Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 Gotham Awards Chooses "Beginners" and "The Tree of Life"

The Gotham Awards were handed out Monday night, November 28th. The Gotham Awards honor independent films:

21st Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards Winners and Nominees:

Best Feature (tie)
WINNER: Beginners (Focus Features)
Mike Mills – director
Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech, Miranda de Pencier, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen - producers

WINNER: The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Terrence Malick - director
Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Grant Hill – producers

Nominees:
The Descendants
Alexander Payne, director; Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt, director; Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani, Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, producers (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols, director; Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best Documentary
WINNER: Better This World (Loteria Films, Picturebox, Motto Pictures and Passion Pictures; ITVS in association with American Documentary
POV)
Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega –directors
Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega, Mike Nicholson – producers

Nominees:
Bill Cunningham New York
Richard Press, director; Philip Gefter, producer (Zeitgeist Films)

Hell and Back Again
Danfung Dennis, director; Mike Lerner, Martin Herring, producers (Docurama Films)

The Interrupters
Steve James, director; Alex Kotlowitz, Steve James, producers (The Cinema Guild)

The Woodmans
C. Scott Willis, director; Neil Barrett, Jeff Werner, C. Scott Willis, producers (Lorber Films; Kino Lorber, Inc.)

Best Ensemble Performance
WINNERS: Beginners (Focus Features)
Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos

Nominees:
The Descendants
George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause, Amara Miller, Mary Birdsong, Rob Huebel (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Margin Call
Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Aasif Mandvi (Roadside Attractions)

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Elizabeth Olsen, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Hugh Dancy, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner, John Hawkes, Louisa Krause, Sarah Paulson (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Take Shelter
Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon, Lisagay Hamilton, Robert Longstreet (Sony Pictures Classics)

Breakthrough Director
WINNER: Dee Rees for Pariah (Focus Features)

Nominees:
Mike Cahill for Another Earth (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Sean Durkin for Martha Marcy May Marlene (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Vera Farmiga for Higher Ground (Sony Pictures Classics)
Evan Glodell for Bellflower (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Breakthrough Actor
WINNER: Felicity Jones for Like Crazy (Paramount Vantage)

Nominees:
Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Harmony Santana in Gun Hill Road (Motion Film Group)
Shailene Woodley in The Descendants (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Jacob Wysocki in Terri (ATO Pictures)

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You
WINNER: Scenes of a Crime
Blue Hadaegh, Grover Babcock - director-producers

Nominees:
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same
Madeleine Olnek, director; Laura Terruso, Madeleine Olnek, producers

Green
Sophia Takal, director; Lawrence Michael Levine, producer

The Redemption of General Butt Naked
Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion, directors and producers

Without
Mark Jackson, director; Mark Jackson, Jessica Dimmock, Michael Requa, Jaime Keeling, producers

Second Annual Gotham Independent Film Audience Award
WINNER: Girlfriend
Justin Lerner - director-producer
Jerad Anderson, Kristina Lauren Anderson, Shaun O’Banion - producers

New this year is the Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers ‘Live the Dream’ grant. It is a $25,000 cash award for an alumnus of IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs, which aims to further the careers of emerging women directors by supporting the completion, distribution and audience engagement strategies of their first feature film.

WINNER: Lucy Mulloy, director, UNA NOCHE

Nominees:
Jenny Deller, director, FUTURE WEATHER
Rola Nashef, director, DETROIT UNLEADED

Happy B'day, Ben Stiller: DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 100 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux


DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Running time: 92 minutes (1 hour, 32 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for rude and sexual humor, and language
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber
PRODUCERS: Stuart Cornfeld and Ben Stiller
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jerzy Zielinski
EDITOR: Alan Baumgarten and Peter Teschner
COMPOSER: Theodore Shapiro

COMEDY/SPORTS with elements of romance

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Ben Stiller, Rip Torn, Justin Long, Stephen Root, Joel David Moore, Chris Williams, Alan Tudyk, Missi Pyle, Jamal E. Duff, Gary Cole, Jason Bateman, Al Kaplon, Curtis Armstrong, and Hank Azaria with (cameos) Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris, and William Shatner

DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story is a 2004 sports comedy set in the world of competitive dodgeball. Ben Stiller is one of the film’s producers and is also one of the movie’s stars. DodgeBall follows an underdog dodgeball team and their rivalry with a powerhouse team from a big-budget gym.

A group of misfits band together and enter a dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas in order to save their cherished gym, Average Guy Gym. The gym owner, Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), is not an ambitious guy, but he reluctantly joins his friends/customers to go after the $50,000 championship prize.

This prize money will save his gym from foreclosure, where upon it will end up in the hands of Global Gym and its owner, White Goodman (Ben Stiller). When Goodman learns that Peter’s friends will compete in the tournament and that Peter is also dating an attorney (Christine Taylor) he desires, Goodman assembles a killer team of hired muscle to compete in the Las Vegas tournament against Peter and his friends.

DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story is absolutely hilarious. It’s witty, sarcastic, lewd, crude, snarky, and unabashedly lowbrow, but ultimately it’s the kind of belly laugh comedy that doesn’t come around often enough. It’s not high art; it’s the love child of such films as Caddyshack and Revenge of the Nerds. Vince Vaughn, once destined to be a matinee idol, has turned out to be a funny comic actor who gets plenty of mileage out of dry wit and dead pan humor, and though he is warmer than he is hot in this film, he makes DodgeBall.

Anyone who can not take DodgeBall seriously and has the kind of sense of humor that finds a film like Dude, Where’s My Car? funny will like this.

6 of 10
B

NOTES:
2005 Razzie Awards: 1 nomination: “Worst Actor” (Ben Stiller)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New York Film Critics Choose "The Artist" and Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep

Founded in 1935, the New York Film Critics Circle is, according to their website, “an organization of film reviewers from New York-based publications that exists to honor excellence in U.S. and world cinema.” Members are critics from daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, magazines, and online general-interest publications (that meet certain qualifications).

Every year in December, Circle members meet in New York to vote on awards for the year's films.  Apparently, they moved things up this year to have more clout in the awards conversation. Will they?  Well, The Artist is a black and white silent movie, which may get Oscar nominations, but will critical acclaim give it a best picture win?  I have not seen The Artist, but I'd be super surprised if it won best picture.

Here's the complete list of the 2011 winners:

Best Picture - The Artist

Best Director - Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Best Screenplay - Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin for Moneyball

Best Actress - Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady

Best Actor - Brad Pitt for Moneyball, The Tree of Life

Best Supporting Actress - Jessica Chastain for The Tree of Life, The Help, Take Shelter

Best Supporting Actor - Albert Brooks for Drive

Best Cinematographer - Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life

Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary) - Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Best Foreign Film - A Separation

Best First Film - J.C. Chandor for Margin Call

Special Award -Raoul Ruiz

Happy B'day, Anna Faris: The Hot Chick

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux


The Hot Chick (2002)
Running time: 104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for appeal for crude and sexual humor, language and drug references
DIRECTOR: Tom Brady
WRITERS: Rob Schneider and Tom Brady
PRODUCERS: Carr D'Angelo and John Schneider
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tim Suhrstedt
EDITOR: Peck Prior
COMPOSER: John Debney

COMEDY/FANTASY/ROMANCE

Starring: Rob Schneider, Anna Faris, Matthew Lawrence, Eric Christian Olsen, Robert Davi, Rachel McAdams, Alexandra Holden, Maritza Murray, Tia Mowry, Tamara Mowry, Fay Hauser, and Jodi Long, Melora Hardin, Michael O’Keefe, and Dick Gregory with Adam Sandler

The Hot Chick is a 2002 American body-switching comedy starring Rob Schneider, Anna Faris, and Rachel McAdams. Adam Sandler served as one of the film’s executive producers and has a small role in the film for which he did not receive screen credit.

The Hot Chick seems to send you a warning from beyond the movie poster – Warning! This is really lowbrow trash! Luckily, movie is very funny, and Rob Schneider has that gift to make you look past the bad story material, the same kind of material upon which his career seems to thrive.

