Showing posts with label 2004. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2004. Show all posts

Friday, February 19, 2021

#28DaysofBlack: "DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE" Chronicles Ongoing Rape of Africa's Natural Resources

[The continent of Africa – and yes, it is a continent – has seen a large amount of its natural resources exploited by Western Europe and the United States.  That includes people, fossil fuels, minerals, and food, with western corporations joining the exploitation fray.  However, neither the exploitation nor sale of Africa's natural resources has helped poor Africans escape poverty.  Sometimes, the situation becomes a horror movie scenario, as seen in the Oscar-nominated documentary, “Darwin's Nightmare.”]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 100 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004)
COUNTRY OF ORGIN:  Austria, Belgium, France, Canada, Finland, and Sweden; Languages: English, Russian, Swahili
Running time:  107 minutes
PRODUCERS:  Barbara Albert, Martin Gschlacht, Edouard Mauriat, Hubert Sauper, Antonin Svoboda, and Hubert Toint
EDITOR:  Denise Vindevogel
2006 Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Hubert Sauper, Raphael, Dimond, and Reverend Cleopa Knijage

Darwin's Nightmare is a 2004 documentary film written and directed by Hubert Sauper.  It was a multinational production, mainly Austrian, French, and Belgian.  The documentary examines the effects of fishing the Nile perch, a predatory fish, in Tanzania's Lake Victoria, which leads to food insecurity for many Tanzania families.

In his Oscar-nominated documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, director Hubert Sauper portrays an Africa where the fittest thrive and the weakest starve and die of disease.  The film is set in Tanzania, in the Mwanza City, one of the cities on the shores of Lake Victoria.  European interests make huge profits from the local fishing industries, feeding approximately two million Europeans per day while the locals around Lake Victoria starve.  The Tanzanians fend for themselves on fish heads and scraps, while their waters are emptied of perch – an example of globalization feeding foreign markets while locals starve.

Lake Victoria, which stretches over the Tanzanian plains, is struggling.  In the 1960’s, a scientist introduced the Nile perch into the ecosystem.  An enormous variant of the American perch, the Nile perch devour the other fish, practically wiping out all other life in the lake.  This was and remains a disaster for the local communities, but the multinational fishing factories thrive from this ecological disaster by processing and shipping abroad thousands of tons of perch every month.  While the planes leave loaded with fish, they don’t return with food and clothing for the needy.  Instead, they bring more weapons for the various wars and strife in Africa.  Meanwhile, Tanzania teeters on the brink of devastation and war.

Darwin’s Nightmare is grim, and in a sense it is one of those “important films,” a movie that seeks to inform viewers about issues and situations about which they should want to know.  The film covers how globalization harms local economies and depicts how the introduction of a single new element into an ecosystem can be disastrous.  On the other hand, Sauper’s film was hugely controversial in Tanzanian and in some quarters of Europe.  Tanzanian officials found the film’s portrayal of extreme poverty in Mwanza City exaggerated, and some claimed that a greater portion of Lake Victoria’s Nile perch was consumed locally and within Tanzania.  The controversy over the film even resulted in a book, The Other Side of Darwin’s Nightmare, by Francois Garcon.

The film is occasionally hard to watch, but riveting.  Also, listening to all the interview subjects who speak horribly broken English is distracting and occasionally aggravating.  Sauper’s lack of balance is too evident, and the film also lacks a broader context.  Sauper doesn’t interview academics or experts on any of the topics this film covers.  Where are the government officials, aid workers, and a wide range of representatives of the fishing industry?  Because of Sauper’s focus on prostitutes, glue-sniffing street kids, impoverished fisherman, the sick, and the family members of those who’ve died of HIV and AIDS, Darwin’s Nightmare comes across as a trip through a nightmare land created by Hieronymus Bosch.  It’s a spellbinding trip, but what Sauper excludes keeps a very good film from becoming a great documentary.

7 of 10

2006 Academy Awards:  1 nomination:  “Best Documentary, Features” (Hubert Sauper)

Saturday, June 30, 2007
REVISED: Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Friday, June 19, 2020

Review: "The Punisher" Could Have Been... But Isn't

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 64 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Punisher (2004)
Running time:  124 minutes (2 hours, 4 minutes)
MPAA – R for pervasive brutal violence, language and brief nudity
DIRECTOR:  Jonathan Hensleigh
WRITERS:  Michael France and Jonathan Hensleigh (based upon the Marvel Comics character created by)
PRODUCERS:  Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd
EDITORS:  Jeff Gullo and Steven Kemper
COMPOSER: Carlo Siliotto


Starring:  Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Will Patton, Laura Elena Harring, James Carpinello, Samantha Mathis, Eddie Jemison, Mark Collie, John Pinette, Kevin Nash, Ben Foster, and Roy Scheider

The Punisher is a 2004 action and crime thriller from director Jonathan Hensleigh.  The film is based on the Marvel Comics character, The Punisher/Frank Castle, that was created by writer Gerry Conway and artists John Romita, Sr. and Ross Andru and that made his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #129.  The Punisher the movie focuses on an undercover FBI agent who becomes a vigilante assassin after a corrupt businessman slaughters his entire family.

The Punisher introduces Frank Castle (Thomas Jane), a Delta Force veteran, who recently completed his final mission as an undercover FBI agent.  After hit men kill his wife, Maria (Samantha Mathis), and their children and leave him for dead, Castle declares a one-man war on the killers’ boss man, Howard Saint (John Travolta), and his organization.  Castle also befriends three lonely misfits who share the rundown apartment building where he holes up, while popping caps and cutting throats during his mission to take down Saint and his organization.

The Punisher may be one of the worst film adaptations of a comic book or comic book character ever made, although it’s certainly not as hard to watch as The Crow: City of Angels, another misbegotten movie based on a comic book character.  The Punisher's pace is ponderous, and its plot is the embodiment of monotony.  All the acting is bad except for a decent performance by character actor Will Patton as Quentin Glass.  The character is gay, and it’s nice to see that that fact is hardly acknowledged, except as a plot contrivance).  Eddie Jemison is also good as Mickey Duka, a flunky, and a character utterly wasted by The Punisher's bad script.

