Monthly Archives: May 2018

A Good Man In Africa – Sean Connery’s 1994 Comedy

A Good Man in Africa shows that Sean Connery (best known as James Bond) can be terrific in a silly comedy. He plays one of the few sane people in the film, setting up the jokes so that the other actors can “go big”.  The film take place in the fictional African country of Kinjanja, and revolves around the lives of British diplomats who have no interest in the country other than how much they can personally get out of it. Colin Friels plays Morgan Leafy, a lower level diplomat who spends his time bedding as many women as possible, when he is not drinking to excess.

Sean Connery in A Good Man in Africa (1994) Directed by Bruce Beresford

Sean Connery in A Good Man in Africa (1994)
Directed by Bruce Beresford

John Lithgow is the British Ambassador Arthur Franshawe, who hates being posted to Africa and wants only to get reassigned to a “good” diplomatic post. When he meets with the President of Kinjanja (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) the Ambassador condescendingly talks about how violent Africa is. The President responds by pointing out that while Africa remained peaceful, Europe had 2 World Wars, The Holocaust and a Russian Revolution.

John Lithgow as a pompous British ambassador in "A Good Man in Africa"

John Lithgow as a pompous British ambassador in “A Good Man in Africa”

In the middle of all this is the Scottish Doctor Alex Murray (Sean Connery). Unlike the British diplomats, Dr. Murray spends his days treating patients and doing as much he can to help everyone. The Africans have given him the ultimate compliment of referring to him as a “good man”. Through a series of comic events, low level diplomat Morgan Leafy ends up spending a lot of time with Dr. Murray. As this happens, Morgan gradually comes to compare his own life with that of Dr. Murray, and Morgan realizes how useless his own lifestyle is. Morgan belatedly decides to try to become a good man himself.

Louis Gossett Jr. in "A Good Man in Africa"

Louis Gossett Jr. in “A Good Man in Africa”

In a comic way, A Good Man in Africa points out African issues that still exist today. Western counties still condescendingly look down on African countries, and see them as only potential sources of raw material. In A Good Man in Africa the main mission of the British diplomats is to get an oil contract signed before the Americans can offer a better deal.  Diana Rigg plays the Ambassador’s wife, who is completely bored with the whole diplomatic scene and who realizes that the Ambassador is an idiot.

A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA, Sean Connery, Colin Friels, 1994. ©Gramercy Pictures

A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA, Sean Connery, Colin Friels, 1994. ©Gramercy Pictures

Jackie Mofokeng plays Hazel, the African girlfriend of Morgan. Her subplot shows that the British diplomats, despite being posted in Africa are basically latent racists. Although Hazel is an intelligent and beautiful young woman, Morgan never brings her to any embassy parties, or even out to any nice restaurants where they might be seen by other diplomats.

A Good Man in Africa did not get good reviews when it premiered. Reviewers were disappointed that it was not as serious as the novel by William Boyd, on which it is based. However, we liked it. It is meant to be watched and enjoyed as a comedy, not as a “social message film”.  It has slapstick scenes, silly sexual innuendos, and people getting into ridiculous situations. One reviewer complained that John Lithgow’s British accent was “ridiculously exaggerated”. That reviewer missed the point that Lithgow was playing a caricature of a pompous British boor in a foreign country.

A Good Man in Africa, is fun to watch, yet it still gets you to think about what it really  means to be a “good man”.

The Silence Of The Soup – My True Crime Confession

I hereby confess that I committed a crime  in New York with a can of French Onion Soup. I don’t feel badly about my crime. In fact, it makes me smile every time I think of it.  I was sound asleep in my apartment with no thoughts of committing a crime, when at 3AM I was jolted awake by the sound of throbbing music shaking the whole building.  The pounding of the base went on and  on and it was impossible to sleep.

New York Windows

New York Windows

I got up, got dressed and left my apartment to search for the sound. As soon as I went into the hallway, I was immediately accosted by a large muscular  tenant demanding to know if that was my music.  I let him listen at my door to prove the sound was not emanating from my apartment. Satisfied, the large man stormed off searching every floor of the building to try to find the sound.  But unlike the large tenant, I soon came to realize that the sound was coming from outside the building.  The back stairwell of my building had frosted windows, which the landlord had illegally nailed shut. Through these windows I could clearly hear the throbbing sounds  from outside.I went back to my apartment, got a hammer, and returned to the back stairs. I used the hammer to pull out the nails and open one of the windows.