Jessica (Rachel McAdams) is the hot chick, the most beautiful girl in school, but also the cruelest, and she just can’t help herself when it comes to being full of herself. A pair of ancient, mystical earrings (please, don’t question it) causes her to switch bodies with Clive (Rob Schneider). So Clive’s body contains Jessica’s essence and personality, while Jessica’s body belongs to the soul of Clive, a low rent, dumb criminal.

Jessica reveals her new body to her close friend, April (Anna Faris), and, of course, April slowly comes to love Clive. Perhaps, the strangest thing is that so many come to easily accept Jessica’s predicament once it’s revealed to them. I guess it just makes for more characters to be in on the joke, more people to suffer the cruel fate of this movie’s pratfalls.

Schneider and co-writer/director Tom Brady pile the script with so many sight gags and so much gross humor, bodily functions, and sexual innuendo that there’s bound to be quite a few things to laugh at. Relentless, they don’t give the viewer enough time to focus on the holes in the plot. So what? It’s a cheap laugh. How many times do bad movies, especially this kind of cheap comedy, payoff and give make us laugh literally from its beginning to the its very ending?

Besides, I’m really in love with Anna Faris. I’d see this movie again just for her.

5 of 10
C+

Monday, November 28, 2011

In Memoriam, Ken Russell: The Music Lovers

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 26 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux


The Music Lovers (1970)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
Running time: 123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Ken Russell
WRITER: Melvyn Bragg (based upon the books by Catherine Drinker and Barbara von Meck)
PRODUCER: Ken Russell
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Slocombe
EDITOR: Michael Bradsell

BIOPIC/DRAMA/MUSIC

Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Kenneth Colley, Isabella Telezynska, and Maureen Pryor

Must genius suffer for the sake of his art? That’s just one of the themes of Ken Russell’s wild and fanciful, The Music Lovers, the 1970 biographical film about the life and career of Romantic-era Russian composer, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. The film covers the rise of his star at the Moscow Conservatory to his death in 1893 and focuses on the sweeping beauty of his music, as well as the tragedies of his personal life as they influenced his musical output.

As the film begins, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) teaches harmony at the Moscow Conservatory. He is composing his early music, but it meets with disfavor from his mentor Nicholas Rubinstein (Max Adrian), who got him the position at the Conservatory. At this point, the film becomes what we might now consider a music video. Russell uses Tchaikovsky’s music to illustrate the young musician’s personal moods and his confidence in himself as a composer. Of course, Tchaikovsky’s music is beautiful, but when Russell combines the music with powerful visuals, he makes us feel the composer’s joy for life and for his art. It’s a heady, emotional rush; personally, my eyes were literally glued to the screen and my spirits soared with sublime beauty of Tchaikovsky’s jams. I simply couldn’t escape the impressionistic sensations that literally bleed from the film. The music soars and the visuals rush by in a stream of surrealistic landscapes, so you can’t help but be caught up with and in Tchaikovsky.

The film does take some liberties with history as many films of this type do. The composer gains a patron, a wealthy widow, Madam Nadezhda von Meck (Isabella Telezynska), who provides him with a annual allowance which helps him to find more time to compose. Around that same time, he meets and marries Antonina Milyukova (Glenda Jackson), a student at the conservatory who sends him a love letter. The film severely compresses the time between Madam von Meck’s endowment and the composer’s marriage to his admirer, which is historically inaccurate. However Russell plays the effect of these two relationships on the composer off each other.

In Russell’s film the marriage stunts Tchaikovsky’s development as a composer much to the chagrin of his patron, his teachers, his friends, and his brother Modeste (Kenneth Colley). The marriage is unhappy from the onset and is not helped by the arrival of his mother-in-law (Maureen Pryor). Instead, Russell creates an idealized romantic love between Tchaikovsky and Madam von Meck that contrasts with his troubled marriage to Nina. The burdens of maintaining these two vastly different romances move the film forward to its tragic resolutions.

That’s probably the most powerful thing about this film, the juxtaposition of the sublime beauty of Tchaikovsky’s music and the debilitating traumas of his personal relationships. Usually, such extreme misery would be a turnoff, but Russell frames everything in the context of Tchaikovsky’s beloved compositions. Everything that happens to the composer in his film is understood in the context of the music. In a sense, you have to wonder what came first. On one hand, I can realize that the music came from his life experiences, but in the framework of the movie, I got the feeling that the music, whether through the influence of his patrons, admirers, friends, or family, was the master controller. Russell beautifully presents this conflict of creativity: the music or the life, which comes first? He takes full advantage of the visual possibilities of film, while opening up the senses to what the addition of sound can do for the movie viewing experience.

The performances are brilliant, but I especially give kudos to Ms. Jackson as Nina. Her transformation from a beautiful young thing to pitiable mental case is astonishing. She essentially plays two people, and she reinforces that by undergoing an almost total physical transformation from romantic heroine to tragic, broken woman.

For those who love Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers is an interesting take on the famed composer’s life, and fans of his will certainly love the music. For lovers of films, this is a peak work by one of the great visual stylists, a man whose work is an eye-popping blend of the grandiose, the bizarre, and the beautiful.

8 of 10
A

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" Actually Dark and Moody

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 99 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011)
Running time: 117 minutes (1 hour, 57 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic
DIRECTOR: Bill Condon
WRITER: Melissa Rosenberg (based upon the novel by Stephenie Meyer)
PRODUCERS: Wyck Godfrey, Karen Rosenfelt, and Stephenie Meyer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillermo Navarro
EDITORS: Virginia Katz
COMPOSER: Carter Burwell

FANTASY/DRAMA/ROMANCE

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Jackson Rathbone, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Julia Jones, Chaske Spencer, Gil Birmingham, Boo Boo Stewart, and Michael Sheen

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is the fourth film in the Twilight Saga film franchise. Like the previous films: Twilight, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is based upon the wildly popular Twilight book series by Stephenie Meyer. Each of the first three films is based upon one of the first three books in the series; however, the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, is being adapted into two movies.

Breaking Dawn – Part 1 continues the love story a young human woman, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), and her vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), as the two join hands in marriage. Not everyone is happy about the nuptials, especially Bella’s friend, the Native American werewolf, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Jacob vehemently objects to Edward’s honeymoon plans for the couple, as he believes what Edward plans could kill Bella. The couple honeymoon on the private island of Isle Esme in Brazil, but Bella makes a shocking discovery that puts a strain on her relationship with Edward. That discovery also threatens the Cullens’ treaty with Jacob’s tribe and Bella’s very life.

Although I enjoyed it, I don’t have as much to say about The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 as I had about the previous movies. Most of this film is joyless, but it isn’t slow. The story deals with the darker side of romance and family; even the wedding is filled with omens and portents. This is a jarring difference from the rest of the series, which depicted young love growing stronger and more confident. I would be lying if I did not admit that I wanted more of that. There were times in this movie that I was begging for the unhappiness to hurry up and end.

For those hungry for more vampire vs. werewolf action, that dominates the second half of the Breaking Dawn – Part 1. This physical, tribal, racial conflict offers an energetic anecdote to the gloomy Gus that is most of this film. Also of note: I don’t know if it was because of the theatre in which I saw Breaking Dawn – Part 1, but there were times in the film that the musical score was so loud that I could not hear the dialogue.

Anyway, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 is, thus far, the least of the series, but it is not at all a bad movie. It tells a good story, but it does come across as weird (even weirder than vampire stories normally are) and wonky.

6 of 10
B

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Saturday, November 26, 2011

New "Conan the Barbarian" Gleefully Lunatic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 98 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux


Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Running time: 113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity
DIRECTOR: Marcus Nispel
WRITERS: Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood (based upon the character, Conan, created by Robert E. Howard)
PRODUCERS: John Baldecchi, Boaz Davidson, Randall Emmett, Joe Gatta, Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner, Fredrik Malmberg, and Les Weldon
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Thomas Kloss
EDITOR: Ken Blackwell
COMPOSER: Tyler Bates

FANTASY/ACTION

Starring: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Bob Sapp, Leo Howard, Steven O’Donnell, Nonso Anozie, Saïd Taghmaoui, Milton Welsh, and Morgan Freeman (narrator)

Conan the Barbarian is a fictional character created by Robert E. Howard. Conan first appeared in publication in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales in the short story, “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Howard featured Conan in several short stories, but only one novel. After Howard’s death, other authors would write Conan novels, and the character has also appeared in comic books nearly non-stop since 1970.

