Showing posts with label 1999. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1999. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Review: "SCOOBY-DOO and the Witch's Ghost" is Kind of Witchy

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 48 of 2023 (No. 1937) by Leroy Douresseaux

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost (1999) – Video
Running time:  66 minutes (1 hour, 6 minutes)
Unrated
DIRECTOR:  Jim Stenstrum
WRITERS:  Rick Copp, David A. Goodman, Davis Doi, and Glenn Leopold
PRODUCER: Cos Anzilotti
EDITOR:  Rob DeSales
COMPOSER:  Louis Febre
ANIMATION STUDIO:  Mook Animation

ANIMATION/FANTASY/FAMILY and ACTION/COMEDY/MYSTERY

Starring:  (voices) Frank Welker, Scott Innes, Mary Kay Bergman, B.J. Ward, Tim Curry, Kimberly Brooks, Jennifer Hale, Jane Wiedlin, Bob Joles, Tress MacNeille, Peter Reneday, and Neil Ross

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is a 1999 straight-to-video, animated horror-comedy film that was directed by Jim Stenstrum and produced by Hanna-Barbera Cartoons.  It was the second film in the Scooby-Doo straight-to-video film series that began with 1998's Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.  It was released on VHS on October 5, 1999, then on DVD on March 6, 2001.  In the film, Scooby and the company get involved with a famous horror novelist and his ancestor who was rumored to be a witch.

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost opens with Mystery Incorporated: Fred Jones (Frank Welker), Daphne Blake (Mary Kay Bergman), Velma Dinkley (B.J. Ward), Shaggy Rogers (Scott Innes), and Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) solving a case at a San Francisco museum.  There, they meet the famous horror novelist, Ben Ravencroft (Tim Curry).  Velma Dinkley is a huge fan of Ravencroft, so he invites her and the rest of the gang to his hometown of Oakhaven, Massachusetts.

Upon arrival, Ravencroft and Mystery Inc. discover that the town's Mayor Corey (Neil Ross) has transformed Oakhaven into a tourist trap.  The town is even putting on a concert featuring an all-female gothic rock band, the Hex Girls: Thorn (Jennifer Hale), Dusk (Jane Wiedlin), and Luna (Kimberly Brooks).

Oakhaven is like an amusement park with a theme based on the ghost of Sarah Ravencroft (Tress MacNeille), who is an ancestor of Ben Ravencroft.  Ben describes Sara as a “wiccan” who used herbal remedies to heal the poor and less fortunate.  In 1657, the townspeople of Oakhaven believed that Sarah was a witch, and they persecuted and executed her.  Ben has spent years searching for Sarah's medical journal, which he believes will help him prove her innocence.

But now, the ghost of Sarah Ravencroft is really back, and she wants revenge.  Scooby, Shaggy, and the gang are about to discover that this mystery turns out to have plenty of twists and turns.

Like a number of the early straight-to-video Scooby-Doo movies, Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost has a tone that is darker than the franchise's usual fare.  In this film, the supernatural elements are “real” as compared to the usual fake supernatural shenanigans committed by the adversaries in Mystery Inc.'s cases.  Still, I was surprised that the film takes such a benevolent attitude about the modern pagan, earth-centered religion, “Wicca.”  The film's story goes to some lengths to separate Wicca from “witchcraft,” which is generally seen as the use of magic for nefarious purposes.

Beyond that, Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is a standard Scooby-Doo film.  I find the “ghost of Sarah Ravencroft” to be less impressive than the “fake ghost witches” of earlier Scooby-Doo cartoons, such as “The Witch” in the “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” episode, “Which Witch is Which?”  I can say that the film does have a nice twist involving Sarah Ravencroft that does darken the film's tone a bit more.

However, as a Scooby-Doo fan, I consider almost all Scooby-Doo productions to be must-see.  And while, it isn't special, Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is entertaining.  And the Hex Girls are quite nice.

6 of 10
B
★★★ out of 4 stars

Tuesday, October 31, 2023


The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Review: Walt Disney's "TARZAN" is Something Old, Something New, and Sometimes Amazing

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 114 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Tarzan (1999)
Running time:  88 minutes ( hour, 28 minutes)
MPAA – G
DIRECTORS:  Chris Buck and Kevin Lima
WRITERS:  Tab Murphy and Bob Tzudiker & Noni White; from a story by numerous writers (based upon the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel Tarzan of the Apes)
PRODUCER:  Bonnie Arnold
EDITOR:  Gregory Perler
COMPOSER:  Mark Mancina
SONGS:  Phil Collins
Academy Award winner

ANIMATION/ACTION/ADVENTURE/FAMILY

Starring:  (voices) Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close, Brian Blessed, Lance Henriksen, Wayne Knight, Alex D. Linz, Rosie O’Donnell, and Nigel Hawthorne

The subject of this movie review is Tarzan, a 1999 animation fantasy-adventure film and musical directed by Chris Buck and Kevin Lima.  The film is based on Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan novel written by Tarzan creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Walt Disney’s Tarzan focuses on a man who was raised by gorillas, but who must decide where he really belongs when he discovers that he is a human.

Tarzan, Walt Disney’s animated version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic character Tarzan, was one of the best films of the year 1999.  In fact, it was better than the Academy Award winner for Best Picture that year, American Beauty.  Many film fans and critics point to 1989’s The Little Mermaid as Disney’s return to the kind of high quality animation that made the studio so famous from the later 1930’s to the early 1950’s.  From 1989 to 2004 (when Disney stopped making feature length animated films for theatrical release, for the foreseeable future), Tarzan stands as a high water mark, being one of the best efforts of that second golden age of Disney animation (known as the “Disney Renaissance”).

However, the film isn’t just a great effort in animation, it’s also a great film, period.  Like classic Disney films, there is something for everyone.  The drama, humor, action, and adventure reach across generations to entertain anyone, especially if adults have open minds about opening up to the story of an animated film.

In this version of the classic tale, the gorilla Kala (Glenn Close) rescues an orphaned human after she finds its parents’ murdered bodies.  She names him Tarzan (Alex D. Linz) and takes him as her own because she is left childless after a leopard killed her infant.  Years later, the adult Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) discovers he is human when he falls in love with Jane Porter (Minnie Driver), who comes to Tarzan’s jungle home with her father, Professor Porter (Nigel Hawthorne).  His love for Jane forces Tarzan to decide where he belongs when he has to choose between staying with his gorilla family or following Jane back to England.

Unlike many Disney animated films, Tarzan is thoroughly a boys’ action/adventure tale filled as it is with jungle chases over trees and through dense foliage and with combat fought to the death.  He is a boy’s man, having fun all day, surfing by his feet over thick and long tree branches, and he’s a whirling dervish of flips, twists, spins, leaps, dives, etc.  The film is, however, also quite poignant in its drama, particularly in the romance between Tarzan and Jane and in the relationship between Tarzan and his mother, Kala.

What would a Disney cartoon be without laughter and songs?  There is plenty of humor, some of it surprisingly provided by Rosie O’Donnell as Tarzan’s gorilla playmate, Terk (performed when she was still the “Queen of Nice.”).  The musical score is also very good, soaring and emotional.  However, it is Phil Collins’ song score that really makes the film, and Collins finally won his long sought after “Best Music, Original Song” Oscar® for a track entitled, “You’ll Be in My Heart.”

9 of 10
A+

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Music, Original Song” (Phil Collins for the song “You'll Be In My Heart”)
2000 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Phil Collins for the song “You'll Be In My Heart”)

Updated:  Saturday, August 02, 2014


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Review: "Topsy-Turvy" Goes Behind the Scenes (Happy B'day, Jim Broadbent)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 224 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Topsy-Turvy (1999)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  UK
Running time:  160 minutes (2 hours, 40 minutes)
MPAA – R for a scene of risqué nudity
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Mike Leigh
PRODUCER:  Simon Channing-Williams
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Dick Pope
EDITOR:  Robin Sales
Academy Award winner

COMEDY/DRAMA/MUSIC

Starring:  Allan Corduner, Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Wendy Nottingham, Dexter Fletcher, Sukie Smith, Roger Heathcott, Timothy Spall, Adam Searle, Martin Savage, Kate Doherty, Kenneth Hadley, Ron Cook, Eleanor David, Sam Kelly, and Andy Serkis

The subject of this movie review is Topsy-Turvy, a 1999 musical drama and comedy film from writer-director, Mike Leigh.  The film is a fictional account of the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan, following a failed opera and leading to the creation of the duo’s masterpiece, The Mikado.