No one is impressed by the size of your speakers

No one is impressed by the size of your speakers

In another building across the street, almost a block away, I saw an amazing site.  In an upper story apartment  there were two 5 foot tall stereo speakers , facing outward. They were sitting  in an open window, blasting their sounds to the entire neighborhood.  From other apartment windows up and down the block, people were screaming obscenities and yelling for the music to be turned off. There was a man in the apartment with the speakers and he seemed completely oblivious to the screams of his neighbors. The man was standing looking out the window while drinking tea (or maybe coffee) from a porcelain cup.  He had a smile on his face, like all the world was enjoying his music. I could see all this clearly, since every light in his apartment was on, and he had no curtains.

Throbbing base music at 3am

Throbbing base music at 3am

No one, including me, called the police.  Crime in New York was very high in those days, and everyone knew the police were not going to respond to a call about loud music. I decided it was time for direct action. I returned to my apartment and got a carton of eggs. Perhaps if I could throw an egg and hit one of the speakers the smiling man would get the hint that 3AM was not the time to share your tunes with the world.

Man arrested for soup can crime

Man arrested for soup can crime

I stood in the window of the back stairwell and tossed one egg after another with no luck. No matter what I did, I could not throw one far enough to hit the other building. One by one the eggs fell onto the empty street below.

I returned to my apartment defeated. The throbbing music continued and sleep remained impossible. Then, on the shelf over the stove, I saw the solution. A can of French Onion soup. Unlike an egg, a can of soup would have enough weight for me to throw it an entire block. If I could toss the can in a wide arc, it may just be able to knock a speaker off the windowsill, and back into the smiling man’s apartment. That would surely convince him that it was time to turn off the music.

French onion soup - the perfect stealth weapon

French onion soup – the perfect stealth weapon

Throwing a can of soup to an upper window a city block away is quite an athletic feat. Doing that while hitting a target the side of a stereo speaker required the accuracy of a major league baseball pitcher.

Broken window quiets a noisy neighbor

Broken window quiets a noisy neighbor

I took a running start and threw the French Onion soup can with all my might. It  went in a high fast arc, right to the apartment. It almost hit the speaker, but it was sailing too far to the left.  It missed the speakers, but did hit the window just left of the speakers.  The soup can was moving  with  such force that it shattered the glass and flew into the smiling man’s apartment.  Shocked at this turn of events, I ran out of the stairwell and back to my apartment before the smiling man could turn and get a glimpse of me. Less than a minute after I returned to my apartment, the throbbing music stopped, never to return.

Does this story have a moral? That’s hard to say. Is it about vigilante justice, annoying neighbors, or simply the impulsive passions of youth? This incident took place may years ago and I don’t think I could make that shot with the can again if I tried a hundred times.

Today I  am much more mature. I would not throw a can of of soup. I might call the police hoping they would take action. More likely, I would probably  just put up with the noise trying to turn the other cheek and not let the rudeness of others bother  me.  These are the mature adult things to do.

But back then I was not a mature adult. I was young and strong and there was no middle ground to any of my feelings. I either passionately  loved or hated whatever was around. I hated the smiling man with the teacup  and his  loud music.  I felt that justice had been served when his window  got smashed. Today that kind of fury and passion seems as far away as the forgotten sound from the smiling man’s speakers.  Today there is just the silence of the soup. Life is a lot easier without that type of instant anger. Still, there are times I miss the instant strength, clarity and sense of purpose that once could be summoned on a moments notice.

Perhaps the best moral of the story is quote from  Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who in 1931 said, “youth is the most beautiful thing in this world – and what a pity it has to be wasted on children.”

 

Sweetbitter – discovering life through the sensuality of gourmet dining

 Sweetbitter on Starz, is a wonderful new series where the lives of the characters are as varied and fascinating as the food in the gourmet restaurant they work in. Sweetbitter is also about the sensual awaking of Tess (Ella Purnell), a naive  23 year old who has moved alone to New York to experience who she really is. We mean sensual not in the sexual sense, but in the sense of truly feeling all the possibilities that life has to offer.