The character is best known, outside of people who read fantasy fiction and comic books, for his appearance in two films from the early 1980s. Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed Conan in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984). After over two decades, Conan returned to movie screens in Conan the Barbarian, a 2011 action/fantasy film and sword and sorcery movie. In the new film, Conan seeks revenge against the ambitious and ruthless warlord who killed his father.

After his father, Corin (Ron Perlman), is killed and his entire village murdered, young Conan (Leo Howard) swears revenge. The killer is an empire-building warlord, Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who wants to reassemble the Mask of Acheron, an ancient relic that will give him the power to conquer the world. The story picks up 20 years later and finds Conan (Jason Momoa) a pirate living amongst the Zamoran pirates led by Artus (Nonso Anozie).

Fate brings Conan into contact with one of the men who raided his village. From this man, Conan learns that Zym and his sorceress daughter, Marique (Rose McGowan), are searching for a pureblood descendant of the necromancers that made the Mask of Archeron. They find that descendant in the form of Tamara Amaliat Jorui Karushan (Rachel Nichols), a young woman living in a monastery, but Conan gets Tamara first. This begins a battle between Conan and Zym that will decide the fate of the world.

There are so many fantasy films in theatres that are aimed at the family audience or, at least, general audiences, including females. Conan the Barbarian is aimed squarely at males, but mainly at males whose balls dropped more than a few years ago. Speaking of balls: Conan the Barbarian is balls to the wall in terms of the sheer lunacy thrown on the screen. This movie is hardcore – even more so than the darker Conan the Barbarian and certainly more than its lighter, PG-rated sequel, Conan the Destroyer. Hacking, slashing, a bloody caesarean, beheadings, torture, topless wenches, mass murder, and assorted depictions of gore and brutal murder: this is the real Conan, steeped in the violent and edgy material of weird pulp fiction.

Visually, Conan the Barbarian looks like a Robert E. Howard Conan story should look. There are swarthy pirates, hefty warriors, comely maidens and wenches, reptilian witches, and miscreants of all sizes and shapes. Barbarian villages dot the landscape; ruined fortresses protrude from rocky outcroppings; a monastery hides beyond a cavernous pass; immense castles and structures reach for the sky; and deceptively fast ships cut across the sea.

Conan the Barbarian does have its problems. The movie is a little too long, and, without spoiling, I can say that some of the places the story sends Conan don’t seem to make much sense. It is as if the film is simply being stretched or the story padded. Some of the action scenes work very well, but others are simply extraneous or gratuitous.

The characters are bit shallow, but the actors make the most of them. I would describe the performances as grand and flamboyant rather than over the top. Rose McGowan is a hoot as the conniving, vicious Marique. Stephen Lang brings to this movie the same aggressive physicality he brought to Avatar as the villain, Colonel Miles Quaritch. It is difficult for me to separate Arnold Schwarzenegger from Conan, but I like Jason Momoa’s take on the character. Momoa’s Conan is younger, leaner, and meaner; he is like a wolverine and a panther.

Overall, I like this new Conan the Barbarian. Visually, aesthetically, and in the story, it reminds me of many of the Conan comic books that I read as a kid, especially The Savage Sword of Conan. With its disappointing box office, there likely won’t be a sequel, but the new Conan the Barbarian deserves one.

7 of 10
B+

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" a Good Trip

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 97 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Running time: 137 minutes (2 hours, 17 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
WRITERS: Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio; from a screen story by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (based upon characters created by Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, and Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio; suggested by the novel, On Stranger Tides, by Tim Powers, and based upon Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean)
PRODUCER: Jerry Bruckheimer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dariusz Wolski (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: David Brenner, Michael Kahn, and Wyatt Smith
COMPOSER: Hans Zimmer

ACTION/FANTASY/ADVENTURE

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Clafin, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Richard Griffiths, Greg Ellis, Damian O’Hare, Judi Dench, and Keith Richards

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a 2011 fantasy adventure film and pirate movie. It is also the fourth movie in the film franchise that began with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003. This film draws its inspiration from the 1987 historical fantasy novel, On Stranger Tides, by Tim Powers. On Stranger Tides the movie has the world’s most infamous pirates on a quest to find the Fountain of Youth.

After failing to rescue his first mate, Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is taken before King George II of England (Richard Griffiths). The King forces Jack to guide an expedition to find the Fountain of Youth. Much to his chagrin, Jack discovers that his old nemesis, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), is heading the expedition.

Jack escapes and learns that someone is pretending to be him and is enlisting a crew for a rival expedition to find the Fountain. Then, he crosses paths with a woman from his past, the lovely Spaniard, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and her father, the ruthless pirate, Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who uses voodoo magic and possesses supernatural powers and a magical sword. Kidnapped and taken aboard Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack is forced to guide Blackbeard’s expedition to find the Fountain of Youth. This journey will take Jack places where nothing is as it seems and connect him with people who never tell the truth. And who is more dangerous – Blackbeard or Angelica?

I avoided going to the theatre this past summer to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides because, quite frankly, I’d had enough of the franchise. I liked the first film; really hated the second (Dead Man’s Chest); and really liked the third (At World’s End), but I was exhausted of the repeated showings of the films, especially the second and third, on various cable networks.

The first good move the filmmakers made with On Stranger Tides was to strip it down of characters and elements. It’s still ostentatious and is still filled with big set pieces, big action scenes, and big characters, and there are actors willing to give the kind of loud performances that bring these flamboyant characters to life.

After saying that, I know that it is hard to believe that it is possible for this gaudy, immodest Hollywood franchise to be stripped down. However, only three characters from the earlier films return for On Stranger Tides: Jack Sparrow, Hector Barbossa, and Joshamee Gibbs. Rather than have several subplots stretched over multiple locales, On Stranger Tides focuses on Sparrow, Barbossa, Blackbeard, and Angelica’s quest to find the Fountain of Youth, which involves only three locales: England, the sea, and Whitecap Bay (the area where the Fountain can be found). Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio basically create a straight line from mission start, the quest, and the goal – beginning, middle, and end – without too much in the way of side stories or sidetracks.

I think the addition of two fine actors, Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard and Angelica respectively, was the move that paid off most for On Stranger Tides. Both are good characters and they add freshness to this franchise. It is as if On Stranger Tides exists outside the other films, which is a good thing. The audience doesn’t need to have seen the other films to enjoy this one. Indeed, some may need to forget the first three in order to give this lively and entertaining, big budget flick the benefit of the doubt.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is everything you liked about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (exotic locales, eccentric characters, the supernatural, etc.) without a horde of characters. Now, there is no reason not to like it.

7 of 10
B+

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy B'day, Kevin Conroy: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 239 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) – animated
Running time: 76 minutes (1 hour, 16 minutes)
MPAA - PG for animated violence
DIRECTORS: Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm
WRITERS: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, and Michael Reeves; from a story by Alan Burnett (based upon characters appearing in DC Comics and Batman created by Bob Kane)
PRODUCERS: Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan
EDITOR: Al Breitenbach

ANIMATION/SUPERHERO/ACTION/MYSTERY with elements of drama

Starring: (voices) Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Mark Hamill, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Jr., Abe Vigoda, Dick Miller, John P. Ryan, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, and Marilu Henner

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a 1993 animated superhero feature film. It is a spin-off from the Batman: The Animated Series, the Emmy Award-winning television series that ran from 1992 to 1995.

There is a new killer in Gotham City, a costumed murder dubbed The Phantasm (Stacy Keach, Jr.) who murders a group of crime bosses. Because of the killer’s dark appearance, he is mistaken for Batman (Kevin Conroy). An ambitious city councilman, Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner), sends the Gotham police force after Batman. Implicated in the murders, the Dark Knight must solve the mystery of The Phantasm’s identity.

