Film Review: “The Most Wanted Man” – Least Wanted

I saw this film to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last role. His performance was not up to his usual standard. None of the cast could get their German accents right. Hoffman’s drinking and smoking, the shots of him lying on his bed, evoked some of the atmosphere of his last days. The plot is simply unbelievable. If you want to see some nice shots of Hamburg, a place you might never want to visit, this is a good film. Otherwise, one star only, for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Happy 90th, James!

James Arthur Jones was born on August 2, 1924 in Harlem, just four weeks before my grandfather was born in Bergen County, New Jersey.

Later known by his step-father’s name, Baldwin, he became a great writer, just as he predicted to his mother, Berdis, at the age of eight. I can only imagine his mother’s bewilderment at this pronouncement. “It’s more than a notion,” she told him. That did not stop him from reaching his destiny.

A production of “The Amen Corner” was seen on Broadway this year, and now 128th Street has been co-named “James Baldwin Place.” While the New York publishing clique stubbornly refuses to recognize his genius, and Common Core doesn’t include him, there are many people who still remember the grace, the fire, and the majesty of Le Baldwin.

Film Review: “Chef” – Multicultural Schmaltz

“Chef” is a heartwarming tale which supports popular fantasies about success and money. It is wonderful to see Sofia Vergara as a sophisticated, soft spoken woman. Jon Favreau, the star and director, is not very convincing as the ex she secretly longs for. Emjay Anthony, their love child, is even less convincing as a little Multicultural Moses. John Lenguizamo adds some zip in a supporting role.

White people should learn to do more than just take the cultural traditions of others and reduce them to a bland, cute, acceptable mass.

Save your money for a nice meal at Versailles, and see the film when it turns up on DVD or Netflix.

Book Review: The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader (2010)

The book is a collection of letters and other notes taken by Duke’s clerk between January 18, 1785 and January 31, 1788, edited by Behrendt, Latham and Northrup. Duke was collecting slaves in the area of the Calabar River (now southeast Nigeria). He made friends with the local authorities, had parties with them, and gave them commercial goods and currency. His Efik name was “Ntiero Edem Efion.” Duke notes the high mortality rates during the Middle Passage, up to 30% for several voyages. Once the ships arrived in the New Americas, the slaves were quarantined due to “harbor mortality,” which resulted in even more deaths. (Franklin referred to this phase as “the seasoning.”)

Duke claims Efik merchants sold 15,000 slaves to Europeans during this three-year period, along with 500,000 pounds of yams, and 100 tons of ivory, palm oil, dyewood, and pepper.

This book should be read by anyone who denies that Africans participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.


Beach Review: Santa Monica Beach

My first visit to Santa Monica Beach was in 1978, while I was attending the University of California at Irvine, and my mother was living off La Cienega at Pico. Not much has changed. The old pier was swept away in the winter storms of 1983. Now we have a new pier with a ferris wheel that appears on many a nightly newscast. The buildings look remarkably the same, from the beach. The cliffs have eroded, over time.

The beach was fairly clean at 9:40 a.m. on Saturday. I saw a brown pelican, so graceful over water. I was testing my Tevas for a new season of hiking. I didn’t go into the water, but it looked the same as always. I saw a paddleboarder, and the usual surfers.

Traffic is terrible. I took the bus. There are some new restaurants on Ocean Avenue, but I went back to Motor and Venice for lunch at Versailles. Kimye was not there, thankfully.

Book Review: There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (Chinua Achebe, 2013)

Achebe, a native of Nigeria, was heavily involved in the deadly inter-tribal conflict which resulted in the near-destruction of Igbo citizens in southern Nigeria in the late 1960s. Achebe estimates 3 million people were murdered, including 2 million children. He details the overwhelming corruption and greed in the so-called “leadership” of Nigeria. Perhaps as a consolation prize (or a better example), he ends the book with praise for Nelson Mandela.

Given Achebe’s knowledgeable and disparaging description, it is difficult to believe the Nigerian government will now act against Boko Haram in any effective way. The fate of the young girls kidnapped for pursuing education may well depend on foreign intervention.