Topsy-Turvy is writer/director Mike Leigh’s fictional account of the comic opera team of Gilbert & Sullivan during a particular period in their partnership.  After the lukewarm critical reception of the comic opera, Princess Ida, in 1884, English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) has grown weary of his 13-year partnership with playwright and comic librettist William Schwenck “Willie” Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and of Gilbert’s topsy-turvy scenarios.

Sullivan embarks on a tour of Europe and when he returns he begins to work on what he calls serious musical compositions.  However, the musical partners have a contract to fulfill with their producer Richard D’Oyly Carte (Ron Cook) for the Savoy Theatre (which had been built to house Gilbert & Sullivan’s operas).

After much disagreement among Sullivan, Gilbert, and Carte, Gilbert writes the scenario for The Mikado, a story inspired by Gilbert’s experiences from his visits to an exposition of Japanese culture, history, and art held in London in 1885.  Topsy-Turvy (a term used to describe the kind of fictional scenarios that involved ordinary humans encountered magic and sorcery) follows the creation, development, and staging of The Mikado.  Leigh’s fictional account shows Sir Arthur Sullivan working on the music and Willie Gilbert struggling with the actors to get the staging, acting, and singing just right.  His attention to detail also brings him into conflict with actors over costumes and the assignment of roles.

The film should be a treat to fans of Gilbert & Sullivan, and Topsy-Turvy is an excellent look at both the creative process and all the work that goes into staging an opera, everything from conducting the music and designing the sets to staging the cast and preparing for opening night.  There are a lot of very good performances in this film, but nothing from the leads (Broadbent and Corduner) stand out other than from the fact that they are the leads.  Andy Serkis (Gollum and Smeagol of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) makes a nice turn as the opera’s choreographer.

Leigh gives a look at the behind-the-scenes struggles and politics of raising a staged work that is quite interesting and almost academic in its details.  The film, however, does come off as a bit cool, and Leigh does too much teasing about the private lives of Gilbert & Sullivan, without revealing anything but tidbits.  Still, Leigh manages to make a unique and exceptional film that shines in spite of a few flaws.

7 of 10
A-

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards, USA:  2 wins: “Best Costume Design” (Lindy Hemming) and “Best Makeup” (Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud); 2 nominees:  “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Mike Leigh) and “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Eve Stewart-art director and John Bush-set decorator)

2000 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Make Up/Hair” (Christine Blundell); 4 nominations: “Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film” (Simon Channing Williams and Mike Leigh), “Best Screenplay – Original” (Mike Leigh), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Jim Broadbent), and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Timothy Spall)

Updated:  Saturday, May 24, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: "The Iron Giant" is Still a Giant (Happy B'day, Jennifer Aniston)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 223 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Iron Giant (1999) – animated
Running time:  86 minutes (1 hour, 26 minutes)
MPAA – PG for fantasy action and mild language
DIRECTOR:  Brad Bird
WRITERS:  Tim McCanlies; from a screen story by Brad Bird; (based upon the book The Iron Man by Ted Hughes)
PRODUCERS:  Allison Abbate and Des McAnuff
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Steven Wilzbach
EDITOR:  Darren T. Holmes
COMPOSER:  Michael Kamen
BAFTA Award winner

ANIMATION/SCI-FI/FAMILY

Starring:  (voices) Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher MacDonald, and John Mahoney with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

The subject of this movie review is The Iron Giant, a 1999 animated science fiction film from director Brad Bird.  The film is based on the 1968 novel, The Iron Man, by author Ted Hughes.  The Iron Giant focuses on a boy who befriends a giant alien robot and then fights to protect that robot from the paranoid government agent who wants to destroy it.

Among the many popular animated films of 1999 (which included Disney’s Tarzan and the “South Park” feature film), one got lost in the crowd, a great family film with a message and heart.  It was The Iron Giant, a Cold War fable with a timeless message and was directed by Brad Bird, who at the time was known for his work on “The Simpsons” and is currently getting attention for directing Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles.

Based upon a book by Ted Hughes, the film was the story of Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), a boy with a love for comics and sci-fi monster movies and who has an active imagination, and an innocent giant alien robot (Vin Diesel) the boy befriends.  Now, the robot is difficult to hide and eventually his presence earns the attention of Kent Mansley (Christopher MacDonald), a government agent who wants to destroy the robot.  Hogarth is afraid to tell his mother, Annie Hughes (Jennifer Aniston), a single parent, about his giant robot friend, but he luckily befriends an easy going beatnik artist named Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr.).  Dean runs a scrap yard, which proves to be a good source of food for the metal-eating giant, but how long can Hogarth and Dean hide the giant robot from the men who want to destroy him?

The Iron Giant’s story is very similar to that of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, another story about a boy who befriends an innocent alien hounded by military types that want to hurt him.  The moral or message of The Iron Giant is not necessarily entirely about peace, but is more about choosing peace and defending oneself only when one is sure of his enemy instead of attacking the unknown because of paranoia, ignorance, and fear.  The film is also a heartfelt drama with many comic moments and lots of action and adventure aimed at the young-at-heart and those who still can recall child-like wonder.  The script lightly draws the characters, but gives enough of them to make the premise work.

The quality of the animation (2-D or traditional hand drawn with some CGI) is very high quality; in fact, it’s hard to tell that the “Iron Giant” is completely computer animated because the character fits in so well with the hand drawn figures.  The animation is not as fluid as the best of Disney, but this film looks as if it could have come out of the Disney animation studios that produced 101 Dalmatians or The Jungle Book.  I heartily recommend this film to animation and sci-fi fans, and I especially recommend it for family viewing.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2000 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: BAFTA Children's Award for “Best Feature Film” (Allison Abbate, Des McAnuff, Brad Bird, and Tim McCanlies)

Updated:  Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reivew: Sayles Draws Viewers in "LIMBO" (Happy B'day," David Strathairn)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 34 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Limbo (1999)
Running time:  126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes)
MPAA – R for language
EDITOR/WRITER/DIRECTOR:  John Sayles
PRODUCER:  Maggie Renzi
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Haskell Wexler
COMPOSER:  Mason Daring
Palme d'Or nominee

DRAMA/THRILLER/ROMANCE

Starring:  Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, David Strathairn, Venessa Martinez, Kris Kristofferson, and Casey Siemaszko

The subject of this movie review is Limbo, a 1999 drama and crime-thriller from writer-director John Sayles.  The film focuses on a fisherman who tries to protect his new girlfriend and her daughter from his past and his brother’s present.  The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, and at the 1999 Seattle International Film Festival, Sayles received the “Golden Space Needle Award” for “Best Director.”  The National Board of Review, USA also gave Limbo a “Special Recognition” award “For excellent in filmmaking.”

John Sayles is a true independent filmmaker, rarely dealing with the major studios to produce his pictures, although they have distributed them, as is the case with Limbo.  Upon seeing this film, one can understand why he remains an independent.  Most directors can do this kind of film once or twice, but to make a career out of films like this, a director has to have an iron will.

Joe Gastineau (David Strathairn, a veteran of several Sayles films) lives, but that’s all he does.  He merely lives, working a few odd jobs in a small Alaska town.  He meets and helps out Donna De Angelo (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) a lovelorn lounge singer and the mother of one of Joe’s coworkers Noelle (Vanessa Martinez), and Joe gently falls for Donna.  When Joe’s self-inflated half-brother Bobby (Casey Siemaszko, Young Guns) blows into town, the four take a journey to up-country Alaska that changes and endangers their lives.