However, a complication arrives in the life of Batman’s civilian identity, Bruce Wayne (Conroy), when a former fiancée, Andrea “Andi” Beaumont (Dana Delany), comes back to Gotham. How she is connected to The Phantasm’s killing spree and how Bruce Wayne’s past figures into the case are just a few questions Batman must answer… and the Joker’s (Mark Hamill) in town gumming up the state of affairs.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the best Batman feature film to date, and it’s probably the least seen movie version of the venerable comic book character because the film is animated. Truthfully, animation is usually the best medium with which to adapt a comic book. Animation lends itself to the exaggeration and color fantasy settings in which comic book characters and worlds work best.

Based upon the popular animated television series, “Batman” – best known as Batman: The Animated Series” – which began in 1992, Mask of the Phantasm has all the creative talents who made the TV series so popular (and honored) behind it. In fact, the film was originally planned to be a direct-to-video release. Thus, it lacks the punch of a theatrical film, as the filmmaker’s didn’t have enough time to rework it and throw in the pyrotechnics movie audiences expect of theatrical films. However, Mask of the Phantasm is highly entertaining, and its dark and moody atmosphere is more genuine than any other Batman theatrical release. The drama is moving, and the mystery is palatable, absorbing, and suspenseful, certainly more so than that of the other Batman live action films. While appropriated for most children six and above, the film’s storytelling is mature enough (without being vulgar) to intrigue older viewers.

The quality of the animation wasn’t close to that of the best theatrical releases from Disney (or the many animated films directed by Don Bluth from the late 80’s to mid 90’s), but it was some of the best animation on TV for its time. The program’s color palette and art deco design made it a favorite among both animation and comic book professionals and fans. All of that carries over to the film, so Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is as good as the animated TV series. Since the film is longer, that makes it a special treat.

7 of 10
B+


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"The Muppet Movie" Still Moves Me

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 96 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux


The Muppet Movie (1979)
Running time: 95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA – G
DIRECTOR: James Frawley
WRITERS: Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl
PRODUCER: Jim Henson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Isidore Mankofsky
EDITOR: Chris Greenbury
COMPOSER: Paul Williams
SONGS: Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher
Academy Award nominee

FANTASY/COMEDY/ADVENTURE/FAMILY

Starring: The Muppets, (voices) Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz; Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton, Edgar Bergen, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Elliot Gould, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Cloris Leachman, Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, James Coburn, Milton Berle, and Orson Welles

The Muppet Movie is a 1979 live-action, comic fantasy film and musical. This Oscar-nominated film stars The Muppets, the puppet characters created by the late Jim Henson, specifically the characters that appeared on the television series, “The Muppets” (1976-81). A film-within-in-a-film, The Muppet Movie tells the story of how The Muppets came together, or, as Kermit the Frog says, “It’s sort of approximately how it happened.”

The film begins with Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) relaxing in a Florida swamp on a sunny afternoon, when a Hollywood agent tells him that he should pursue a career in Hollywood. Inspired by the idea of “making millions of people happy,” Kermit begins a cross-country journey, at first by bicycle. After an accident, Kermit teams up with Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz) and resumes the trip in Fozzie’s Studebaker. Along the way, they pick up fellow travelers like The Great Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and his mate, Camilla the Chicken (Jerry Nelson), and of course, Miss Piggy (Frank Oz).

Meanwhile, the villainous Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) and his assistant, Max (Austin Pendleton), pursue them. The Colonel Sanders-like Hopper is the owner of a “French-fried frog legs” fast food franchise, and he wants Kermit to be the new spokesman for the franchise. After Kermit says no, Hopper chases him, making offers that become increasingly threatening.

Prior to this recent viewing, I had not seen The Muppet Movie since the early 1980s (I think), but I remember liking it. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it now, but it turns out that I still love the movie. Is the reason nostalgia? No, The Muppet Movie is simply an excellent film. As a film musical, it has terrific songs from Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, and three of them (“Rainbow Connection,” “Movin’ Right Along,” and “Can You Picture That?”) are great.

As a comedy, it is sharp and smart, surprisingly so for a film that is aimed at children, although “The Muppet Show,” was meant to appeal to both children and adults. There is sly innuendo, clever word play, and snappy dialogue. The film even offers satire, such as its skewering of the desire to be famous for entertaining.

And hell, ya’ll, it’s the Muppets. What could be unlikable about them? I look forward to my next viewing of The Muppet Movie, and I want to encourage you, dear readers, to see it if you haven’t already or to just see it again.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
1980 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Music, Original Song” (Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher for the song "The Rainbow Connection") and “Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score” (Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher)

1980 Golden Globes: 1 nomination: “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher for the song "Rainbow Connection")

2009 National Film Preservation Board, USA: “National Film Registry”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy B'day, Scarlett Johansson: Ghost World

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 14 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux


Ghost World (2001)
Running time: 111 minutes (1 hour, 51 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong language and some sexual content
DIRECTOR: Terry Zwigoff
WRITERS: Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes (based upon the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes)
PRODUCERS: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, and Russell Smith
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Affonso Beato (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Carole Kravetz-Aykanian and Michael R. Miller
Academy Award nominee

COMEDY/DRAMA

Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, and Stacey Travis

After graduating from high school, two friends watch as their relationship and plans change over the course of the following summer. Enid (Thora Birch, American Beauty) is disdainful of current pop culture and of conformity. Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) usually follows her friend’s lead, but she isn’t quite as critical of all things popular.

As the movie begins, both girls are aimless. They enjoy following people and spying on them and enjoying a laugh at the expense of others. However, Rebecca begins to gather herself, anxious to get on with her life. The girls had made plans to get an apartment together, and Rebecca soon has a job to pay for her adult expenses. Enid, on the other hands, lives day to day, aimless and chasing one infatuation after another.

She becomes attracted to the victim of one of her snide jokes, Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a collector of obscure jazz and blues vinyl records. As her interest in Seymour’s live becomes deeper, Enid drifts from Rebecca. Rebecca, in turn, grows closer to her and Enid’s friend Josh (Brad Renfro), a convenience store clerk. When Seymour begins to date another woman and Enid’s Dad (Bob Balaban) invites his girlfriend to move in with him, Enid’s life begins to fall apart.

Directed by Terry Zwigoff, who directed the documentary on underground cartoonist and legend Robert Crumb, Crumb, Ghost World is a teen comedy for really, smart and intelligent people. Sans corny jokes, gross humor, and juvenile depictions of sex, Zwigoff relies on the acting talent of his cast, an excellent script, simple, evocative photography, and a unique soundtrack to tell his film story.

The script, co-written by Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, is the tent pole that supports this film. The movie is based upon Clowes’s graphic novel, Ghost World, which was serialized in issues of Eightball, Clowes long-running comic book series published by Fantagraphics Books. Fantagraphics eventually published a very popular hardcover and soft cover editions of the collected story. Clowes expanded his original story and added elements from his other comic book stories for the screenplay.

The screenplay trusts the ability of the characters to portray their own dramas. Enid is a complex character. Although sympathetic and likeable, she is maddeningly stubborn. An iconoclast, she is determined to go her own way and have her own way. When she meets obstacles of which she cannot move, she stands her ground even at the cost of great mental duress to herself. Her intelligence and originality add some unexplainable quality to her physical appearance and makes her physically attractive. You can’t help but root for her. You wish the best for her, and you’re angry when she spites herself just to maintain one of her eclectic standards.

Seymour is painfully real. Unable to connect with people, he readily connects with objects and things, especially things from a bygone era – the good old days. He seemingly cannot help but love a golden age despite there being more rust than gild on the precious metal of his olden days. He and Enid develop a relationship that seems peculiar on the surface, but is in fact quite simple; they can meet each other half way even when at odds. In the end, it is outside interests that dictate the evolution of their friendship.

Ms. Birch’s performance as Enid is a revelation, while the overrated American Beauty only hinted at her talent. She totally buys into Zwigoff and Clowes’s script, wholly and completely creating Enid. Ms. Birch engages us; we get so into her character that we cannot help but love and care for Enid, when we might become bored with her eccentricities. Only the best performances demand that much attention and sympathy.

Ms. Johansson’s Rebecca is also quite good. In Enid’s shadow, she slowly emerges as her own woman, different and free of Enid’s belief system. Rebecca is the audience gone cold on Enid’s quirks, but still loving her; she mirrors our occasional impatience with Enid. Like Ms. Birch’s performance, Ms. Johansson’s performance has surprising depth from one so young, but she had good writing from which to work.