Jane’s speaking parts, both as Castle and as The Punisher, amount to short, tired burst of listless and limp-wristed one-liners.  After this sorry effort as Saint, Travolta will need another career boost from Quentin Tarantino or perhaps some other hot, new director who would just love to have the revolting one in his film.

Yeah, there are plenty of explosions in The Punisher, but they’re like candles on toast.  This movie isn’t even worth recommending as a rental.

1 of 10

Revised and reedited:  Friday, June 19, 2020

The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Review: "Bush's Brain" Also a Karl Rove Movie

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 51 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Bush’s Brain (2004)
Running time:  80 minutes (1 hour, 10 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for brief strong language
PRODUCERS/DIRECTORS:  Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob
WRITERS:  James C. Moore and Wayne Slater (based upon their book Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential)
EDITOR:  Tom Siiter


Starring:  Jacques Vroom (narrator), James C. Moore, Wayne Slater, Max Cleland, Richard Edgeworth, Bill Miller, Molly Ivins, Richard Leiby, Dave McNeely, and Glenn Smith

Bush's Brain is a 2004 political documentary film from writer-directors, Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob.  The film is based on the 2003 nonfiction book, Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, from writers James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, who adapted their book for this film.  The film received a limited theatrical release on December 31, 2004, before becoming available on DVD in 2005.

Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob's 2004 documentary, Bush’s Brain, takes a hard look at Karl RovePresident George W. Bush’s closest advisor, Rove has almost single-handedly shaped the policies of our nation under President Bush.  Rove has perhaps been the leading mind behind the “Republican revolution” since the mid-1990’s, and he has certainly changed the way the Republican Party runs its campaigns both nationally and locally.

However, Rove’s extremely close relationship to President Bush (who has called Rove his “boy genius”) has raised a question that disturbs some Americans, particularly those on the left of the political spectrum: Who really runs this country?  Is Bush an hand puppet and Rove the hand, or to put it nicely, is Bush a not too bright a mouthpiece for Rove’s political agenda?

Bush’s Brain features interviews with a number of journalists, reporters, and political pundits – many from Rove’s former base of operations, Texas.   A few of Rove’s former colleagues and opponents also weigh in on the man, and the directors also include much archival footage and material of Rove – who declined to be part of this film.

While Bush’s Brain does explore Rove’s political journey to the top of the heap as the presidential advisor (mostly through interviews of people who have worked for and against him), the film is soft on coverage of Rove’s part in the rise of George W. Bush from a man who frequently bankrupted the companies he began as a young businessman to a two-term governor of Texas and a two-term President of the United States.

This film, at 80 minutes, is probably about 40 minutes too short.  In order for Bush’s Brain to really explore Rove and his influence on President Bush, the film not only had to talk about the controversial 2000 Presidential elections, but also Rove’s influence on policy during Bush’s first term.  The film actually spends a little time on the Iraq War – not enough, but there is a lot more to Bush’s first term than a war.  Quite a bit of domestic policy changed – some of it at the behest of Bush’s religious supporters, some of it for corporate donors, and others for individual wealthy supporters.  Much of that likely had Rove’s fingerprints on it.

This film’s obsession with Iraq (which it shares with other film and TV about Bush) overshadows the social and political changes that the country has undergone since George W. Bush became President.  Rove’s fingerprints are also all over that.  Perhaps, the next Bush’s Brain could turn away from war and Rove’s alleged dirty tricks election campaigning and take a deeper look at national policy – post election scandal.  Still, what is here is quite good.  The talking heads that directors Mealy and Shoob parade before us are intelligent, engaging, and have some damn good Rove stories to tell – some sad and others quite pitiful and tragic.

7 of 10

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Re-edited: Friday, June 21, 2019

The text is copyright © 2019 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Review: "Never Die Alone" Uneven, but Inspired

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 132 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Never Die Alone (2004)
Running time:  88 minutes (1 hour, 28 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence, drug use, sexuality and language
DIRECTOR:  Ernest Dickerson
WRITER:  James Gibson (based upon the novel by Donald Goines)
PRODUCERS:  Alessandro Camon and Earl Simmons (DMX)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Matthew Libatique
EDITOR:  Stephen Lovejoy
COMPOSER:  George Duke
Black Reel Awards nominee


Starring:  DMX, David Arquette, Michael Ealy, Drew Sidora, Antwon Tanner, Luenell Campbell, Clifton Powell, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Aisha Tyler, Jennifer Sky, Reagan Gomez-Preston, and Art Evans

Never Die Alone is a 2014 crime drama from director Ernest R. Dickerson.  The film is based on the late author, Donald Goines' 1974 novel of the same name.  Starring rapper DMX, Never Die Alone the film focuses on a drug kingpin whose return home touches off a turf war.

After a small-time drug kingpin known as King David (DMX) is murdered, Paul (David Arquette), a young white reporter who witnessed the murder and brought King David to the hospital where he died, decides to investigate the circumstances leading up to King’s death.  Paul wants to use that as research for a investigative report that he hopes will get him a newspaper job, but David’s death also sets off a small, but very violent turf war.

As Paul listens to King David’s audiotape journal (heard as a voice-over narration that frames the film) which depicts King David’s rise, his hopes for the future and for redemption, and (unbeknownst to him) the final hour of his life, people are dying in an ever increasingly violent conflict.

Directed by Ernest Dickerson, Never Die Alone is a gritty, vulgar, violent, entertaining, and ultimately quite poignant crime drama.  Sadly, the film had a somewhat limited theatrical release and the studio never really gave it a chance to catch on; hopefully, many viewers will discover it on home video.

Two things work against Never Die Alone being a great film.  The first is that the film is really three movies.  The first half hour or so is a tension filled street-crime drama with wonderfully intriguing characters who have the all-important element that really sells a story – motivation.  The second film is a flashback of King David’s life, as narrated by his audio journal.  The third is Arquette’s Paul character prowling the streets where King David was murdered in an attempt to feel the gangsta life. On the surface, any of these three would make a good movie if the filmmakers focused on one and fully developed it, especially the first sequence and incidents surrounding King’s death.  Actually, the separation from David’s return and death to move to another story line is quite jarring and, for all its interesting moments afterwards, the film never really recovers from that.