The acting is good, especially from the trio of Strathairn, Ms. Mastrantonio, and Ms. Martinez.  Strathairn is a vulnerable and moody character, but a quite approachable guy, a strong and supportive man when he has to be.  Ms. Mastrantonio is punch drunk from the love of broken relationships, but she never gives up on the positive, even when things keep falling apart.  Ms. Martinez is the sullen, self-pitying teen; quiet and withdrawn, she is an imaginative storyteller who can take elements of her life and create metaphorical delights.  Sayles has affection for these characters, and, because he takes time to give them depth, we care about them.

Sayles, a novelist and short story writer, creates films with characters that are very much like real people.  Each and every character has their own story, and a Sayles movie is actually of composition containing all these characters’ stories.  His gift is to show the viewers enough of each story so that they can get a feel for the film.  We see more of the lead characters’ stories, but we get a taste of every person’s story.  He is a visionary, able to weave stories with the same complexities and depth of a novel into the visual shorthand of a film.

Critics have accused his films of not having passion, but they have sold their souls for the press junkets and star interviews of the major studios and their product.  A Sayles film is vibrant and engaging.  He makes you think, and he lets you be part of the film, to put yourself inside the story.  This is as vicarious a thrill as any adrenalin-monkey action movie.

8 of 10
A

NOTE:
1999 Cannes Film Festival:  1 nomination: “Palme d'Or” (John Sayles)

Updated:  Sunday, January 26, 2014


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: "Deep Blue Sea" is a Good Shark Movie (Happy B'day, LL Cool J)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 30 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Running time:  105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
MPAA – R for graphic shark attacks, and for language
DIRECTOR:  Renny Harlin
WRITERS:  Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, and Wayne Powers
PRODUCERS:  Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig, Don MacBain, and Alan Riche
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Stephen Windon
EDITORS:  Derek G. Brechin, Dallas S. Puett, and Frank J. Urioste
COMPOSER:  Trevor Rabin

THRILLER/SCI-FI/HORROR

Starring:  Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, LL Cool J, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgård, Jacqueline McKenzie, Aida Turturro, and Samuel L. Jackson

The subject of this movie review is Deep Blue Sea, a 1999 science fiction thriller and horror film from director Renny Harlin.  The film takes place on an isolated, sea-based research facility where a group of scientists find themselves being hunted by a trio of intelligent sharks.

On an isolated underwater research facility, a group of scientists search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease using Mako sharks.  Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) and Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard) have illegally used genetic engineering to make the sharks’ brains bigger.  When Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson), the businessman who funds the disease research, arrives at the facility, the sharks are already bigger, faster, and more aggressive.

During a severe storm, the scientists celebrate their success.  However, the intelligent sharks take advantage of the storm to make an attack upon the facility that causes it to begin sinking.  A shark wrangler, Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), and the facility’s cook, Preacher (James T. Smith/LL Cool J), lead a group of survivors in a race to reach the surface while the facility quickly floods.  The sharks also gain entrance to the facility and hunt the fleeing humans.

Directed by Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight), Deep Blue Sea is a cat and mouse game in which the characters run an obstacle course to save their lives.  Harlin and the film’s writers continually drop trouble in the lap of the cast, who must use every resource at hand to save themselves.  Deep Blue Sea is not Jaws.  While the latter remains a powerful suspense thriller, the former is a quite effective edge-of-your-seat action movie.  Harlin has a knack for taking what could have been only pedestrian material and making good, light entertainment.

The cast is quite good, and LL Cool J adds a touch of humor to the film as Preacher.  Thomas Jane’s Blake and Cool J’s Preacher are the characters with whom we identify and attach ourselves.  One is the stoic, tough action guy and the other is funny man who keeps the show from getting too serious.  Samuel L Jackson is once again the actor who brings an air of seriousness in a performance that is quite good and that sets the tone for the film.  Much of the cast is shark fodder, but each one is determined to give a solid performance.  Deep Blue Sea is quite a bit of fun and stands up to repeated viewings.  It won’t be remembered as a cinematic classic, but it is a good time.  Quite a few action films try to be that and fail, but Deep Blue Sea delivers.

6 of 10
B

NOTE:
2000 Image Awards:  1 nomination:  “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (LL Cool J)

Updated:  Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: "But I'm a Cheerleader" is Weird and Wonderful (Happy B'day, Clea DuVall)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 70 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Running time:  85 minutes (1 hour, 25 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong language and sexual content involving teens
DIRECTOR:  Jamie Babbit
WRITERS:  Brian Wayne Peterson; from a story by James Babbit
PRODUCERS:  Leanna Creel and Andrea Sperling
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Jules Labarthe (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Cecily Rhett
COMPOSER:  Pat Irwin

COMEDY/ROMANCE/GAY 

Starring:  Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Cathy Moriarity, RuPaul, Eddie Cibrian, Melanie Lynskey, Katharine Towne, Dante Basco, Ione Skye, and Katrina Phillips

The subject of this movie review is But I’m a Cheerleader, a satirical film and romantic comedy from director Jamie Babbit.  The film focuses on a naive teenager who ends up in a conversion therapy camp after her straitlaced parents and friends come to suspect her of being a lesbian.

You are who you are.  The only trick is not getting caught, sez Clea DuVall’s character in the uproarious satire about modern America’s desire to “get rid” of homosexuals, But I’m a Cheerleader.

Megan Bloomfield (Natasha Lyonne, American Pie) has a picture of a cheerleader in her locker, a poster of Melissa Etheridge on her bedroom wall, and likes tofu, so her parents (Mink Stole, Bud Cort) are sure she’s a lesbian.  They enroll her in True Directions, a “dehomosexualing” program that purports to make gay kids straight.  Megan, already confused, is then caught between two extremes:  the cruel, hateful, and spiteful headmaster Mary J. Brown (Cathy Moriarity) and an unrepentant rebel lesbian Graham Eaton (Clea DuVall, The Faculty) who is attracted to Megan.

But I’m a Cheerleader is probably the best satire I’ve ever seen on the subject of the American bigoted mindset about homosexuality.  It is a hilarious comedy, and the romance between Megan and Graham is heartfelt and touching in the portrayal of the girls’ awkwardly advancing towards each other.  However, the film’s sharpest barbs are simply aimed at the crass behavior and sheer ignorance of bigotry and hate directed at homosexuals.  It’s one thing to disagree with a “lifestyle;” it’s an entirely different thing to try to destroy that with which you disagree.  I won’t resort to boring speeches and politics, but But I'm a Cheerleader hilariously makes its points.

Director Jamie Babbit and screenwriter Brian Wayne Peterson are sneaky in the way they communicate the messages under cover of outrageous characters and outlandish humor.  I laughed a lot, but I have to admit that you’d have to be really dense not to get the obvious points.  Homophobes that can get the message may hate this film; after all, the creators don’t go out of the way to camouflage their satire.  It’s blunt, but not annoying.  The film is funny, even when it’s being sad.  The film does drag heavily at some moments, and sometimes I was ready for the joke to end; still, the film always picked itself up with something delightful and surprising.

It’s in the power of the film’s sarcasm and irony that we can laugh at human folly, but a part of us sees the folly in ourselves when we watch Cheerleader.  Will we ever live in a free country where people don’t have to be discriminated against because of sexual orientation?  Hell no!  People will discriminate and hate, and then go to church on Sunday and proclaim their love for GOD in vigorous screams, because GOD is all about hating faggots, right?

And that’s fine in way because human folly will keep us knee deep in really good satire like But I’m a Cheerleader for the foreseeable future.  The soundtrack’s cool, too.

7 of 10
A

Updated:  Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: "Office Space" is Still a Classic (Happy B'day, Gary Cole)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 183 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Office Space (1999)
Running time:  89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and brief sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Mike Judge
WRITER:  Mike Judge (based upon his animated short films, Milton)
PRODUCERS:  Daniel Rappaport and Michael Rotenberg with Mike Judge
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Tim Suhrstedt
EDITOR:  David Rennie
COMPOSER:  John Frizzell

COMEDY

Starring:  Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Ajay Naidu, David Herman, Gary Cole, Stephen Root, Richard Riehle, Joe Bays, John C. McGinley, Paul Wilson, Diedrich Bader, Kinna McInroe, Todd Duffey, Greg Pitts, Orlando Jones, and Kyle Scott Jackson

The subject of this movie review is Office Space, a 1999 workplace comedy from writer-producer-director, Mike Judge.  The film follows a group of workers at a software company who hate their jobs and decide to rebel against their greedy boss.