Seymour is one of Buscemi’s most human characters to date; as usual, his performance reveals how deep he understands the goals of the storytellers. Brad Renfro isn’t left behind. His Josh seethes boredom with existence. One look at him and you know that he wants to tell the world where to get off. He regards most anything and most anyone with a smoldering annoyance worthy of a classic screen rebel.

Ghost World can occasionally seem cold. The scriptwriters hope that we are patient during the dry moments as the story unfolds. The movie doesn’t only develop; it slow opens itself to us. We are simultaneously annoyed, angered, bored, confused, hopeful, joyous, and sad.

Confusing? No. Quite engaging, very thoughtful, some damn fine performances, and some really good character writing. Ghost World is a different and very good movie.

7 of 10
A-

NOTES:
2002 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published” (Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff)

2002 Golden Globes: 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Steve Buscemi), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Thora Birch)

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Batman: Gotham Knight" is Batman New and Different

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 95 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux


Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) – straight-to-video
Running minutes: 76 minutes (1 hour, 16 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for stylized violence, including some bloody images
DIRECTORS: Yasuhiro Aoki (segment "In Darkness Dwells"); Yuichiro Hayashi (segment "In the Darkness Dwells"); Futoshi Higashide (segment "Crossfire"); Toshiyuki Kubooka (segment "Working Through Pain"); Hiroshi Morioka (segment "Field Test"); Jong-Sik Nam (segment "Deadshot"); and Shojirou Nishimi (segment "Have I Got a Story For You")
WRITERS: Stories by Jordan Goldberg; screenplays by Josh Olson ("Have I Got a Story); Greg Rucka ("Crossfire"); Brian Azzarello (“Working Through Pain”); Alan Burnett ("Deadshot"); Jordan Goldberg ("Field Test"); and David Goyer ("In Darkness Dwells"); based on Batman created by Bob Kane
PRODUCERS: Toshi Hiruma; executive producers: Benjamin Melniker, Emma Thomas, Bruce W. Timm, and Michael E. Uslan
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Michiya Katou, Kenji Takehara, and Kôji Tanaka
EDITOR: Joe Gall
COMPOSERS: Christopher Drake, Robert J. Kral, and Kevin Manthei

ANIMATION/SUPERHERO/SCI-FI/ACTION with elements of drama

Starring: (voices) Kevin Conroy, Corey Burton, Gary Dourdan, Ana Ortiz, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Jim Meskimen

Batman: Gotham Knight is a direct-to-video superhero animated film from Warner Bros. Animation. Starring DC Comics character Batman, this film is an anthology of six animated short films inspired by anime – Japanese animation. Batman: Gotham Knight is also the third feature in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line. This film is meant to act as a bridge between the live action movies, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), while delving into Batman’s past and his troubled psyche.

In these six stories, Batman (Kevin Conroy) faces new villains and old ones. In the opening story, “Have I Got a Story for You,” street kid, B Devil, meets his three friends Porkchop, Meesh, and Dander, at a skate park. Each tells B Devil a wildly different story about Batman’s battle with the Man in Black, a high tech criminal. The second story, “Crossfire,” focuses on Crispus Allen (Gary Dourdan) and Anna Ramirez (Ana Ortiz), two members of the Gotham City Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit. They get caught in the crossfire between rival crime lords and their gangs. Batman, whom Allen detests, comes to their rescue.

In the third story, “Field Test,” Lucius Fox (Kevin Michael Richardson) creates a new technology that will protect Batman from bullets, but is it too powerful? “In Darkness Dwells,” Batman travels deep below the streets of Gotham City to rescue a Catholic cardinal kidnapped by Killer Croc, who serves The Scarecrow (Corey Burton).

“Working Through Pain” finds Batman wounded and trapped in the city sewers, while his mind flashbacks to the mysterious woman who taught him to manage pain. Finally, in “Deadshot,” Floyd Lawton (Jim Meskimen), the assassin known as Deadshot, targets James “Jim” Gordon (Jim Meskimen) for assassination. Can Batman stop this killer that can pull off practically any shot?

“Have I Got a Story for You,” “Crossfire,” and “Field Test” are nice, interesting experiments in animated short films as storytelling, but they are more interesting than good. “In Darkness Dwells,” is better than those. “Working Through Pain” and “Deadshot” are by far the best pieces in Batman: Gotham Knight. The last three films are both good Batman stories that are executed exceptionally well.

While Batman: Gotham Knight is an American movie production that is written by Americans, the animation or anime is directed, designed, executed, and produced by Japanese animation studios: Bee Train (the .hack franchise), Madhouse (the Trigun television series), Production I.G. (the Ghost in the Shell franchise), and Studio 4°C (Tekkon Kinkreet). These studios present lots of visually interesting elements, here and there, throughout the film. Most of the sets, set decoration, art direction, and background elements are unique and eye-catching, but none of it ever comes together to make something that is entirely outstanding as a whole.

This ain’t no Akira, but Batman: Gotham Knight is, compared to a lot of animation that is offered to American audiences, exceptional.

7 of 10
B+

Monday, November 21, 2011


Bleach: Fade to Black on Blu-ray and for Digital Download

VIZ MEDIA ANNOUNCES THE RELEASE OF BLEACH THE MOVIE: FADE TO BLACK ON DVD AND BLU-RAY, AND FOR DIGITAL DOWNLOAD

It’s A Case Of Forgotten Identity As Ichigo Loses Touch With The Soul Society And Faces Down A Deadly New Enemy Alone In The Newest BLEACH Anime Action Feature

VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), the largest distributor and licensor of anime and manga in North America, has announced the release of the latest BLEACH feature film – BLEACH THE MOVIE: FADE TO BLACK. The movie is available on DVD and Blu-ray, is rated ’T’ for Teens, and carries an MSRP of $19.98 for DVD (U.S. / CAN) and $24.98 for Blu-ray (U.S / CAN). BLEACH THE MOVIE: FADE TO BLACK offers with both English and Japanese dialogue options as well as bonus features including production art and the original theatrical trailers.

The film is also available for Download-to-Own (DTO) for only $9.99 and for Download-to-Rent (DTR) for only $4.99 from digital partners including on iTunes (http://www.itunes.com/), Amazon Instant Video, and Zune® on Xbox Live®. DTO and DTR availability for Playstation®Network is forthcoming,

In this newest supernatural adventure, a strange disturbance in the World of the Living sends Ichigo and Kon to the Soul Society, where the Seireitei has been devastated by an explosion of reishi and Rukia is missing. Stranger still, none of the Soul Reapers remember Ichigo, and they think he’s the one responsible for the destruction. Now on the run, Ichigo is forced into a lonely battle in order to find Rukia and stop the real culprits!

The BLEACH animated film and TV series are based on a smash hit manga (graphic novel) series created by Tite Kubo, and follows the adventures of Ichigo, a 15-year old student with the ability to see ghosts. When his family is attacked by a Hollow — a malevolent lost soul – Ichigo encounters Rukia, a Soul Reaper, and inadvertently absorbs her powers. Now, he’s dedicating his life to protecting the innocent and helping tortured souls find peace.

BLEACH is a tremendously successful multimedia property internationally. The manga has been licensed to more than a dozen countries and has sold over 50 million copies in Japan alone. In North America, the manga has been a sales hit and the popular animated series (both rated 'T' for Teens) is viewed weekly by millions in the United States and Canada. This success has further spawned an array of related video games, apparel, action figures, trading cards and other merchandise.

For more information on BLEACH please visit http://www.bleach.viz.com/.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Lion King" Still Reigns

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 94 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux


The Lion King (1994)
Running time: 89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – G
DIRECTORS: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
WRITERS: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton; from a story by multiple writers
PRODUCER: Don Hahn
EDITOR: Ivan Bilancio
COMPOSER: Hans Zimmer
SONGS: Elton John and Tim Rice
Academy Award winner

ANIMATION/FANTASY/DRAMA/FAMILY with elements of adventure and comedy

Starring: (voices) Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Moira Kelly, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Niketa Calame, and Robert Guillaume

The Lion King is a 1994 Oscar-winning, animated film from Walt Disney Pictures. It is the story of a young lion who must take the place of his late father, the king, and save his land from his scheming uncle, his father’s brother. If The Little Mermaid (1989) was the beginning of the “Disney Renaissance,” then, The Lion King was the apex of Disney’s hand-drawn animated films during that renaissance.