The second thing that really works against the film is DMX’s narration.  It is acceptable that he isn’t a great actor, but the thing for a director to do is to not lean on him so much.  He’s credible as a hood-type, and he can certainly get better over time with more experience as an actor and maybe some acting lessons (like that’s gonna happen).  But the worst thing to give an inexperienced actor is extensive narration duties in a film.  Simply put, the syncopation and rhythm that made DMX such an admired rapper is missing in his narration for Never Die Alone.  That’s bad for this film because so much of King David’s character and about his motivation is told rather than shown.  Sometimes, what DMX is saying comes across as stiff, but to be fair, there are times when he really sells a scene and King David with inspired moments of pure passion.

Warts aside, DMX and David Arquette do fairly good jobs as this film’s stars, but there are some good supporting performances; the best of the lot is Michael Ealy.  Excellent in the Barbershop films, he should have acting jobs pouring in, and we should see him more.  Just as talented as a slew of young stars like Orlando Bloom, Ashton Kutcher, and Heath Ledger, I wonder why we don’t see Ealy more.

6 of 10

2005 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Director” (Ernest R. Dickerson)

Edited: Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Sharks Rule "Open Water"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 159 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Open Water (2004)
Running time:  79 minutes (1 hour, 19 minutes)
MPAA: Rated R for language and some nudity
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Laura Lau and Chris Kentis
COMPOSER:  Graeme Revell


Starring:  Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein, Estelle Lau, Michael E. Williamson, and John Charles

The subject of this movie review is Open Water, a 2003 thriller and psychological horror film from director Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau.  The film is loosely based on the story of an American couple who were accidentally left behind on a scuba diving excursion in 1998.  Open Water follows two scuba divers, from the beginning of their vacation to their ordeal after their tour boat accidentally leaves them behind, stranding the couple in shark infested waters.

With its estimated $130,000 budget and its little-engine-that-could spirit, Open Water has become a summer movie critical darling, one of those films that acts like counter programming in a time of the year when films are loud, dumb, and fast and aimed at boys and twenty something men still in a mental state of boyhood.  But is Open Water the scariest movie of the summer?  No, it isn’t.  Jaws does a way better job selling a similar subject matter, and Open Water’s other claim to fame, that it’s shot with digital cameras, is also not impressive, but this is still an entertaining little thriller.

In the film, upwardly mobile young couple, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), take a much-needed vacation that includes a scuba diving excursion.  However, during the dive, their tour boat leaves early after one of the tour guides miscounts the number of divers returning to the boat.  Susan and Daniel surface to find themselves stranded in open water and soon learn that they are also in shark-infested waters.  As the hours pass, the couples comes to the grim conclusion that no one realizes that they were left behind, and as darkness falls danger looms under each wave.

Open Water is based upon the real life events from 1998 when American tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind by their diving boat off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  This incident became a stunning and horrifying news headline, and the tale does make great fodder for film.  Open Water does indeed payoff in thrills, dread, and scares.  However, the film has a major flaw in that the leads, Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, are good but not strong actors and both them and their characters are not endearing or very likeable for that matter.

From the early moments in this film, Ms. Ryan and Travis seem like the kind of average actors for which low budget usually settle.  Early on, they don’t come across as being at all acceptable as actors, but as the film goes on, their performances markedly improve.  But as frightening as the film scenario is (and the idea of being stranded out in open water, let alone open shark-infested water is both hair-raising and spine-tingling), the best the duo can do is make you feel sorry for the couple.  There is a distance about the actors’ personalities, and maybe that carries over to the characters, as well as explaining why the boat left the film couple stranded.  Susan and Daniel are standoffish and don’t make themselves part of the diving group, so no one missed them when they didn’t return to the boat.

Still, I imagine how great this film would have been with two Hollywood movie stars chewing up the scenery and making a very good scary movie into a great, memorable scary movie.  That’s what Open Water is – not memorable.  It’s fun and scary, but as unremarkable as most film product.  It’s good enough to be seen in a theatre, but anyone who waits for home video won’t be missing out on a cinematic experience in the theatre.  Like a lot of good horror movies and thrillers, Open Water is out of your mind by the time you walk out of the theatre.  That’s a shame because what happened to the real life Lonergans and their fictional counterparts is sad and tragic.  Too bad Open Water is only a mild version of that tragedy.

6 of 10

Updated:  Monday, July 28, 2014

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review: "Club Dread" is an Awkward Mix of Horror and Comedy (Happy B'day, Bill Paxton)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 93 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Broken Lizard’s Club Dread (2004)
Running time:  104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence/gore, sexual content, language and drug use
DIRECTOR:  Jay Chandrasekhar
WRITERS:  Broken Lizard (Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, and Jay Chandrasekhar)
PRODUCER:  Richard Perello
EDITOR:  Ryan Folsey
COMPOSER:  Nathan Barr


Starring:  Bill Paxton, Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske, Brittany Daniel, Jordan Ladd, M.C. Gainey, Samm Levine, Lindsay Price, and Michael Yurchak

The subject of this movie review is Club Dread, a 2004 comic horror-thriller directed by Jay Chandrasekhar.  The film stars and is written by the comedy troupe, Broken Lizard, of which Chandrasekhar is a member.  Club Dread focuses on the staff members of an island resort, as they try to stop a serial killer’s rampage ... or at least hide bodies.

Broken Lizard, the comedy troupe who gave us the hilarious Super Troopers, returns with a new film decidedly different from Super Troopers, and it is entitled Club DreadCoconut Pete’s Coconut Beach Resort is an island retreat off the coast of Costa Rica for swinging singles i.e. people who want to have lots of recreational sex.  The owner is Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton), a burnt out rock singer/songwriter who is a low rent version of Jimmy Buffet.

As the movie begins, a machete-wielding maniac starts killing Pete’s employees.  After destroying the only two boats on the island, the killer threatens Coconut Pete and his staff:  keep it business as usual; do not tell the tourists about his murderous escapades or he will kill them all.  Of course, he keeps on killing; hilarity and paranoia ensue.