Ella Purnell as Tess in Sweetbitter

Ella Purnell as Tess in Sweetbitter

Howard (Paul Sparks) is the owner of the restaurant and the kind of boss that everyone wishes they could have. For Howard, it is not enough for the restaurant to be profitable. Howard is a teacher and mentor to all the employees, and wants them to understand the beauty, history and uniqueness of all the food and wine they serve. Patrons are not “customers”, they are “guests”.  Of course, no one runs a successful gourmet restaurant without being tough as nails under  a smooth exterior. Any worker who talks back to Howard or disrespects a guest will quickly come to regret that mistake.

Paul Sparks in Sweetbitter

Paul Sparks in Sweetbitter

Catlin Fitzgerald is Simone,who understands everything about wine, food and people.  Simone carries herself with an almost Zen-like calmness. The mystery is why with all those talents is  she nothing more than a server in a restaurant? However, for some reason, while Simone has a perfect taste for food and wine the same cannot be said for the men in her life.

Catlin Fitzgerald, who plays Simone on Sweetbitter

Catlin Fitzgerald, who plays Simone on Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter is based on the novel by Stephanie Danler, who is also the writer of the T.V. series. Sweetbitter comes from  Stephanie Danler’s own experiences. She wrote Sweetbitter while she was a waitress at New York’s Union Square Cafe while getting her MFA degree at The New School. Stephanie Danler insists that Tess in Sweetbitter is not supposed to be her.  One the other hand, Stephanie Danler does  have a remarkable physical resemblance to Catlin Fitzgerald who plays Simone.  We wonder if that casting is really just coincidence?

Stephanie Danler, the creator of Sweetbitter

Stephanie Danler, the creator of Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter is a wonderful series that captures that special time of life where everything is new and exciting, but at the same time frighting.

Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” – The First Feminist on T.V.

Marlo Thomas was the first T.V. feminist in the 1966 show That Girl on ABC. That Girl was a revolutionary show since it was about a single young career woman (Ann Marie) alone in New York. This was 4 years before the appearance of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on CBS. Marlo Thomas had to fight the ABC executives every step of the way to keep the main character in That Girl on track as a career woman. Until That Girl every woman on television was a wife and mother or maybe some main male character’s girlfriend.

Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

That Girl is about Anne Marie (Marlo Thomas), who moves to New York City with the goal of being a professional actress. Her goal is not to find a man, or to be an actress until she gets married. Her goal is to be an actress.

Ted Bessell as Donald Hollinger in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell as Donald Hollinger in “That Girl”

However, the T.V. executives insisted that the main character in That Girl must have a boyfriend. They simply refused to make the show without that. Therefore, Ted Bessell was cast as Ann Marie’s boyfriend Donald Hollinger. Although Ted Bessell is a good actor, it is obvious that his character was forced into the That Girl plots. There is simply no on-screen romantic chemistry between Marlo Thomas and Ted Bessell. In his appearances on That Girl he seems more like a family friend or an order brother than a boyfriend.

Ted Bessell & Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell & Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

From the very beginning Marlo Thomas said That Girl would never have a marriage episode. Marlo Thomas told the writers that she would quit the show if they ever handed her a That Girl with a wedding scene. The final episode of That Girl does have Ann Marie getting engaged. Marlo Thomas is still angry about that.  She thinks it would have been much more poignant to have her character break up with the boyfriend and remain in New York completely alone. However when the final episode aired in 1971, ABC was not quite ready for that.

Ruth Buzzi & Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"

Ruth Buzzi & Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”

That girl had a terrific group of supporting actors, such as Bernie Kopell and Ruth Buzzi who would go on to huge television success.

Ted Bessell, Marlo Thomas and Bernie Kopell in "That Girl"

Ted Bessell, Marlo Thomas and Bernie Kopell in “That Girl”

So, if you get a chance, take a look at  That Girl. While by today’s standards That Girl may just seem like a silly T.V. sitcom, it was actually the beginning of a feminist revolution.