The Lion King is set in Africa. King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) rules over the Pride Lands from Pride Rock. As the story begins, Queen Sarabi (Madge Sinclair) has just given birth to a cub, Simba, who will one day be king. Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is a playful and willful cub, but Mufasa guides and prepares him for the day when he will rule. Meanwhile, Mufasa’s brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons), lurks in the shadows, bitter that he is not king, and he plots with the hyenas to murder Mufasa. After tragedy strikes, Simba leaves the Pride Lands, intending never to return.

Years later, an adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) lives in exile. His constant companions are a meerkat, Timon (Nathan Lane), and a warthog, Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella). However, Simba’s past returns in the form of an old friend looking for food. It is then that Simba is forced to make important decisions about both his future and that of the Pride Lands.

The Lion King was Walt Disney Animation Studios 32nd full-length animated feature film. Some of Disney’s hand-drawn animated (or 2D animated) films produced in the last four decades are exceptional, even superb. None are as good as The Lion King. One could argue that The Lion King embodied everything up to that time that was great about Disney animated films. The Lion King is an engrossing animal fable or Disney anthropomorphic story like Bambi. It has a superb musical score and the kind of songs that are soaring, inspirational, heartfelt, toe-tapping, and/or romantic, in the tradition of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Its animation brings together the “art of Disney” animation, which is the illusion of life, and also the early introduction of computer animation – from the coloring to the computer generated wildebeest stampede.

The story, which borrows from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Holy Bible, is a universal story of a young hero’s journey from carefree childhood and youthful tragedy to reluctant man-child and adult responsibility. The obstacles that Simba faces, his conflicts and struggles, and his confusion all feel honest and true – not contrived and overly sentimental. The audience can buy into Simba because so much about his him seems genuine.

Each Disney animated film always has good voice performances and at least one great performance. The Lion King has more than a few great voice performances. James Earl Jones is regal personified as King Mufasa, while Jeremy Iron is his evil, velvety opposite. Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings are superb as the hyena trio. However, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella are scene-stealing showstoppers as Timon and Pumbaa, respectively, by creating signature, unforgettable Disney characters.

The classic Disney animated films always get me, and The Lion King charms me now just as it charmed me 17 years ago. This superbly animated feature is simply magic.

10 of 10

NOTES:
1995 Academy Awards: 2 wins: “Best Music, Original Score” (Hans Zimmer) and “Best Music, Original Song” (Elton John-music and Tim Rice-lyrics for the song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"); 2 nominations “Best Music, Original Song” (Elton John-music and Tim Rice-lyrics for the song "Circle of Life") and “Best Music, Original Song” (Elton John-music and Tim Rice-lyrics for the song "Hakuna Matata")

1995 BAFTA Awards: 2 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Hans Zimmer) and “Best Sound” (Terry Porter, Mel Metcalfe, David Hudson, and Doc Kane)

1995 Golden Globes: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical” (Don Hahn), “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Hans Zimmer), and “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Elton John-music and Tim Rice-lyrics for the song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"); 1 nomination: “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Elton John-music and Tim Rice-lyrics for the song “The Circle of Life”)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy B'day, Martin Scorcese: Taxi Driver

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 42 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux


Taxi Driver (1976)
Running time: 113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
MPAA – R
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorcese
WRITER: Paul Schrader
PRODUCERS: Julia Phillips and Michael Phillips
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Chapman
EDITORS: Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro
Academy Award nominee

DRAMA

Starring: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, and Albert Brooks

Some consider Taxi Driver to Martin Scorcese’s signature film and more than enough reason why this famed director should have been awarded an Oscar as Best Director a long time ago. One of the best-remembered film’s of the 1970’s, Taxi Driver is also one of the most influential American films ever made. It lives up to the hype.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a mentally unstable former Marine and Vietnam veteran who takes a job as a nighttime taxi cab driver to pass the time because of his insomnia. He perceives New York City as decadent, sleazy, and filled with phony people, and this perception feeds an urge growing in him to lash out at something or anything.

He first fixates on Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a worker in a senator’s presidential campaign. He convinces her to accompany him on a date, but later he frightens and angers her when he takes her to a bizarre foreign pornographic film. After Betsy dumps him, Travis becomes obsessed with killing the presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), who hires Travis’s taxi one evening. He also becomes fixated on a second female, Iris Steensma (Jodie Foster), a 12 year-old runaway and current prostitute. They become friends, and he urges her to leave her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel). These fixations and obsessions move Travis quickly down a path of shocking violence that leads to an equally shocking ending.

Bickle is one of De Niro’s most famous performances, and it earned him an Academy Award nomination. It’s a tricky role and character. Bickle could be likable, but he’s mostly pathetic, the very definition of a loser. Much of what Bickle has to say is done as voiceovers that give clues to the character’s plans, if not necessarily his motivations. What De Niro does is reveal the depths of the character almost entirely through exquisite body language and facial expressions. When it comes right down to it, Bickle doesn’t have a whole lot to say that would interest anyone outside of the police and head doctors. We learn the character by carefully watching De Niro. In gestures, both subtle and gregarious, in a face both serene and incensed, De Niro’s builds Bickle layer by layer, brick by brick. In fleeting moments, he makes Bickle pitiable and sympathetic, in others, dull and selfish. Sometimes Bickle’s rage is quietly focused; other times, it’s mad twister leaving feelings and bodies on the floor. Although a star and recognizable face at the time of this film’s release, De Niro transforms himself into Bickle, but leaves enough of himself in view to make Bickle fleetingly attractive, to use his matinee idol status to attract our attention to his disturbed character.

Scorcese deserves a lot of credit for allowing De Niro to roam, but it is Scorcese the director who channels the spirit of Bickle into an engaging movie. He has a deft touch at building the other characters and the story as a framework around De Niro’s painting. He knows who his subject is, but he also knows how to keep De Niro from banishing Paul Schrader’s excellent script to the background. Scorcese apparently realized that every element of the film worked: script, music, editing, actors, but he realized that De Niro was going to sell the total package to the audience.

You can’t like movies and have never seen Taxi Drive unless you’re very squeamish about dark subject matter and dislike stark realism. Still, that’s not enough reason to miss one of the great films.

9 of 10
A+

NOTES:
1977 Academy Awards: 4 nominations: “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Robert De Niro), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Jodie Foster), “Best Music, Original Score’ (Bernard Herrmann), and “Best Picture” (Michael Phillips and Julia Phillips)

1977 BAFTA Awards: 3 wins: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Bernard Herrmann), “Best Supporting Actress” (Jodie Foster), and “Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles” (Jodie Foster); 4 nominations: “Best Actor” (Robert De Niro), “Best Direction” (Martin Scorsese), “Best Film,” and “Best Film Editing” (Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf, and Melvin Shapiro)

1977 Golden Globes: 2 nominations: “Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama” (Robert De Niro) and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Paul Schrader)

1994 National Film Preservation Board: National Film Registry

1976 Cannes Film Festival: 1 win: “Palme d'Or” (Martin Scorsese)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Happy B'day, Maggie Gyllenhaal: SherryBaby

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 21 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux


SherryBaby (2006)
Running time: 96 minutes (1 hour, 36 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong sexuality, nudity, language, and drug content
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Laurie Collyer
PRODUCERS: Melissa Marr, Lemore Syvan, and Marc Turtletaub
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Russell Lee Fine (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Curtiss Clayton and Joe Landauer
Golden Globe nominee

DRAMA

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Sam Bottoms, Giancarlo Esposito, Ryan Simpkins, Danny Trejo, and Bridget Barkan

After serving three years of a five-year prison stint, Sherry Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is out on parole and dealing with the realities of both her old life and her new life. She has to face her hard-nosed parole officer, Hernandez (Giancarlo Esposito), find a job, and deal with the heroin addiction that led her to prison. She has also has to renew her relationship as mother to her five-year old daughter, Alexis Parks (Ryan Simpkins). In her absence, however, Sherry’s brother Bobby Swanson (Brad William Henke) and his wife Lynette (Bridget Barkan) have become surrogate parents to Alexis, and they aren’t anxious to give her back to Sherry, whom they consider to still be troubled. Another complication is her questionable relationship with her father, Bob Swanson, Sr. (Sam Bottoms), but she does find some companionship in a fellow addict, Dean Walker (Danny Trejo).

