DVD Marathon: Gardener and The Last King

Part of my DVD marathon this week: two movies set in Africa.

The Constant Gardener was a mess. Such a shame because it had a lesson to teach about how the pharmaceutical industry exploits Africans in their poverty. I was looking forward to seeing it in the context of a political thriller — after all, it's based on a 496-page novel by le Carre — but the director also wanted it be a sublime love story and a documentary at the same time.

The DVD contains deleted scenes, which probably should have been left in, including one in which the wife of Sandy (the British diplomat who lusted after Tessa) laid bear her prejudices. I did like how they photographed the African landscape and captured the poverty of the people on film. But it's not a documentary, but a thriller. Maybe John le Carre's book was better; you can see him on the DVD. You can also see the full-length of a play by which Kenyan actors try to educate the masses about HIV. Medical anthropologists love stuff like that.

Rachel Weisz won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress. Sure, she was good, but the film sucked.

The King of Scotland was excellent. Forest Whitaker has become my favorite actor. (This is actually the first movie I remember his performance in!) It's a fictionalized account of Idi Amin's first few years of power in Uganda. People keep saying it's not about Amin, but the Scottish doctor, and yeah it's true it's about his idealism and awakening. But look at the title, okay? "In 1974, Amin offered to head the fight for Scottish independence and proclaimed himself The Last King of Scotland." Newspaper headlines hailed him King McIdi.

I liked the way the filmmakers didn't pull any punches. My hand had to cover my mouth in the last major scene; I didn't think they would actually make it happen.

An interesting DVD extra is the feature on Idi Amin, showing historical footage of him, interviews with Ugandans who remember him, and even comments by a colleague of his in the British Army and a Brit who was his actual doctor from 1971-72. There's a picture of him as a young man and another of his wife Kay. (In the movie, she was portrayed by Kerry Washington. It is a fact that the real Kay was found dismembered in the 70s in Uganda. The rumors were that she had had an affair, had sought an abortion, and after dismemberment, had her limbs sewn back on the wrong way.)

There are also deleted scenes, the first of which shows Idi Amin in a boxing match on a British army base in 1948. Trivia: he was Uganda's heavyweight boxing champion for nine years. The DVD also features a "Casting Session" from the Fox Movie Channel about how softie Forest Whittaker got the part.

The director is Kevin MacDonald who previously won an Oscar for One Day in September (1999), a documentary about the murder of athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. I think The King of Scotland is his first feature; I'm impressed.

Based loosely on Giles Foden's novel, which in turn was inspired by the experiences of Bob Astles, a real British associate of Amin.

Gillian Anderson has a small role as Sarah. (I can't recognize her when she's not Agent Scully.)