On the surface, Club Dread is a strange film, and it would be incorrect to call it a horror comedy.  It’s more a comic slasher flick, and it pulls off a rare trick – the horror film that is genuinely funny, not ironic and self-referential funny like the Scream franchise.  Amazingly, the film has all the elements that are absolutely required to make a slasher flick.  What makes it funny?  The answer would be the actions of the characters.  Although the players are virtually to a man nothing but wispy caricatures, the things they do and say are outrageous, silly, ridiculous, and sometimes hilarious.

The main reason this film doesn’t become a disaster is director Jay Chandrasekhar, a member of Broken Lizard.  He has a deft comic touch, and, for the most part, it works.  He manages to take his troupe’s peculiar brand of comedy and make it at least palatable to a broader audience.  Club Dread isn’t by any means a really good film.  It’s a decent horror flick with lots of laughs.  But taken as a whole Chandrasekhar had made a film that will be a good video rental for horror fans.  And in an odd way, there is something about Club Dread that makes it hard to stop watching.

5 of 10

Updated:  Saturday, May 17, 2014

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: Visually Splendid "The Merchant of Venice" is Soft on Story (Happy B'day, Shakespeare)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 93 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Merchant of Venice (2004)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: U.K., Italy, Luxembourg
Running time:  131 minutes (2 hours, 11 minutes)
MPAA – R for some nudity
DIRECTOR:  Michael Radford
WRITER:  Michael Radford (based upon the play by William Shakespeare)
PRODUCERS:  Cary Brokaw, Michael Lionello Cowan, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette,
EDITOR:  Lucia Zucchetti
COMPOSER:  Jocelyn Pook
BAFTA Awards nominee

DRAMA with elements of romance

Starring:  Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson, Kris Marshall, Charlie Cox, Heather Goldenhersh, and David Harewood

The subject of this movie review is The Merchant of Venice, a 2004 romantic drama from writer-director Michael Radford.  The film is based upon the comedy play, The Merchant of Venice, written by William Shakespeare around 1596.  Radford’s film adaptation is apparently the first full-length, theatrical, sound film version of The Merchant of Venice.  The Merchant of Venice the film is set in 16th century Venice and finds a merchant having to pay a gruesome price after he must default on a large loan he borrowed from a Jewish moneylender for a friend.

William Shakespeare is once again brought to the screen, this time in The Merchant of Venice, another film adaptation of his play about passion, justice, and anti-Semitism.  Set in late 16th century Venice, the story finds Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) lacking money to woo an heiress, Portia of Belmont (Lynn Collins), because his lavish lifestyle has left him deeply in debt.  So he turns to his merchant friend, Antonio (Jeremy Irons), for the money.  Antonio, however, has his cash tied up in ships and overseas trade, so he secures a loan of 3,000 ducats from Shylock (Al Pacino), a Jew.

In Venice, Jews cannot own property, and they are forced to live in a “geto” (a walled-off section of the city), having only limited access to the city.  Antonio has publicly abused Shylock and other Jews for the practice of usury – money lending.  Spiteful and bitter, Shylock is glad to have Antonio in his debt.  In order to secure the money he wants to give Bassanio, Antonio promises that if he defaults on the loan, he’ll pay Shylock with a pound of flesh – literally.

Bassanio leaves with his friend Gratanio (Kris Marshall) to woo his love, but finds that Portia and her lady-in-waiting, Nerissa (Heather Goldenhersh), have been entertaining other suitors.  Like them, Bassanio must engage in a game of chance (blindly choosing which of three caskets holds the prize that earns Portia’s hand).  However, Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson), Shylock’s daughter, elopes with Bassanio’s friend, Lorenzo (Charlie Cox), and takes a large amount of her father’s personal wealth with her.  Wounded to his very soul, Shylock focuses on Antonio’s debt to him, and when Antonio does default on the loan, Shylock demands his pound of flesh.

I’ve never seen a previous film version of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (such as the 1973 version starring Laurence Olivier), and I’m only familiar with the text in passing, having never read the entire work.  Thus, I can only judge this film on its contents or merits.  Michael Radford’s version is a somber narrative with occasional explosions of passionate arguments about prejudice, bigotry, and discriminations, and only a few moments of genuinely harmonious scenes of romantic love.  Despite a diverse range of elegant and sumptuous costumes (for which costume designer Sammy Sheldon earned a 2005 BAFTA Award nomination), evocative sets, and stunning locales set on sunny isles (Venice, Italy), Radford’s film is marred by mumbled dialogue, dour characters, and an air of mean-spiritedness that permeates even the most pleasant moments.

The performances are adequate for transforming Shakespeare to the screen, but only Pacino gives a memorable performance as the righteous and wronged Shylock.  If you, dear reader, need to cheat for an English lit class, Cliff Notes would be better than this.  The film merits as a visual treat, but limps as a narrative.

5 of 10

Saturday, May 06, 2006

2005 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Costume Design” (Sammy Sheldon)

Updated:  Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: "House of Flying Daggers" is a Martial Arts Spectacle (Happy B'day, Ziyi Zhang)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 71 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shi mian mai fu (2004)
International English title: House of Flying Daggers
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  China/Hong Kong; Language: Mandarin
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of stylized martial arts violence and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Zhang Yimou
WRITERS:  Feng Li, Bin Wang, and Zhang Yimou
PRODUCERS:  William Kong and Zhang Yimou
EDITOR:  Long Cheng
COMPOSER:  Shigeru Umebayashi
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Ziyi Zhang, and Dandan Song

The subject of this movie review is Shi mian mai fu, a 2004 Chinese and Hong Kong wuxia film that is known in English as House of Flying Daggers.  A romantic drama and martial arts-fantasy, the film is directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern).  House of Flying Daggers follows a police captain and the beautiful member of a rebel group he breaks out of prison.