In 1999, 20th Century Fox released a comedy by “Beavis and Butt-head” creator Mike Judge that quickly disappeared from theatres.  This is, however, one of the instances since the advent of widespread home video entertainment that videocassettes and DVD’s have saved a great film from obscurity, and thankfully so.  Anyone who has ever worked as a drone in a thankless job will thrill at the outrageous and dead-on comedy of Judge’s film, Office Space.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is a software engineer at the company Initech.  Peter is a cog at the company, writing code in an ultimately thankless job, but the job is only one portion of a seemingly meaningless life.  His difficult girlfriend takes him one Friday evening to a hypno-therapist who promptly dies after putting Peter in a state of total bliss.  From then on, Peter takes a new look at his life, and his new dismissive attitude about his job catches the attention of efficiency experts hired by Initech to fire extraneous employees.

The efficiency dudes get Peter a promotion, but get his co-workers, Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), fired.  The trio then hatches a plan to steal money from an Initech corporate account using a computer virus.  But a coding error may get the guys caught and in a federal “pound me in the ass” prison, and Peter may not be able to win back his new girlfriend, Joanna (Jennifer Aniston).

All props to Judge for getting the most traction out of many of the film elements.  The script has an uncanny sense of verisimilitude about the workplace, especially the corporate cubicle world of white-collar labor, but the humor and themes capture the dead spirit of most workaday jobs.  Judge’s direction is light, breezy, and quick, and he still manages to capture the right moods in which to communicate particular messages, ideas, and themes to the audience.  Also, his use of music, he particularly 80’s, old school, gangsta and hardcore rap somehow really works for this film.

What especially makes Office Space memorable is its cast.  Ron Livingston sells himself as both the everyday working man and the frustrated white-collar worker.  Gary Cole is slimy, smooth, and cool as Peter Gibbons' do-nothing, pencil-pushing boss, Bill Lumbergh.  However, the star-making turn in the film is Stephen Root’s nerd, percolating psychopath, Milton Waddams.  I don’t know if viewers recognize Milton in themselves or their co-workers, but maybe we all just find him so funny.

If it has one major flaw, it is that Office Space is a riot of laughs almost to the halfway point until it slips on a subplot.  When the script takes the film deeply into the genre plot about the money scam, the film seems to lose focus of the fact that it’s the workers versus their workplace annoyances that really make Office Space a gem, not some half-assed sub-plot.  Thankfully, the film returns to the workers’ trials and tribulations before it closes.

8 of 10
A

Updated:  Friday, September 20, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: "Holy Smoke" is Kind of Wispy (Happy B'day, Jane Campion)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 173 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Holy Smoke! (1999)
Running time: 115 minutes (1 hour, 55 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong sexuality and language
DIRECTOR: Jane Campion
WRITERS: Anna Campion and Jane Campion
PRODUCER: Jan Chapman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dion Beebe (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Veronika Jenet
COMPOSER: Angelo Badalamenti

DRAMA/COMEDY

Starring: Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Julie Hamilton, Sophie Lee, Dan Wyllie, Paul Goddard, Tim Robertson, and Pam Grier

The subject of this movie review is Holy Smoke!, a 1999 Australian comedy-drama from director Jane Campion. The film stars Kate Winslet as an Australian tourist who falls in with an Indian guru and Harvey Keitel as a macho American deprogrammer hired to free her from that new spirituality.

Jane Campion won an Academy Award in 1994 in the category original screenplay for her 1993 film, The Piano. Whereas both the characters and the story were well written in that internationally acclaimed film, the same cannot be said of Ms. Campion’s Holy Smoke, which is not nearly as rich a film as The Piano.

When a young woman (Kate Winslet) falls under the influence of a charismatic guru and joins his ashram, her parents hire PJ Waters (Harvey Kietel, who also starred in Ms. Campion’s The Piano), an “exiter,” a counselor who specializes in deprogramming people taken in by cults. PJ, however, finds the young woman, Ruth Barron, to be not only iron-willed and intelligent, but also very sexy. Ruth engages PJ is an intense battle of wills and sexual politics that begs the question – who will win?

Ms. Winslet is nothing short of stunning in Holy Smoke, and the continual growth of her acting talent is a revelation. It’s hard to take your eyes off her, and she is so beautiful. Ms. Winslet is not one of those tiresome and too thin anorexia stars, but a big boned, baby-got-back-and-front, full figured, blond goddess. The combination of her acting prowess and raw sexuality will distract from a dull movie, and Holy Smoke, while not quite awful, needed this Meryl Streep with a body.

The film is just too up and down. It is at times funny and engaging, but at other times too dry and pointless. The other characters are quite interesting, but the screenwriters ignore them in favor of a drawn out battle between Ruth and PJ. That’s a shame because many of the other characters, including Ruth’s parents and PJ’s partner played by Pam Grier, seem to have interesting backstories. The film limps to the finish line with a tired battle of the sexes. Thankfully, a sentimental dénouement saves the film from being completely below average.

5 of 10
C+

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

"The Mummy" Always Worth Unwrapping

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 1 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux


The Mummy (1999)
Running time: 125 minutes (2 hours, 5 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for pervasive adventure violence and some partial nudity
DIRECTOR: Stephen Sommers
WRITERS: Stephen Sommers, from a screenstory by Lloyd Fonvielle, Kevin Jarre, and Stephen Somers
PRODUCERS: Sean Daniel and James Jacks
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adrian Biddle (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Bob Ducsay
COMPOSER: Jerry Goldsmith
Academy Award nominee

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY/HORROR

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Kevin J O’Connor, Oded Fehr, Jonathan Hyde, Erick Avari, Bernard Fox, Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, Tuc Watkins, Aharon Ipalé, and Patricia Velasquez

The subject of this movie review is The Mummy, a 1999 fantasy/adventure film from director Stephen Sommers. The film is a loose remake of the 1932 film, The Mummy, starring the great Boris Karloff, and is also the first of a three-film set.

In 1923, Richard “Rick” O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) a French Foreign Legion soldier, leads a librarian, Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), and her wayward brother, Jonathan (John Hannah,) to the legendary ancient Egyptian City of the Dead, Hamunaptra, on a treasure hunt/archeological dig. Pursued by a group of American adventurers and assorted ruffians, our heroes become part of bungling gang that resurrects Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), a cursed Egyptian priest out to wreak havoc on the world. When Imhotep sees Evie for the first time, he decides to use her as the human sacrifice to free his love mummified lover, Anck–Su–Namum (Patricia Velazquez), from the Underworld.

Part of Universal Pictures plan to remake its classic “Universal Monster” movies as high tech updates, The Mummy, the new version of the 1932 classic, shocked Universal with its 40 million dollar opening weekend (tests and previews screenings had suggest about 25 million). With its combinations of eye-popping effects, occasional chills, and good action sequences, The Mummy (which received an Oscar nomination for “Best Sound”) is an excellent example of a movie as great entertainment – cinematic fast food that delivers on audience expectations.

Director Stephen Sommers had directed two Disney films, Tom and Huck and the live action version of The Jungle Book and the funky 1998 sci-fi/horror B-movie, Deep Rising. They may have been indications of his skill to weave effective entertainment, but the Mummy is the big payoff.

The hyped up action scenes deliver every time; not one of them is awkward or off of pace. From the opening battle scene at the ruins of Hamunaptra to the fight aboard the boat, from the giant wall of sand with the imprint of Imhotep’s face to the final fight scene, it’s the perfect movie with which to sit back and enjoy.

