord of ideas, a bit of a mix and pick, but the ideas connect to the central story.

Out of Africa is based on real people and fictionalized for dramatic effect, Danish baroness Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) moves to colonial Kenya and marries her best friend there, Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer). There is a strain in her marriage as Bror has infidelities coming left, right and centre despite them trying to make a go of a coffee plantation in the African country.

Enter big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). Ever so gently a romance develops after Blixen’s divorce from Bror.

The spectrum of events like these can make one question one’s place in the world, question if the events are ominous or good, and somehow get back to the life God intended. Ambiguous and lucid but getting through the fog to find a meaningful life.

Meryl Streep had two acting Oscars already on her mantelpiece before she filmed Out of Africa. When the Oscar nominations came out in 1986, she was nominated for her role as Karen Blixen. She didn’t win and didn’t win again for another 26 years when she got another one for The Iron Lady in 2012. But some may say that the field was so good in 1986 that they all deserved the Oscar.

The beauty of Meryl Streep’s performance as Karen Blixen is that she consumes her role as if disappearing in it, which many say is what Meryl Streep tends to do. Streep may be the best thing in Out of Africa but there are other reasons to admire it as a movie.

Streep consumes her role as Blixen, but when she’s with Redford and he’s putting on the charisma, you start to think, oh, he’s a star and so is she. Redford has that effect on occasion, but mostly you wouldn’t notice.

There’s a slow burning romance between the main characters. Finch Hatton takes Karen Blixen on his plane–some magnificent aerial photography showcases the romance of the African landscape. By then it’s more than a date, not that dates figure in this film’s world.

I’m not commending the moral flaws in this film, such as the infidelities, the divorce, and the romance with another man, but Streep’s wonderful performance, and Brandauer’s too, the production’s handsomeness, the literate sweep from a screenplay by Kurt Luedtke (based on the writings of Karen Blixen), the detail and well-developed characters, are all on the flip side. There are few lulls. I was taken into this movie’s cocoon. A tremendous effort, a film that’s focused and follows through on what’s been established, and a film of poetry, nuance and detail, delivered with a return on the viewer.

Out of Africa (1985) ****½ Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Director: Sydney Pollock.


This much-anticipated Star Wars sequel was fun, but with serious moments

Han Solo’s buddies are there to rescue him.

Solo (Harrison Ford) is encased in carbonite as a prize for the slimy, slug-like gangster Jabba the Hutt. Solo’s been indebted to the Hutt. Now Jabba has him, yet not the money he’s owed. But as payback, the person himself.

It sounds like the plot out of a pulpy Star Wars expanded universe novel, but The Empire Strikes Back which preceded Return of the Jedi gave gravitas to the scenario.

In Empire, the situation Solo found himself in was touched by danger. He was unjustly treated and betrayed. In the end, he lost. It gives his rescue mission in Return of the Jedi (1983) a sense of weight to proceedings, for a man who was put into so much difficulty, should be saved by equal measure of salvation.

One by one, Luke’s friends make their entrance into Jabba’s Palace to save Solo. It is obvious they have a plan. A hologram of Luke Skywalker is projected by the droid R2-D2 to present a message to Jabba the Hutt, but the message is rejected by Jabba and the droid employed into the service of the palace. Back-ups follow, in disguise, until it comes down to the last man, in a crucial action scene at the Tatooine dunes.

The rescue mission is punctuated by a sense of fun instead of heaviness, which is not so much a bad thing as it turns out. Jabba’s Palace is filled with sketchy, caricatured low-lives, one’s you wouldn’t care to get to know. But they are so sketchy they seem less sinister than what they probably are and more adequately fun. Fans would be buying the Palace toy and every figure that inhabits it.

The story progresses from Jabba’s Palace. Hero Luke Skywalker is seeking to convert villain Darth Vader to the good side. He’s coming to terms with losing a Jedi master and the revelation he has a sister, but all this existential angst is in the shadows of other moments. Fun moments.

Moments like the Rebel Briefing where the Rebels gather to discuss the strike on the Empire’s half-completed Death Star. You can’t take the overt statesmanship of this scene with gravitas.

The Rebel strike showcases the best action scenes and visual effects in the movie. Heaps of fun.

And moments with Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, the Empire’s head honcho. He buoys the scenes he is in, to make those scenes come alive. The Emperor’s theatrical plays of power is a lot of good innocent fun.

Vader and Luke’s story which is supposed to resonate doesn’t nail it at times. The human moment that Vader and Luke share strains for effect, the sentiment somehow misses the mark.

But other serious moments resonate. One watches Vader and Luke duelling to the sounds of quasi-religious music on the soundtrack, heightening the theme of good versus evil.

Later, the redemptive moment echoes off profoundly.

Return of the Jedi may be more about the fun moments, but the serious moments that work count for something. And one can see how the finale all pans out and is very moved at the end of it.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) **** Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Dave Prowse, voice of Frank Oz and James Earl Jones. Director: Richard Marquand.

Swells to a drama that is riveting

A Passage to India (1984) is a fine film. One becomes immersed in the grand sweep. One surrenders to it and hopes it doesn’t become spoiled by some off-putting scene that ruined the lot. The characters, their lives in the old British India, the roles the actors play, and the handsome production swells to a drama that is riveting.

Central to it is young British woman Adela (Judy Davis) who is meeting up with her fiancé in India, who is a magistrate. Along with Adela is his mother Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft). Adela is caught up in the romanticism of the country and is keen to discover more—details like this are so natural and true to life that one can immediately relate.

The Indian country is keenly observed and wanting to be discovered by Westerners. Adela and Mrs. Moore are immensely involved in the search. They are not proud that they are English and don’t look down on the locals. They don’t consider their privileged place in India because of her son being a magistrate as much to be boasted about.

The young woman is distraught, though, when she claims rape by an Indian guide, in a moment that seems uncertain and vague. The guide, Aziz (Victor Banerjee), who is a respected doctor, has the Indian people behind him who are upset by the claims.

East and West meet romantically, but also comes with a hefty dose of realism where East and West clash–the doctor is caught up in a scandal and controversy erupts, casting a blight on the British. The result of the scandal is grief and soul searching with a more abstract issue to consider, but also quite real: forgiveness.

A holiday which turned dramatic and where no one wanted it to. The larger meaning is the relationship between England and colonial India. The human meaning is underlying prejudice and fear of the unknown.

A Passage to India is based on the E.M. Forster novel of the same name, which was published in 1924 during the days of colonial England. The film is beautiful and grand, wonderfully acted, and larger than life-like characters engage vividly and vitally. It is especially recommended for thoughtful audiences and fine film aficionados.

A Passage to India (1984) ****½ Starring: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft. Director: David Lean.