China, 859 A.D. – it is near the end of the Tang Dynasty, and corrupt leaders rule over the country.  However, a revolutionary faction known as the Flying Daggers challenges authority, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.  Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau), two police detectives, believe Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a blind dancer, is a member of the group.  They hatch a plan for Jin to pretend to be a rebel-of-sorts who rescues Mei from jail.  He then accompanies her to the north country in the hopes that she will take him to the House of Flying Daggers.  However, Mei’s beauty bowls over Jin, and he finds himself determined to protect her on their perilous journey; on the other hand, it seems as if no one is who he or she says he or she is.

As a follow up to his internationally acclaimed film known as Hero (2002, but released wide theatrically to U.S. audiences in 2004), director Zhang Yimou once again delves into China’s legendary martial past in Shi mian mai fu or House of Flying Daggers.  House of Flying Daggers is similar to the 2002 film except that House is more like a musical poem with romantic trappings, with romance having both the modern connotations and its 19-century literary and artistic meanings.  Hero was an epic tale of espionage, romance and revenge that looked at China’s mythical past as a celebration of Chinese nationalism.  Flying Daggers is more emotional; the stunning cinematography (by far the best of 2004), the luxuriant costumes, the abundantly colorful back drops are meant to evoke feelings more than to get the viewer to think about the film’s surprising plot twists and turns.

Action choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung, who worked with Yimou on Hero, once again turns in some delicious fight scenes that are different from his work in Hero and meant to fit the mood and impressionistic flavor of Flying Daggers.  The cast is also quite good, and it’s a shame that Ziyi Zhang was once again ignored by Oscar, as she was for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  She has a wonderful talent for playing dualities:  coy to aggressive, innocent to beguiling, weak to strong, and helpless to fully capable.  Her face is a small mask, capable of a seemingly endless array of subtle shifts that embellish both the character and the story.  Takeshi Kaneshiro, who almost gets lost next to Ziyi Zhang, plays Jin with his heart on his sleeve and his soul open for the audience to see the conflicting emotions within him, a performance that really drives this film’s tricky plot.

House of Flying Daggers is a visually arresting film (frame after frame of breathtaking, mind-bending beauty), maybe more so than Hero.  However, the film does seem to dry up on several occasions, and the script is careless with some of the character motivation.  Still, the film’s intense and overwhelming visual beauty makes it a must see for lovers of cinema, and fans of Asian cinema and hot martial arts will also certainly like this.

8 of 10


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Updated: Sunday, February 09, 2014

2005 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao)

2005 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Foreign Language Film (Hong Kong)

2005 BAFTA Awards:  9 nominations: “Best Film not in the English Language” (William Kong and Yimou Zhang), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Ziyi Zhang), “Best Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao), “Best Editing” (Long Cheng), “Best Production Design” (Tingxiao Huo), “Best Costume Design” (Emi Wada), “Best Sound” (Jing Tao and Roger Savage), “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Angie Lam, Andy Brown, Kirsty Millar, and Luke Hetherington), and “Best Make Up/Hair” (Lee-na Kwan, Xiaohai Yang, and Siu-Mui Chau)

2005 Image Awards: “Outstanding Independent or Foreign Film”

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: "The Manchurian Candidate" Remake a Missed Oppurtunity

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 166 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Running time: 130 minutes (2 hours, 10 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence and some language
DIRECTOR:  Jonathan Demme
WRITERS:  Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris (based upon the film screenplay by George Axelrod and based upon a novel by Richard Condon)
PRODUCERS:  Tina Sinatra, Scott Rudin, Jonathan Demme, and Ilona Herzberg
EDITORS:  Carol Littleton, A.C.E. and Craig McKay, A.C.E.
COMPOSER:  Rachel Portman
BAFTA Award nominee

DRAMA/THRILLER with elements of mystery and science fiction

Starring:  Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, Kimberly Elise, Jeffrey Wright, Ted Levine, Anthony Mackie, Bruno Ganz, Simon McBurney, Al Franken, and Miguel Ferrer

The subject of this movie review is The Manchurian Candidate, a 2004 thriller and drama film from director Jonathan Demme.  The film is an adaptation of the 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate, from author Richard Condon.  It is also a re-imagining of director John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film adaptation of the book.  In the 2004 film, a war veteran begins to believe that during the Gulf War, soldiers in his U.S. Army unit were kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes.

If you’re going to remake a great movie, you should try to make the new movie also be a great film, or at the very least try to make it a…very good film.  The Manchurian Candidate, Jonathan Demme's (The Silence of the Lambs) update of the Frank Sinatra classic of the same title, which was directed by John Frankenheimer, is neither great nor very good.  It’s the worst thing one could get from the esteemed filmmakers involved in the project, all of whom have glowing resumes.  The new The Manchurian Candidate is a flat out average film that’s barely worth an exciting trip to the video store.

In the original 1962 film, the Manchurian Candidate was a sleeper agent/assassin trained by the Red Chinese.  In the new film, the sleeper agent is Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Liev Schreiber).  Raymond Shaw is the subject of a mind control project by Manchurian Global, a huge conglomerate with its hands in everything from providing services to the military to funding political campaigns and owning politicians.  With the help of their political cronies and Raymond’s mother, Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Meryl Streep), Raymond, a young Congressman from New York, is made the Vice-Presidential nominee on the opposition (likely the Democrats, but not directly named) party’s ticket in the upcoming presidential race.

Raymond had once been Sergeant Raymond Shaw back in 1991 during Operation Desert Shield just before it became Operation Desert Storm.  He answered to U.S. Army Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington).  Washington, Shaw, and the rest of their platoon were ambushed in Iraq, but all they remember about the incident is that Shaw single-handedly saved the lives of the entire platoon (except for two men who were killed during the attack) after Major Marco had been knocked unconscious.

However, Ben Marco runs into another platoon buddy, Corporal Al Melvin (Jeffrey Wright), after a Boy Scout assembly where Marco recounts Shaw’s heroism.  Melvin is disheveled, and he tells Marco a fantastic tale of strange dreams he’s been having about their platoon being kidnapped and experimented on after they were ambushed.  Melvin’s story contradicts the official version of what happened in Kuwait, the one that made Shaw a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.  Although, Marco is uncomfortable with Melvin’s tale, he knows there is a ring of truth to it because he also has never been comfortable with the official version of the ambush and their rescue.  He thinks someone was inside his head after his platoon was ambushed, and he wonders if the same thing happened to Shaw.  Marco must find out, and he’s running out because the nation just may be voting for a man whose mind is controlled by sinister forces.