There is a fine cast of supporting characters. Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay, leader of the Medjai, a group that watches over Imhotep’s tomb, is handsome, dashing, and mysterious. Kevin J O’Connor’s Beni Gabor is the perfect comic relief (a nice bookend to John Hannah’s Jonathan), but he also makes a nasty villain. It’s quite entertaining to watch the three Americans: Mr. Henderson (Stephen Dunham), Mr. Daniels (Corey Johnson), and Mr. Burns (Tuc Watkins) in their cat and mouse game with Imhotep as the Mummy absorbs their “organs and fluids” to regenerate his own body.

The Mummy is also a fun and spooky horror show with enough scary scenes to match the action. What reminds of Raiders of the Lost Ark is the quite moments of character and intimacy between Rick and Evie. Sommers can’t make Fraser and Ms. Weisz as convincing as Steven Spielberg made Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, but it’s good enough. No one here seems to pretend to greatness, but they seemed determined to please the studio and their potential audience with a hit film and they did.

Here, the issues are commerce and craft rather than art, and the craftsmanship is so good that we may very well return to this gem time and again. As goofy and throw away as it might all seem to be, The Mummy is fun stuff, pure cinematic magic.

7 of 10
B+

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Sound” (Leslie Shatz, Chris Carpenter, Rick Kline, and Chris Munro)

2000 BAFTA Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (John Andrew Berton Jr., Daniel Jeannette, Ben Snow, and Chris Corbould)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Catch "Virus" When You Need a B-Movie

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 21 (of 2001) by Leroy Douresseaux


Virus (1999)
Running time: 99 minutes (1 hour, 39 minutes)
MPAA – R for sci-fi violence/gore, and for language
DIRECTOR: John Bruno
WRITERS: Chuck Pfarrer and Dennis Feldman (based upon the comic book series created by Chuck Pfarrer)
PRODUCER: Gale Anne Hurd
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Eggby (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: M. Scott Smith
COMPOSER: Joel McNeely

HORROR/SCI-FI/ACTION/THRILLER

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, Joanna Pacula, Marshall Bell, Sherman Augustus, and Cliff Curtis

The subject of this movie review is Virus, a 1999 science fiction-horror film. The movie is based upon the 1992 comic book miniseries, Virus, which was created and written by Chuck Pfarrer, drawn by Howard Cobb and Jimmy Palmiotti, and published by Dark Horse Comics.

A crippled salvage tug, the Sea Star, seeks refuge in the calm eye of a typhoon. The crew discovers a seemingly abandoned and ghostly silent Russian research vessel. The Star’s captain, Robert Everton (Donald Sutherland), seeks the potentially lucrative salvage rights for the ship, but the Star’s navigator, Kit Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), and chief engineer Steve Baker (William Baldwin) sense wrongness about the ship. Their suspicions are justified when they find the Russian ship’s sole survivor, chief science officer Nadia Vinogradiya (Joanna Pacula) who is deathly afraid of something mysterious and malevolent, an alien virus or life form that is loose on the ship. The virus takes over machines and electronics and merges it with human tissue to create monstrous creations bent on wiping humans, which it also considers a virus, off the face of the planet.

Director John Bruno, a long time visual effects specialist, creates an occasionally very intense and scary thriller. In a sense it is one of the best B-movies in recent memory – cheesy, but enjoyable and, for SF fans and action movie fans, a fun movie. The story drags a bit early on, and screenwriters Chuck Pfarrer (Hard Target) and Dennis Feldman (Species) include the standard horror movie bumps, knocks, and chills the first third of the movie before revving up the gore and violence.

The characters are standard for this kind of movie. It has the standard lead characters around which a movie revolves; we know something of their motivations and of how their pasts affect the story. We also get the stock cannon fodder, the guys with the guns and the testosterone that inevitably die. However, everyone plays up to his or her part, and no one is lax in the proceedings.

Ms. Curtis is the consummate professional who can be smart when she has to be; she can scream and play the backpedaling victim, but she can fight back in the end, although this movie does force her to be limp enough to allow for Baldwin’s manhood. Not great, but a good supporting player, Baldwin plays the blue-collar guy smart enough to survive. Sutherland, slumming as he so often does, is the consummate character actor; with a distinctive voice and the skills to play a variety of characters, he gives Captain Everton that touch of evil that would make his captaincy ripe for mutiny.

Virus is a nice one for home viewing, especially on a dark and stormy night. Obviously not a fine meal, it’s a darn good burger.

5 of 10
C+

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: "Just Looking" Can Be Just Fun (Happy B'day, Jason Alexander)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 71 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Just Looking (1999)
Running time: 97 minutes (1 hour, 37 minutes)
MPAA – R for sexual content and language
DIRECTOR: Jason Alexander
WRITER: Marshall Karp
PRODUCER: Jean Doumanian
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fred Schuler
EDITOR: Norman Hollyn
COMPOSER: Michael Skloff

COMEDY with elements of drama

Starring: Ryan Merriman, Gretchen Mol, Richard V. Licata, Peter Onorati, Patti LuPone, Ilana Levine, Joseph Franquinha, Amy Braverman, and Allie Spiro-Winn

The subject of this movie review is Just Looking, a 1999 independent film about a teen boy obsessed with seeing two people make love. A comedy and drama, the film is directed by comic actor, Jason Alexander.

Most know Jason Alexander as the irascible “George Costanza” of the classic television series, Seinfeld. In Just Looking, a coming-of-age story set in Queens, circa summer 1955, he is a film director.

It’s June 1955 in the Bronx. Our intrepid hero is a fifteen year-old boy named Lenny Levine (Ryan Merriman), and he has a rabid case of sex-on-the-brain. It’s been a year since his father passed away, and he doesn’t really get along with his new stepfather Polinksy (Richard V. Licata), an associate of his late father. His mother Sylvia (Patti LuPone) plans for Lenny to spend the summer in Queens with her sister Norma (Ilana Levine) and her Italian stud husband Phil (Peter Onorati). Once there, he makes a few friends who he believes can help him to achieve his goal of catching some couple in the act of lovemaking. He has his first big crush in the form of a nurse/part-time model Hedy (Gretchen Mol), and it is in her that he receives his first real education in the politics of relationships and sex.

No, Lenny doesn’t have sex with Hedy, although he does want to catch her in the act with someone more than he wants to catch anyone else. Just Looking is nothing spectacular; at times, it seems more like a television movie. Although movie audiences have come to expect such visually intense experiences from their films, a soft curve ball like Just Looking barely gets a look. While not a dramatic bombshell, it is a pleasant film with a nice story. The sexual content is plain, matter-of-fact, and clumsy enough to seem real, so the sexual issues have a more natural, unforced feel and mean more to the film than most boot-knocking scenes mean in other, more tawdry movies “about” sex.

Alexander and screenwriter Marshall Karp move the film from beginning to end towards an important life lesson. Now, this might make it sound like an afternoon special or a TV movie, but the film is really a good movie with a good point. While watching it, I was pleasantly entertained, and by the end, I had decided that I’d really liked it. In its own quite way, Just Looking resonated with me.

The performances are honest and good, being only a tad stereotypical and familiar at times. This is good honest work by a group of skilled filmmakers, and I can pretty much guarantee that anyone who watches it will find the story oddly familiar and identify with some of what it has to say.

6 of 10
B

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" Retains Its Innocence"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 31 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Running time: 136 minutes (2 hours, 16 minutes)
MPAA – PG for sci-fi action/violence
WRITER/DIRECTOR: George Lucas
PRODUCER: Rick McCallum
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Tattersall (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith
COMPOSER: John Williams
Academy Award nominee

SCI-FI/FANTASY/ACTION/ADVENTURE with elements of a thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Pernilla August, (voice) Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Oliver Ford Davies, Hugh Quarshie, (voice) Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Terrence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Andrew Secombe, Ray Park, (voice) Lewis Macleod, Steven Spiers, Silas Carson, Ralph Brown, and Samuel L. Jackson

The 1999 film, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, is the fourth release in the Star Wars film franchise. It is also the first film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, a series of three movies in which the stories take place before the events depicted in the original Star Wars trilogy: Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983). The Phantom Menace has been recently re-released as a 3D feature.