Writer/director Laurie Collyer’s small, sharp indie drama, SherryBaby showcases the best performance Maggie Gyllenhaal has given to date. Gyllenhaal builds her performances on nuance, and she creates a genuine young woman struggling with addiction, regret, and the longing to recover the one thing she considers to really be hers – the daughter she had to abandon to her brother. For her performance as a young woman who is an emotional wreck, Gyllenhaal received a 2007 Golden Globe nomination for “Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.”

Gyllenhaal is not alone in her excellent work. Collyer brings out fine work in everyone, including a moving and authentic performance from Brad William Henke as Sherry’s brother Bobby, who is struggling to balance the needs of the trio of women in his life: Sherry, his wife Lynette, and Alexis. Henke shines in two scenes – one in which Bobby surreptitiously watches his father Bob, Sr. (played by Sam Bottoms, pitch perfect in a small, but crucial role) and Sherry, and the second in which Bobby has lunch with Sherry as he tries to convince her of how much he cares about her. Henke quietly, but intensely reveals the depth of Bobby’s love for his sister, and also the difficult situations he must navigate in his extended family as a result of his unqualified love and support of Sherry.

The trio of Collyer, Gyllenhaal, and Henke and the rest of the cast and crew have created one of those indie films that looks small, but also looks like a large flashy gem when viewed in the best light.

7 of 10
A-

Sunday, January 28, 2007

NOTES:
2007 Golden Globes: 1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Maggie Gyllenhaal)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"AKB48" Music Documentary on DVD December 1st

NEW PEOPLE ENTERTAINMENT RELEASES DOCUMENTARY OF AKB48 – TO BE CONTINUED ON DVD AND DIGITAL ON DECEMBER 1st

New Music Biopic Traces The Rise To International Fame Of Japan’s Most Popular Pop Idol Group; Special DVD Online Promotion Offers A Second NEW PEOPLE Film Title With Any Pre-Order Purchase

NEW PEOPLE Entertainment, a film division of NEW PEOPLE, Inc. that focuses on the licensing and distribution of Japanese films and media, has announced the release of DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued on DVD on Thursday. December 1st. The new music biopic follows the unstoppable all-female Japanese pop idol group, AKB48, on their incredible rise to fame, and will be sold exclusively online for $19.99 through the NEW PEOPLE store at: store.newpeopleworld.com.

DVD pre-orders will begin today. For a limited time, NEW PEOPLE is offering a FREE bonus DVD title from its catalog to all pre-order purchasers. Select from a list of available titles. DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued will also be available to stream online at newpeoplechannel.com for $4.99 (for a 48 hour rental) beginning December 1st. The DVD will be available from Amazon by mid-December. Follow NEW PEOPLE Entertainment on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

AKB48 was conceived in 2005 by Yasushi Akimoto, one of Japan’s most respected music producers. Beginning as a small all-girl singing group based in the Akihabara district of Tokyo – the city’s bustling electronics and anime/pop culture shopping Mecca – AKB48 has grown to 60 members and topped Japan’s Oricon music charts with the two best-selling pop singles in 2010 as well as another two singles ranking in the Top 10.

“AKB48 created an entirely new format for pop groups and their fame has spread internationally,” says Seiji Horibuchi, President and CEO of NEW PEOPLE, Inc. “This insightful documentary captures AKB48 on-stage and behind the scenes and offers a candid look into the member’s lives and the phenomenal notoriety that surrounds the group. We invite J-Pop and music fans to visit the NEW PEOPLE store online to get the new DVD and to take advantage of a special offer to receive a second DVD title from the NEW PEOPLE film catalog!”

With a complicated balance of competition and friendship among its members, the group’s bond is extremely strong. DOCUMENTARY of AKB48 to be continued traces AKB48’s history with scenes from concerts and rehearsals, member general elections, and fan activities both in Japan and abroad. The film also includes personal interviews with select members that reveal each of the girls’ personal struggles, joys, path to growth, and dreams.

One unique aspect of AKB48 is that the group is divided into “Teams.” When AKB48 debuted in 2005, originally there were only 24 girls. Now there are 16 girls each on Team A, Team K, and Team B, who are the core members of the group. In addition, there are trainees who are aspiring members. Members total to around 60 girls as some graduate and some new members come in. In the recent years AKB48 has begun holding elections to determine the members who will participate in the recording of upcoming singles. Fans vote for their favorites and the girl ranked Number 1 performs at the center of the group.


About NEW PEOPLE, Inc.
Based in San Francisco, California, NEW PEOPLE, Inc. (http://www.newpeopleworld.com/) offers the latest films, art, fashion and retail brands from Japan through its unique entertainment destination as well as through licensing and distribution of selective Japanese films. NEW PEOPLE Entertainment (http://www.newpeopleent.com/), a film division of NEW PEOPLE, Inc. strives to offer the most entertaining motion pictures straight from the "Kingdom of Pop" for audiences of all ages, especially the manga and anime generation, in North America. Some titles include DEATH NOTE, GANTZ, KAMIKAZE GIRLS, and THE TASTE OF TEA.

"Days of Glory" Chronicles "Indigenes"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 118 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux


Indigènes (2006)
Days of Glory (2006) – International English title
Running time: 124 minutes (2 hours, 4 minutes)
MPAA – R for war violence and brief language
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: FRANCE with Algeria, Morocco, and Belgium; Languages: French and Arabic
DIRECTOR: Rachid Bouchareb
WRITERS: Olivier Lorelle and Rachid Bouchareb
PRODUCER: Jean Bréhat
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Patrick Blossier
EDITOR: Yannick Kergoat
2007 Academy Award nominee

WAR/DRAMA/HISTORICAL

Starring: Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Roschdy Zem, Bernard Blancan, and Matthieu Simonet

Indigènes or Days of Glory (as the film is known by its English title) earned a 2007 Oscar nomination for “Best Foreign Language Film” as a representative of Algeria. Indigènes recreates a chapter largely erased from the pages of history and pays overdue tribute to the heroism of a particular group of forgotten soldiers who fought and died during World War II. Days of Glory chronicles the journey of four North African soldiers who join the French army to help liberate France from Nazi occupation during World War II.

Saïd Otmari (Jamel Debbouze), Yassir (Samy Naceri), Messaoud Souni (Roschdy Zem), and Abdelkader (Roschdy Zem) leave their country, Algeria, a French colony, to fight France, which they call the “Motherland.” They chafe under the command of the Sergeant Roger Martinez (Bernard Blancan), a French Algerian. The men fight passionately for France, although they’ve never been to the country. Still, despite the North Africans’ bravery and loyalty as they travel fight from Italy to France, they face daily humiliation, inequality, and naked bigotry from the French. The four men eventually find themselves alone in a small French village defending it from a German battalion. This pedagogical or educational film is also a reminder that the controversies of French World War II history remain today, especially as the French government has denied the surviving North African soldiers their pensions.

Days of Glory is a good, but not great, historical film. Its strength is in the chronicling of the prejudice and bigotry these non-white or non-European soldiers faced while sacrificing their lives, limbs, and peace of mind for France, a country that many still believe largely did not fight for itself against the Nazis. For war movie buffs, the best combat sequence takes place in the movie’s closing act.

6 of 10
B

NOTES:
2007 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Foreign Language Film” (Algeria)

2006 Cannes Film Festival: 2 wins – “Best Actor” (Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Bernard Blancan – To the male ensemble cast) and “François Chalais Award (Rachid Bouchareb); 1 nomination: “Golden Palm” (Rachid Bouchareb)

2007 Image Awards: 1 nomination: “Outstanding Foreign or Independent Film”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Steven Spielberg's "War House" Presented to Veterans

DreamWorks Pictures Invites Veterans to Advance Screenings of Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse”

BURBANK, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In honor of Veterans Day, DreamWorks Pictures has contacted select veterans organizations in 50 cities across the U.S. to extend a special invitation for veterans to attend one of the advance screenings of Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure "War Horse." The feature film, which opens in theatres in the U.S. on December 25th, is a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War. Based on the best-selling book by Michael Morpurgo and the Tony Award®–winning stage play by Nick Stafford, “War Horse” is one of the great stories of bravery and friendship, brought to the screen by one of the greatest directors in film history.