It’s supposedly not always fair to compare the new version of something to the old, but it happens anyway.  Nearly everything that made the classic black and white The Manchurian Candidate an unusually creepy and unique suspense thriller is present in the 2004 version, but the filmmakers have taken the characters, plot, and settings (Korea becomes the Persian Gulf in the new film) and made a flat thriller, in which the thrills only occasionally register.  The surprises are mild, and while the changes made for the new film seem like novel ideas, the filmmakers don’t get much heat from them.

I blame everybody.  Denzel Washington’s performance is either phoned in or overwrought, but it’s his worst in a long time.  Meryl Streep tries to get traction from her evil character, but it’s a performance wasted on an all-too-phony character; besides, Ms. Streep just can’t replace Angela Landsbury’s mega evil mom from the original.  I place the most blame on director Jonathan Demme.  Back in the 1980’s, his novel spin on pedestrian film stories and his quirky characters were stunningly refreshing.  He hit the big time with the hugely entertaining and very well done The Silence of the Lambs, but since then, he has become a big time Hollywood player making mediocre films.  He continues that trend with The Manchurian Candidate.

Early Internet rumor mongering about The Manchurian Candidate described this film as a hot political potato that took sharp swipes at President Hand Puppet and his administration, swipes that would draw blood like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 did, but no such luck.  You wouldn’t miss much if you waited for this to appear on TV – basic cable TV.

4 of 10

2005 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Meryl Streep)

2005 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Meryl Streep)

2005 Black Reel Awards:  2 nominations:  “Best Supporting Actor” (Jeffrey Wright) and “Best Supporting Actress” (Kimberly Elise)

Updated:  Sunday, November 10, 2013

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: "Suspect Zero" is Not All it Can Be (Happy B'day, Henry Lennix)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 171 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Suspect Zero (2004)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPAA – R for violent content, language, and some nudity
DIRECTOR:  E. Elias Merhige
WRITERS:  Zak Penn and Billy Ray; from a story by Zak Penn
PRODUCERS:  Paula Wagner, Gaye Hirsch, and E. Elias Merhige
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Michael Chapman, ASC (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  John Gilroy and Robert K. Lambert, A.C.E.
COMPOSER:  Clint Mansell

CRIME/MYSTERY/THRILLER with elements of horror and sci-fi

Starring:  Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss, Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlain, Julian Reyes, Keith Campbell, William Mapother, and Buddy Joe Hooker

The subject of this movie review is Suspect Zero, a 2004 crime thriller starring Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley.  The film focuses on two characters, a mysterious serial killer who is hunting other serial killers and an FBI agent who suspects there may be more to this unusual vigilante than anyone can imagine.

A traveling salesman is found dead in his car just across the Arizona/New Mexico state line, and the killer performed some kind of ritual on the victim’s body.  The FBI and police wonder if there are others.  A second murder victim, a sixth-grade teacher from Boulder, Colorado, is found bound and gagged in the trunk of the car.  His killer also marked his body, so the police wonder if the two murders are connected.

FBI Agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) isn’t sure, but he knows that the third murder is a personal message from the killer to him.  The victim is Raymond Starkey (Keith Campbell), a rapist/murder who escaped justice after Mackelway illegally goes to Mexico and does his Dirty-Harry-doesn’t-have-to-follow-the-rules routine that gets his case thrown out and lets Mackelway slip from the crack of Lady Justice’s butt cheeks.

Before long Agent Mackelway believes that the murderer is a man named Benjamin O’Ryan (Sir Ben Kingsley), and O’Ryan is either taunting him or helping him.  Mackelway’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of his ex-partner FBI Agent Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss).  He’ll need her to support him as the pressure mounts, and mysterious images…or could they be messages start to blossom in his mind as he tries to solve the riddle of Ryan and the next killer Ryan is hunting, the ultimate serial killer, Suspect Zero.

If, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details, it’s those devilish details that keep the mystery thriller, Suspect Zero, from becoming a great mystery thriller, but as the film is, it’s a damn good mystery thriller when all is said and done.  The film’s lone problem is its biggest, the slightly-more-than-paper-thin characters.  The character we get the most information about is Eckhart’s Mackelway, enough to find his plight and mission intriguing.  The script doesn’t give us enough to really enjoy and embrace him, and he’s the good guy, an enjoyable, embraceable kind of guy.  However, concerning Mackelway’s colleagues and the rest of the cast, we get next to nothing, just enough about them to move the plot.  There’s so little chemistry between Eckhart’s Mackelway and Ms. Moss’ Fran Kulok that if the filmmakers had replaced Kulok with a gay lover we still wouldn’t notice the character.

While the plot is the film’s strongpoint, the script isn’t.  It’s more or less a vehicle to move along genre conventions and to move the movie from one mystery, one murder, or one scary moment to the next.  It seems as if writer Zak Penn’s original script that he finished in 1997 was really a novel.  Screenwriter Billy Ray’s revisions tried to bring the novel back down to being a movie that runs just under two hours at the cost of characterization.  Luckily, both writers have made a career of composing actions and thrills for film so the missteps still make for a riveting movie.

When all is said and done and we look past the warts and all, Suspect Zero is not bad or great, but pretty good.  If you don’t mind the intense concentration this film’s oblique concepts and storytelling requires of you, and you accept that this is one of those times when you just can’t sit back and not think, then Suspect Zero will rock your recliner even if it doesn’t rock your world.