Back in 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was highly-anticipated release, and although it was a tremendous success at the box office, the movie received mixed reviews from professional film critics and reviewers. The Phantom Menace received criticism from Star Wars fandom, some of it intense. However, I am a fan of The Phantom Menace, and it is my favorite of the three prequel films. My feelings about it are similar to a statement that Ewan McGregor, who starred in the film, made, and that is that The Phantom Menace is just a little fairy tale about a group of people running from one side of the galaxy to the other, having adventures. And I like going along with them on these adventures.

Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are two Jedi Knights who must help Queen Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) save her planet Naboo from the Trade Federation, which is determined to take it. Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is a Naboo outcast who joins the Jedi on their quest. After the group escapes from a Trade Federation-controlled Naboo, they land on the planet Tatooine, where they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a boy with the potential to be a powerful Jedi. Dark forces, however, hunt them in the guise of Darth Maul (Ray Park), an apprentice of the Sith, the Jedi’s ancient enemies.

Directed by George Lucas, The Phantom Menace is the first of three prequels to the original Star Wars movies (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). Lucas doesn’t give his cast the room to stretch their characters, and his dialogue is mostly wooden and awkward. It is often painfully obvious in how unpolished both the acting and the writing is. Neeson has the most room to roam, but McGregor’s talent is sadly wasted. The driest performance has to be that of Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker, he his moments. Jar Jar Binks is a computer-generated character, and while Best does excellent work in creating a unique voice for the character, Jar Jar is an annoying character.

Other than that, TPM is a blast. In a way, it is like a fairy tale in which the cast runs from one hot spot to another, barely staying ahead of the bad guys. In the pod race sequence that occurs in the middle of the film, one can see Lucas’s ability to craft scenes of breath taking intensity that match the best car chases and chase scenes with the flair of the movie serials of Hollywood’s bygone era. Maul’s attack on Qui-Gon and, later, the final battle between the two Jedi and the Sith apprentice are exciting and beautifully staged. In fact, the action sequences are so good that they make up for TPM’s duller moments.

Although it doesn’t recall the excitement of Star Wars or have the dramatic impact of The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is fun. It doesn’t try to be quality filmmaking so much as it dares to be quality, lightweight entertainment. And at that, it is very good.

7 of 10
A-

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing” (Ben Burtt and Tom Bellfort), “Best Effects, Visual Effects” (John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, and Rob Coleman), and “Best Sound” (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy, and John Midgley)

2000 BAFTA Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, and Rob Coleman) and “Best Sound” (Ben Burtt, Tom Bellfort, John Midgley, Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, and Shawn Murphy)

2000 Razzie Awards: 1 win: “Worst Supporting Actor” (Ahmed Best, the voice of Jar-Jar Binks); 6 nominations: “Worst Picture” (20th Century-Fox), “Worst Director” (George Lucas), “Worst Screen Couple” (Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman), “Worst Screenplay” (George Lucas), “Worst Supporting Actor” (Jake Lloyd), and “Worst Supporting Actress” (Sofia Coppola)

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: "eXistenZ" is as Crazy as Ever (Happy B'day, Jude Law)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 32 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux


eXistenZ (1999)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Canada/UK
Running time: 97 minutes (1 hour, 37 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong sci-fi violence and gore, and for language
WRITER/DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg
PRODUCERS: David Cronenberg, Andras Hamori, and Robert Lantos
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Suschitzky
EDITOR: Ronald Sanders
COMPOSER: Howard Shore
Genie Award winner

SCI-FI/CRIME/DRAMA/THRILLER

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley and Oscar Hsu

eXistenZ is a 1999 Canadian/British science fiction film from director David Cronenberg. The film is set in the near-future and involves advanced video games and organic virtual realities. When Cronenberg, a surrealist and master filmmaker, tests the bounds of imagination, he makes you wonder if there really are any boundaries to imagination, or at least to his. With a filmography full of movies that are trippy experiences, it’s hard to pick out the craziest Cronenberg picture, but I’d say eXistenZ is safe bet.

Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the world’s best game designer, and her new game, eXistenZ, is a virtual-reality masterpiece. During a demonstration or, perhaps, beta testing, of eXistenZ, a crazed fan makes a peculiar attempt on her life. Ted Pikul (Jude Law), a marketing intern at the company for whom Allegra designs games, spirits her away from the scene, but though they escape the murderous attempt on her life, this is just the beginning of a strange trip that takes them both to worlds real, unreal, and maybe real.

The usual Cronenberg themes: bodily invasion, altered states of perception, and what is real are much in evidence, but like some of his best work, eXistenZ questions what effect technology has on the human body, mind, and spirit. Cronenberg also seems to question whether humans should change their bodies and the way they live to accommodate a technology that is of only the most frivolous use – entertainment-based technology. That question permeates almost every frame of the film, and adds weight to the drama.

Many of the performances are stiff, although deliberately so, but still it’s a bit too wooden and too cold. Sometimes the acting is all a bit too affected and too smart for its own good. Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh, however, give, wildly spirited and inspired performances; even their odd and taut moments have a vivacious air to them. They’re fun to watch, and the pair has a screen chemistry the just screams that this is a mismatched matched pair. For some reason it works, and they look gorgeous on the screen, making this truly odd tale fun to watch.

The best way to describe this story is too say that it deals with virtual worlds and computer generated realities like The Matrix did. eXistenZ, however, is not about cardboard philosophy, wire-fu fight scenes, and pyrotechnics and special effects as sexy eye candy. This is The Matrix for smart people.

8 of 10
A

2000 Genie Awards: 1 win: “Best Achievement in Editing” (Ronald Sanders); 2 nominations: “Best Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design” (Carol Spier and Elinor Rose Galbraith) and “Best Motion Picture” (Robert Lantos, David Cronenberg, and Andras Hamori)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is a Great 1999 Film (Happy B'day, Trey Parker)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 176 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) - animated
Running time: 81 minutes (1 hour, 21 minutes)
MPAA – R for pervasive vulgar language and crude sexual humor, and for some violent images
DIRECTOR: Trey Parker
WRITERS: Matt Stone and Trey Parker and Pam Brady (based upon the TV series created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker)
PRODUCERS: Trey Parker and Matt Stone
EDITOR: John Venzon
Academy Award nominee

ANIMATION/COMEDY/MUSICAL/WAR

Starring: (voice) Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes, George Clooney, Brent Spiner, Minnie Driver, Dave Foley, Eric Idle, Nick Rhodes, Stewart Copeland, and Mike Judge

I could list several films that were better than Oscar® winner for “Best Picture” of 1999, American Beauty. One of them is South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the film version of the hit animated series, “South Park,” on cable television channel, Comedy Central. The film did earn an Oscar® nomination in the category of “Best Music, Original Song,” and it should have won. But where it really counts, the film won – it is as good as the best episodes of the series.

Our heroic quartet: Stan Marsh (Trey Parker), Eric Cartman (Parker), Kyle Broslofski (Matt Stone), and Kenny McCormick (Stone) sneak into a theatre to see the R-rated film of Canadian bad boy duo, Terrance & Phillip, entitled Asses of Fire. The film, a wall-to-wall profanity-laden musical, warps the little boys’ minds, and they begin to freely used the most vulgar language in everyday speech. Kyle’s mother, Sheila Broslofski (Mary Kay Bergman), is horrified, so she leads the other boys’ parents in a massive crusade against Terrance and Phillip.

In true fanatical organized censorship fashion, her coalition against filth goes overboard. The parents pressure the United States government to declare war on Canada (because they generate lots of filth that finds it way to America), and to have Terrance and Phillip publicly executed just before the U.S. military invades Canada. Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan and his homosexual lover, Saddam Hussein (Stone), eagerly await the execution. For when Terrance & Phillip’s blood touches the earth, it will open a portal from Hell to Earth from which Satan and Saddam will launch an invasion.

The quality of the animation (crude and crudely manipulated paper cutout animated figures) and comedy (naughty) of the film is about the same as the TV series, except the hardcore R-rated vulgarity and profanity that would be edited out of even the series makes its way to the film. What the film has that the show doesn’t is a wonderfully satirical and farcical song score. There are certainly better musical and song scores in film history, but none are as ribald, as bold, and as hilarious as these songs.