Veterans groups interested in attending are invited to e-mail warhorseveteransinvite@yahoo.com and include the name of their nearest city for further information on screening dates, times and locations in their vicinity.

DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse” begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets—British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter—before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land. The First World War is experienced through the journey of this horse—an odyssey of joy and sorrow, passionate friendship and high adventure.

“War Horse” stars Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irvine, Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Kebbell. It is produced by Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, and executive producers are Frank Marshall and Revel Guest. The screenplay was written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis and is based on the book by Michael Morpurgo and the international hit stage play by Nick Stafford, originally produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain and directed by Tom Morris and Marianne Elliot.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Everyone Kills It in "Horrible Bosses"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 93 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux


Horrible Bosses (2011)
Running time: 98 minutes (1 hour, 38 minutes)
MPAA – R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material
DIRECTOR: Seth Gordon
WRITERS: Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein; from a story by Michael Markowitz
PRODUCERS: Brett Ratner and Jay Stern
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Hennings (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Peter Teschner

COMEDY/CRIME

Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Lindsay Sloane, Julie Bowen, P.J. Byrne, Donald Sutherland, and Jamie Foxx, Ioan Gruffud, Isaiah Mustafa, Wendell Pierce, and Ron White

Horrible Bosses is a 2011 crime comedy and is the story of three friends who plot to murder the three horrible bosses that make their lives hell. A black comedy because it deals with dark subject matter in an entirely humorous context, Horrible Bosses is one of the year’s funniest movies. As soon as I finished watching it, I wanted to watch it again.

For months, Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) practically worked day and night at his job in order to appease his boss, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), for a promotion Harken never intended on giving Nick. Harken is a “total fucking asshole.” Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) is a dental assistant who is constantly being grossly sexually harassed by his boss, dentist Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Anniston). Harris is an “evil crazy bitch.” An accountant at Pellitt Chemicals, Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) loves his boss, Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland). Then, Jack is replaced by his son, Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), who wants to drain the company of cash that he can spend of hookers and drugs. Bobby is the “dipshit cokehead son.”

One night, over drinks, the three decide to kill their bosses. In search of a hit man, the trio meets Dean “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx), who suggests that Nick, Dale, and Kurt kill each other’s bosses to hide their motives while making the deaths look like accidents. The friends discover, however, that killing is harder than they thought. Then, they get unexpected help.

Six years passed between when Horrible Bosses began development and when it finally became a movie. A lot of actors were considered for the various roles, but the filmmakers should consider themselves lucky that things worked out the way they did. The actors who got the roles came together to form a cast that is magic. This gleefully wicked comedy is the result of heaven sent screen chemistry. Everyone is strong, but if I had to choose a standout, it would be Charlie Day as Dale Arbus. Day is a scene stealer and Dale Arbus is a lovable good guy who is funny when he is flustered. Day’s performance turns every scene in which Dale appears – even the most depraved ones – into a comedy gold. Day gives Dale a madness that sparks this film to the next level, so that Horrible Bosses is not just raunchy or just another slob comedy. It is glorious black comedy that stands with the best of them.

Director Seth Gordon gets credit for keeping the actors’ improvisation from going rogue and ruining the film’s pace. Gordon (Four Christmases) is quickly proving himself to be a master of raucous, cheerfully irreverent, non-politically correct comedies. And Horrible Bosses is a masterpiece of incorrectness.

8 of 10
A

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy B'day, Leonardo DiCaprio: Blood Diamond

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 67 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux


Blood Diamond (2006)
Running time: 143 minutes (2 hours, 23 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence and language
DIRECTOR: Edward Zwick
WRITERS: Charles Leavitt; from a story by C. Gaby Mitchell and Charles Leavitt
PRODUCERS: Edward Zwick, Marshall, Herskovitz, Paula Weinstein, Graham King, and Gillian Gorfil
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eduardo Serra (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Steven Rosenblum
2007 Academy Award nominee

ACTION/DRAMA/WAR

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen, Arnold Vosloo, David Harewood, Basil Wallace, Ntare Mwine, Jimi Mistry, and Kagiso Kuypers

Set during Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war in 1999, director Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond blends challenging themes, social awareness, and riveting entertainment into a rip-roaring story about two different African men on a common quest. Along the way, Zwick creates a lovely thriller out of the devastating chaos of civil war in a Third World country.

While imprisoned, Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) turned diamond smuggler, discovers that fellow inmate Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) may have found a large, rare pink diamond. Rebels had taken Solomon from his family and forced him to work in their diamond fields where he found the extraordinary gem. Solomon hid the diamond in hopes of retrieving it and using it to help his family escape their war torn country. Now, Solomon will also have to find the diamond to save his son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers), who was taken by rebels and brainwashed into becoming a murderous child soldier.

Enter idealistic American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), in Sierra Leone to uncover the truth about conflict diamonds – diamonds used to finance war. Archer and Solomon have formed a reluctant partnership, with the former guiding the latter back to the buried diamond. Maddy uses her journalistic credentials to help the duo embark on a dangerous track through rebel held territory, although each member of this intrepid trio has his or her own agenda. Maddy wants the journalistic expose. Danny wants the diamond that will help him to finally leave Africa. Solomon is seeking something far more precious – his son.

Zwick turns in one of the top directorial efforts of 2006. He dresses his powerful polemic into a breathtakingly handsome travelogue through Africa, whose striking beauty is marred by horrific and mind-numbing violence. He creates a drama as engaging as any other about civil war, but Zwick makes it into an international social cause – to close the market for conflict diamonds. Zwick grabs the viewer by the heart with his gut-wrenching action and explosive violence. Then, he squeezes your heart to wring out the tears at the sight of such misery and despair and also at the sight of such devotion and kindness amidst the cruelty.

It helps that Zwick has a fine screenplay and story that is of the same epic proportions at just under two-and-a-half hours as a movie over three hours long. And the characters are so rich and well formed that even the script’s preachy dialogue that tends to show up sounds so much better coming out of the mouths of highly skilled actors. The cast brings a stunning sense of authenticity to the roles. For some of them, I could almost believe that they are the characters in the film.

Right now, I’m having a hard time believing that Leonardo DiCaprio has ever been better. He takes the whole cloth of the screenplay and creates in Danny Archer a real, living and breathing person. To hell with those who say that his white African dialect was weird. It sounds so real coming from him. He is Danny Archer; it’s in every word he says, every move he makes, and even in his eyes.

Djimon Hounsou isn’t very far behind. He is rapidly revealing that he is a great dramatic actor with the kind of power and stage presence for which we’ve usually only credit British actors of the Shakespearean stage of having. Hounsou is magnificent. I could make a movie just with him… on a stage empty of props and sets. Jennifer Connelly starts off rough, but her performance grows into the film just as Maddy Bowen starts to really feel Africa.

It’s great that Blood Diamond will make people aware of conflict diamonds, but the drama is so good that the film’s social conscious gets lost behind the beautiful fiction and sweeping storytelling. Blood Diamond is that thing for which movie lovers hope when they go to the theatre – a film with winning characters, a magnificent setting, and a great story. What more is there to say? It’s all on screen.

10 of 10

NOTES:
2007 Academy Awards: 5 nominations: “Best performance by an actor in a leading role” (Leonardo DiCaprio), “Best performance by an actor in a supporting role” (Djimon Hounsou), “Best achievement in editing” (Steven Rosenblum), “Best achievement in sound editing” (Lon Bender), and “Best achievement in sound mixing” (Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, and Ivan Sharrock)

2007 Golden Globes: 1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Leonardo DiCaprio)

2007 Black Reel Awards: 1 win: “Best Supporting Actor” (Djimon Hounsou)

2007 Image Awards: 1 win: “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (Djimon Hounsou); 1 nomination: “Outstanding Motion Picture”

Monday, April 23, 2007