6 of 10

Updated: Saturday, November 16, 2013

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


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Suspenseful "Taking Lives" is Also Predictable (Happy B'day, Ethan Hawke)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 36 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Taking Lives (2004)
Running time:  103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence including disturbing images, language and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  D.J. Caruso
WRITER:  Jon Bokenkamp, from a screenstory by Jon Bokenkamp (based upon the novel by Michael Pye)
PRODUCER:  Mark Canton and Bernie Goldmann
EDITOR:  Anne V. Coates
COMPOSER:  Philip Glass

CRIME/MYSTERY/THRILLER with elements of action and drama

Starring:  Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez, Tchéky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade, and Paul Dano

The subject of this movie review is Taking Lives, a 2004 psychological thriller from director D.J. Caruso.  The film is loosely based on the novel, Taking Lives, a thriller written by Michael Pye and first published in 1999.  Taking Lives the movie focuses on an FBI profiler who is called in by French Canadian police in order to help them catch a serial killer that takes on the identity of each new victim.

Have modern film audiences seen everything?  Are they too jaded?  Sometimes I think they are, and sometimes I don’t.  Still, if films like Taking Lives are any indication, someone thinks film audiences, if they haven’t seen it all, have seen a lot.  Perhaps, a directors and screenwriters feel impelled to employ every twist and turn of a plot or story to shock the audiences into thinking, “Gee, I’ve never seen that before!”

In Taking Lives, Angelina Jolie is Illeana, an FBI profiler on loan to the French Canadian police in Montreal.  She is trying to track a serial killer who takes on the identity of each new victim.  When the police turn up Costa (Ethan Hawke), an alleged witness to one of the killer’s crimes, Illeana has an important lead in finding the illusive murderer, but when she begins to have strong feelings for Costa, she ends up getting dangerously closer to the mystery killer than she ever intended.

The film is competently directed, enough so to make it a standard and maybe a bit clunky, by-the-book thriller.  The acting is somewhat suspect.  In some scenes, Ms. Jolie hits her stride and without a word of dialogue, she’s able to transform Illeana from the typical, cardboard cutout FBI girl detective into a serious investigator with creepy insight into the mind of a psycho killer.  At other moments, her performance is pedestrian, and the only thing left for the viewer is to enjoy her beauty and admire those magical lips.

Taking Lives has some genuinely suspenseful and terrifying moments, but early in the film it starts to be a little too obvious who the killer really is and everything else becomes poorly disguised red herrings.  Taking Lives isn’t all that bad; it’s actually quite intriguing in a few places.  However, it’s not necessarily worth a trip to the theatre, but it’ll probably make a fairly decent rental.

5 of 10

Updated:  Wednesday, November 06, 2013

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: "Starsky and Hutch" is Average Entertainment (Happy B'day, Snoop Dogg)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 27 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Starsky & Hutch (2004)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – PR-13 for drug content, sexual situations, partial nudity, language and some violence
DIRECTOR:  Todd Phillips
WRITERS:  John O’Brien, Scot Armstrong and Todd Phillips, from a story Steve Long and John O’Brien (based upon characters created by William Blinn)
PRODUCERS:  William Blinn, Stuart Cornfeld, Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig, and Alan Riche
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Barry Peterson (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Leslie Jones
COMPOSER:  Theodore Shapiro

COMEDY/CRIME with some elements of action

Starring:  Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Fred Williamson, Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, Jason Bateman, Amy Smart, Carmen Electra, George Cheung, Chris Penn, Patton Oswalt, Jenard Burks, The Bishop Don Magic Juan, and Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul

The subject of this movie review is Starsky & Hutch, a 2004 crime comedy from director Todd Phillips.  The film is based on the 1970s television series, Starsky & Hutch, a police drama-thriller that was created by William Blinn and was originally broadcast on the ABC television network from 1975 to 1979.  The film is a kind of prequel to the original television series.  Starsky & Hutch the movie follows two streetwise cops who fight crime in their red-and-white Ford Torino.

With my refined tastes, I should technically be repulsed by film remakes of 70’s television programs, but repulsed or otherwise, I’ll generally see them.  Still, I’d planned on seeing the controversial Mel Gibson Jesus movie, but it was sold out, and there was the poster for Starsky & Hutch staring me in the face.  Though I had to settle on something I hadn’t planned on seeing at the time, it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of Starsky and Hutch.  It’s a fairly funny film, but you wouldn’t have missed a cinematic event that must be seen on the big screen if you’d waited for home video or TV.

Set in a sort of anachronistic version of the 1970’s, S&H is the story of two streetwise detectives who form an unlikely partnership.  David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is an anal by-the-books guy, who actually does nothing but screw up, despite his attention to rules.  Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is a genial kind of guy, always hanging loose, but he is also the kind of cop who breaks the law when it suits him.  Hutch robs bookies for their loot, and he uses illegal drugs.  The mismatched pair gets on the nerves of their boss, Captain Dobey (Fred Williamson), relies on tips from an omniscient street informer, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), and busts crime in Starksy’s 1974 red-and-white, souped-up Ford Torino.  Their first big case together involves a respectable businessman, Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), who may be a big time cocaine dealer.  However, Starsky and Hutch’s bumbling and lack of hard evidence dog their case every step of the way.

Starsky & Hutch has some extremely hilarious moments, not as many as, say, Scary Movie 3.  S&H is structured like SM3 in that S&H’s plot, story, and script are basically an elaborate, but dumb, blueprint to layout jokes.  S&H’s script is, however, nothing like the disaster of that was SM3’s script.  S&H also reminds me of another of director Todd Phillip’s hits, Old School (2003): lots of funny scenes, but ultimately a lame, by-the-book, Hollywood yuck fest that plays it way too safe.

This is also one of the times that Ben Stiller’s shtick, that of the angry, quick-tempered nerd, works for the film.  Owen Wilson is a great screen presence; the camera loves him, and the role of the amiable Hutch easily fits Owen’s usually warm and generous film persona.

I generally enjoyed this film’s deep tongue in the tongue-in-cheek mode.  Starsky and Hutch is not to be taken seriously, nor does the film try to make you do so.  The quasi-70’s setting is a hoot, at least early on, but the film’s period atmosphere eventually dissolves into mere background noise.  There should have been much more Snoop Dogg because he surprisingly has good screen presence.  Also, Will Ferrell’s (who doesn’t get a screen credit) riotous turn as Big Earl, a man in the county lockup with serious man crush issues, is certainly a reason to see this film, at home or in a theatre.