The most important thing about South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is that it is so subversive. The TV series has always used satire and farce to make political and social commentary. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone take their hardest hits at ultra conservative, too liberal, bigoted, and politically correct America. But the part of the U.S. that takes the biggest hit is the dishonesty of adults: lying to children, not explaining to them why they should be protected from certain things, cheating, stealing, and selfishness. Parker and Stone do it while making you laugh so hard at their outrageous sense of humor. I don’t know which is their best talent, humor or commentary; they do both so well that’s it’s unfair to most others who try both.

9 of 10
A+

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Music, Original Song” (Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman for the song "Blame Canada")

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review: Steven Soderbergh Tries Noir in "The Limey"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 14 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Limey (1999)
Running time: 89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence and language
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
WRITER: Lem Dobbs
PRODUCERS: John Hardy and Scott Kramer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ed Lachman
EDITOR: Sarah Flack
COMPOSER: Cliff Martinez

DRAMA/CRIME/MYSTERY

Starring: Terence Stamp, Leslie Ann Warren, Luis Guzmá, Peter Fonda, Barry Newman, and Nicky Katt

Director Steven Soderbergh’s (sex, lies, and videotape) style probably took a radical turn when he saw Quentin Tarantino’s film Jackie Brown. The juxtaposition to time and scenes that made Jackie Brown so engaging is very evident is Soderbergh’s excellent 1998 film, Out of Sight (which shared the same production company as Brown), but this isn’t a knock on him, like accusing him of merely coping. Artists absorb from their experiences. Soderbergh just happened to find another way to tell a film story that would not only force the audience to pay attention and follow the story, but that would also add a dimension to the time, setting, and characters.

He breaks into this new style with a stride in the neo-noir flick, The Limey. He uses flashbacks and flash forwards that might be flashbacks. He has dialogue that overlaps into the present or that runs over a scene that happened in the past. It is not at all confusing, but it is rather bracing. This is beautiful and delicious eye candy. You could find yourself wanting more of this time slippage, indeed, eagerly awaiting each new time shift in the narrative. I really liked how dialogue that is read in one scene, actually belongs in another, but relates to both. Soderbergh uses this not only to establish the story’s timeline, but to establish character and motivation. This seems to give a better understanding of what each character means to the story, whether his part be large or small. It brings so much depth to the film and makes it all the more interesting.

Soderbergh has previously worked with The Limey screenwriter, Lem Dobbs, in Kafka from 1991. They have something special together although Dobbs had complained at the time that Soderbergh had taken liberties with the Kafka script that Dobbs didn’t like. Together they create something that isn’t just different; it’s also a kind of cinematic storytelling that takes advantage of all of film’s visual possibilities.

The story, about an English father who comes to the United States to confront the man he considers responsible for his daughter’s death, is very good. Things aren’t what they seem because what starts out as a hardboiled tale becomes a study of two men’s past and how that shapes their relationship with the same woman. Terence Stamp (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), as the matter of fact rogue, is endearing in an odd sort of way, and the supporting cast, including Lesley Ann Warren, Luiz Guzman, and Peter Fonda, serve the story and the lead quite well.

This is a little film that passed people by, but fans of Soderbergh or Stamp’s work shouldn’t miss it. The Limey is a quality film on a landscape that is covered with too many movies that leave you with an empty feeling.

7 of 10
B+

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: "The Matrix" Has Staying Power (Happy B'day, Keanu Reeves)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 (of 2001) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Matrix (1999)
Running time: 136 minutes (2 hour, 16 minutes)
MPAA – R for sci-fi violence and brief language
DIRECTORS: The Wachowski Brothers
WRITERS: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski
PRODUCER: Joel Silver
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bill Pope (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Zach Staenberg
COMPOSER: Don Davis
Academy Award winner

SCI-FI/FANTASY/ACTION with elements of a thriller

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Gloria Foster, Julian Arahanga, Matt Doran, Belinda McClory, and Anthony Ray Parker

The Matrix is a 1999 science fiction action film. Directed by the brothers Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski (who is now Lana), The Matrix was the first of three films and launched a franchise that includes video games, animation (The Animatrix), and a series of comic and webcomics that were eventually collected in two trade paperbacks. The film would go on to be influential and win four Oscars.

A computer programmer and hacker named Thomas A. Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is in a kind of funk; the world does not seem quite right to him, but he cannot put his finger on what bothers him. He encounters a mysterious band of rebels led by the Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who tells Anderson that Anderson is really Neo and that he is the Chosen One who will lead humanity out of the bondage in which machines keep them. Morpheus is abetted by Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss), who believes completely in Neo as the savior.

The year isn’t 1999; it is 200 years later, says Morpheus. The world in which Neo lives is not real; it is instead an elaborate façade called the Matrix created by a malevolent Artificial Intelligence. The real world is a bombed shell of its former self. The ruling cyber intelligence has stored humans in stasis pods and uses humans for the fuel with which it operates itself. The Matrix, a kind of computer simulation of reality into which humanity is plugged, keeps humanity placated while the A.I., to power itself, leeches the energy human bodies naturally generate. Humans think they are living their lives when they are really all asleep and jacked into an electronic version of reality.

Morpheus believes that Neo is the one who will destroy the Matrix. Morpheus and his warriors live in the real world. They can send their consciousness into the Matrix to recruit converts to their cause. Their nemeses are Agents, A.I. who infiltrate and police the Matrix for rebellious humans. Led by the vicious Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), the Agents pursue Neo and his newfound colleagues.

Written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, The Matrix is glorious eye candy. Others have described the special effects as mind bending, and some audiences may have perceived them that way. The movie is visually dazzling, exciting, and invigorating; it’s a thrill ride in which you sit back and let yourself be entertained. While the Wachowki’s currently lack the skills to stage shots as well as Hitchcock or Kubrick would, they do know how to compose effective visuals. From a city with a sense of wrongness to the abandoned subway system where Morpheus and his rebels fight beautifully designed and wicked looking machinery, the film’s images deliver a coherent message.

Part Terminator and part The Invisibles (a comic book published by DC comics and created by Grant Morrison), the movie pretends at being ideologically and intellectually deep. However, man versus machine isn’t so much an issue in the movie as it is an impetus for violent action scenes. The brothers were smart in that they allowed Neo’s warrior friends to have the job of explaining the situation behind the Matrix.

The acting is very good. Fishburne has deep resonant tones, and he speaks clearly and confidently as explains things to Reeve’s somewhat slow Neo. Reeves, from the Kevin Costner school of wooden acting and halting speech mannerisms, would have lost the audience had he tried to make explanations. However, the camera loves the cool, West Coast looker, so Neo’s ascension from dull hacker to savior is something the audience can buy. Moss’s Trinity is a stand by you man woman and makes an able sidekick/love interest for Neo, and it is she who carries the load in the relationship. She delivers all the passion and provides all the strength while Neo finds his place as the One.

The most impressive, influential, and groundbreaking films usually sweep the technical Academy Awards for the year in which they are released, which The Matrix did while American Beauty won the high-end trophies. However, like Star Wars, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Terminator, and Jurassic Park, The Matrix will stand the test of time as a technical landmark in cinematic history. Besides that, it’s a very good film. What it lacks in subtlety and intellect, it more than makes up for in visual bravado, suspense, and drama. Like the directors of the best films, the Wachowski’s let the images do the talking.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards: 4 wins: “Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing” (Dane A. Davis), “Best Effects, Visual Effects” (John Gaeta, Janek Sirrs, Steve Courtley, and Jon Thum), “Best Film Editing” (Zach Staenberg), and “Best Sound” (John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David E. Campbell, and David Lee)

2000 BAFTA Awards: 2 wins: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (John Gaeta, Steve Courtley, Janek Sirrs, and Jon Thum) and “Best Sound” (David Lee, John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David E. Campbell, and Dane A. Davis); 3 nominations: “Best Cinematography” (Bill Pope), “Best Editing” (Zach Staenberg), and “Best Production Design” (Owen Paterson)

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Friday, July 29, 2011

"Wild Wild West" Another Weird Western Disappointment

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux


Wild Wild West (1999)
Running time: 106 minutes (1 hour, 46 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for action violence, sex references and innuendo
DIRECTOR: Barry Sonnenfeld
WRITERS: S. S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price, and Peter S. Seaman; based on the screen story by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
PRODUCERS: Jon Peters and Barry Sonnenfeld
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Ballhaus
EDITOR: Jim Miller
COMPOSER: Elmer Bernstein

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY/SCI-FI/WESTERN

Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Selma Hayek, M. Emmett Walsh, Ted Levine, Garcelle Beauvais, and Ling Bai

Wild Wild West is a 1999 science fiction film starring Will Smith. The film is based upon the 1960s CBS television series, The Wild Wild West. While the TV series features lots of gadgets, the film focuses on bizarre machines and steampunk technology.

Jim West (Will Smith) is a brash gunslinger with a quick mouth. Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) is a U.S. Marshal with a mind for inventions and disguises. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), an embittered former Confederate, threatens the United States and President Ulysses S. Grant (also played by Kline). President Grant forces West and Gordon to join and to fight Loveless and his diabolical machines. The mismatched pair bickers its way to Loveless as the villain and his most devastating creation awaits the two heroes in Spider Canyon, Utah.

Sonnenfeld first came to acclaim as Joel and Ethan Coen’s cinematographer in films like Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing. He went onto shoot When Harry Met Sally and Misery for Rob Reiner. His career as a director has been hit (Get Shorty and Men in Black) and miss (Addams Family Values and For Love or Money). Wild Wild West falls somewhere in between, kind of leaning toward being a miss.

This film allegedly went through many reshoots to up the humor content, and the changes only served to make an already awkward film more awkward. Wild Wild West is a hybrid, and like the television series upon which it is based, “The Wild, Wild West” (1965-70), that was part western, part science fiction, part adventure, the film is also a mish mash of several genres. It is dressed up like a high priced costumed drama circa late 19th Century, set in the Deep South, Washington D. C., and the barren wild West. It has elements of sci-fi, specifically in the assorted gadgets, machines, and inventions. Its characters are clearly modern in their outlook and with their know-it-all sensibilities.

The script, by four veteran Hollywood writers with resumes full of scripts for action movies and cinema of the fantastic, bounces along the wall and stumbles about like a drunk. The plot is simple: stop Lawless before he defeats the U.S. The execution is senseless, very likely because too many hands were involved. No one person with a single vision was really in charge. West has many moments of genuine comedy and a few decent action sequences, but at its heart, it is a badly constructed, weak movie.

Will Smith does his best to carry the load, and his character is both brash and funny. His humor never comes across as strained, and Smith is seemingly comfortable acting captain of this sinking ship. His personality is lively, and his face, whether happy with his own jokes or stern with action readiness, is open and engaging. It’s a joy to watch him.

Kline is okay, but certainly miscast. Being older than Smith, he could have been the wise, older hand. He has his moments, but sometimes he just seems like a fifth wheel on a bike. He buries himself so far in make up for his duel role as President Grant that he gets lost in the part of this expendable character. He does a decent job in the part, but, like the movie, it’s not really worth noting.

Branagh is nutty and hilarious in his over the top performance as the psychotic, and vengeful Southern. Missing his lower extremities and riding a mechanical chair thing, Arliss Loveless is ridiculous, but he throws himself into a role so extreme and wacky, it belongs in a cheap novel or a superhero comic book. He’s simply a hoot. The rivalry between Smith’s West and Branagh’s Loveless is hilarious, and they make a very good screen pair.

Wild Wild West is a somewhat entertaining movie, but it is difficult to see where it had any potential to be better. The studio, Time-Warner, might have figured that it would be easy to sell a movie based on an idea with which people were already familiar, namely the television program The Wild, Wild West. They may have thought that audiences would readily accept a big budget update of this idea made with big named stars. It’s worked box office magic in the past, but, as in this case, it usually means average at best product. Even in its best moments, West is a light, fluffy distraction, forgotten soon after consumption.

5 of 10
C+

NOTES:
2000 Razzie Awards: 4 wins: “Worst Director” (Barry Sonnenfeld), “Worst Original Song” (Stevie Wonder, Kool Moe Dee, and Will Smith for the song "Wild Wild West"), “Worst Picture” (Warner Bros.), “Worst Screen Couple” (Kevin Kline and Will Smith), and “Worst Screenplay” (Jim Thomas, John Thomas, S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price, and Peter S. Seaman); 4 nominations: “Worst Actor” (Kevin Kline), “Worst Supporting Actor” (Kenneth Branagh), “Worst Supporting Actress” (Salma Hayek), and “Worst Supporting Actress” (Kevin Kline as a prostitute)


Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: High Quality Ensemble Leads "Galaxy Quest" (Happy B'day, Tim Allen)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 118 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Galaxy Quest (1999)
Running time: 102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – PG for some action violence, mild language, and sensuality
DIRECTOR: Dean Parisot
WRITERS: David Howard and Robert Gordon; from a story by David Howard
PRODUCERS: Mark Johnson and Charles Newirth
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jerzy Zielinski
EDITOR: Don Zimmerman

SCI-FI/COMEDY/ADVENTURE

Starring: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantino, Robin Sachs, Patrick Breen, Missi Pyle, Jed Rees, and Justin Long

For a period of 4 years from the late 70’s to the early 80’s, on a sci-fi television series called “Galaxy Quest,” the starship, NSEA Protector, and its crew set off on thrilling and dangerous missions in outer space, until the show was cancelled. Twenty years after the series began, the five stars of the classic show: Jason Nesmith as Commander Peter Quincy Taggart (Tim Allen); Gwen DeMarco as Lt. Tawny Madison (Sigourney Weaver); Alexander Dane as Dr. Lazarus (Alan Rickman); Fred Kwan as Tech Sgt. Chen (Tony Shaloub); and Tommy Webber as Lt. Laredo (Daryl Mitchell) are still in costume, making appearances at various Galaxy Quest shows and sci-fi conventions, making speeches and signing autographs for their rabid and die-hard fans.

However, a new group of fans that are a bit too “far out,” appear at one of the conventions, but it turns out they really are aliens – the Thermians from the planet Thermia located in the Klatuu Nebula. The Thermians, who saw Galaxy Quest when the TV transmissions of the show traveled through space and reached their planet, believe that Galaxy Quest was a series of “historical documents,” of the real events. They shockingly believe that Galaxy Quest was about a real commander and his crew. They’ve built an exact replica of the Protector, but it is fully functional and operational. The Thermians whisk the crew off into space on an adventure to help them in their all-too-real war against the vile and deadly General Roth’h’ar Sarris (Robin Sachs). Now, the original crew plus Galaxy Quest TV show extra Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) have to use their wits and their acting talents to save the Thermians and their own lives.

Galaxy Quest is simply an ode to the ultimate cult TV series, the original 1960’s “Star Trek.” This movie plays on the notion of the original Trek cast trying to escape the fame (or infamy) that came with being on the show, although the series’ enduring popularity made them famous and kept earning them money. Galaxy Quest’s hook is to ask the question, “What if the cast of such a show really had to be interstellar space adventurers taking on deadly galactic threats?” Ultimately, the film takes this novel idea and turns it into a superb, comic sci-fi film – one of the best sci-fi comedies ever to hit the screen. Anyone who has ever seen Star Trek will get the jokes and in-jokes because this film is so obviously a riff on everything that has to do with Star Trek, from the series itself to the Trek actors and the rabid Star Trek fan base, known as “Trekkies.”

I don’t know if someone who has never seen Star Trek will get this flick (“Galaxy Quest” was the title of an actual short lived Canadian TV series), but those who know Trek will love the gentle reminder of what made the series good and what makes it fun to be a fan. When Galaxy Quest seems to ask, “What if this were real?” we can feel that and can dream of how much fun it would be, and this winning and charming film captures that sense of fun.

8 of 10
A

Saturday, May 27, 2006

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