5 of 10

2005 Razzie Awards:  2 nominations: “Worst Actor” (Ben Stiller) and “Worst Supporting Actress” (Carmen Electra)

Updated:  Sunday, October 20, 2013


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: "Team America: World Police" is Crazy, Smart and True (Happy B'day, Trey Parker)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 209 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Team America: World Police (2004)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPAA – R for graphic, crude & sexual humor, violent images and strong language; all involving puppets
DIRECTOR:  Trey Parker
WRITERS:  Pam Brady, Matt Stone and Trey Parker
PRODUCERS:  Scott Rudin, Matt Stone, and Trey Parker
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Bill Pope, A.S.C. (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Thomas M. Vogt
COMPOSER:  Harry Gregson-Williams


Starring:  (voices) Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche, and Paul Louis

The subject of this movie review is Team America: World Police, a 2004 satirical comedy film from the team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the long-running animated series, “South Park.”  The film’s cast is composed of marionettes (puppets) instead of live actors.  Team America: World Police follows a popular Broadway actor who is recruited by an elite counter-terrorism organization to help stop a dictator who is plotting global terror attacks.

Team America: World Police may be 2004’s funniest film.  Some may consider it the most obnoxious and crass movie of the year, especially after viewing the graphic puppet “sex scene.”  It will certainly go down as one of the most outrageous movies not made by John Waters.  It’s a wonderful send up of action movies, especially as those made by super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the hilarious characters that populate them.  Even the musical scores to Bruckheimer films get it up the butt and in the mouth from this movie.  It’s also a wicked satire of American military aggression and the celebrities who protest it.  However, as good as the film is (and it’s quite good), Team America: World Police frequently falls on its own spear.

Team America is an international police force dedicated to maintaining global security.  And they’re also marionettes; you may best remember marionettes as those puppets on the venerable British TV children’s series, “Thunderbirds.”  Team America’s latest mission takes them to Paris, France, where they fight a handful of terrorists with WMD’s, also known as weapons of mass destruction.  Team America also manages to destroy Paris’ most famous landmarks, and also loose a team member to a terrorist’s bullets.

Team America’s leader, Spottswoode, a gray-headed, older, distinguished gentleman, recruits a young Broadway actor named Gary to replace the fallen comrade.  Spottswoode thinks that Gary will make the perfect spy because in college he was a double major in theatre and world languages.  The other Team America members:  Lisa, Sarah, Chris, and Joe, are wary at first, but they back him up on their first mission to Cairo to infiltrate a band of Islamic fundamentalists with WMD’s.

There is however a larger crisis looming.  Power-mad dictator Kim Jong Il of North Korea has planned a series of simultaneous global terror attacks – imagine 9/11 times 2356.  He’s convinced the Hollywood Film Actors Guild, or F.A.G., and their leader, actor Alec Baldwin, to support a conference in North Korea in which all world leaders will attend.  The conference is merely a cover for the launch of the worldwide terror strikes, which will occur while Baldwin gives his peacenik keynote speech.  Can Team America stop Kim Jong Il…and the actors?

Team America: World Police is the second major studio film from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the uproarious and bawdy animated program, “South Park,” on Comedy Central.  Team America, on one hand, is a delightful and loving send up of “Thunderbirds” and the other puppet marionette shows produced by England’s Century 21.  On the other hand, the film is mostly a vicious and brutal satire of the contemporary American political landscape and American self-righteousness.  The use of marionettes instead of actors greatly takes the sense of people getting made fun of to a level that human actors couldn’t go.

Parker/Stone use clever dialogue, over-the-top violence, and hyper-patriotic songs to skewer heavy-handed U.S. military offenses, strikes, and pre-emptive attacks on international locales.  They also use marionettes that closely resemble well known Hollywood and celebrities that protest U.S. military action.  The marionettes, in some cases, barely look like the stars that they’re supposed to resemble; in some cases the resemblance is just close enough not to get the filmmakers sued.  Still, it works enough so that such stars as Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon, Helen Hunt and others are mercilessly lampooned.

But is the movie good?  The answer is a resounding yes; it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years.  However, it is mean-spirited, graphic, obnoxious, brutal, vicious, vulgar, filthy, foul, nasty, rank, etc.  Sometimes, I had a hard time believing that Parker and Stone were going so far in their satire and humor.  Still, they’re not frat boys out of control; every joke and satirical comment and farcical moment seems well conceived.

Team America: World Police, in the end, takes the side of the “good guys,” but Parker and Stone obviously only trust them a little more than the “bad guys.”  They insist that even the protagonists be viewed with a wary eye, so in the end, it’s as if they question that anyone can be trusted.  Fighting assholes who want to kill everyone is a dirty job, and the heroes and their charges may not be “all that” themselves.  Team America: World Police is not perfect, but it’s the work of frankly honest and only barely inhibited filmmakers.  That’s refreshing when “looking good” is so important these days.

8 of 10

Updated:  Saturday, October 19, 2013

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


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: "Seed of Chucky" Gleefully Trashy and Fun

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 139 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Seed of Chucky (2004)
Running time:  87 minutes (1 hour, 27 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong horror violence/gore, sexual content, and language
DIRECTOR:  Don Mancini
WRITER:  Don Mancini (based upon characters he created)
PRODUCER:  Corey Sienega and David Kirschner
EDITOR:  Chris Dickens
COMPOSER:  Pino Donaggio


Starring:  Jennifer Tilly (also voice), Redman, Hannah Spearritt, John Waters, and Billy Boyd (voice) and Brad Dourif (voice), Keith-Lee Castle, and Steve Lawton

The subject of this movie review is Seed of Chucky, a 2004 comic horror film from writer-director Don Mancini.  It is the fifth movie in the Child’s Play franchise, and a direct sequel to 1998’s Bride of Chucky.  Seed of Chucky spoofs other horror films, trashy TV shows, and celebrity culture.  To date, it is the last film in the franchise to be released in theatres.

Seed of Chucky opens with a new character.  This is the now grown version of the infant creature born (at the end of Bride) of the unholy sexual union of the two killer dolls, Chucky (voice of Brad Dourif) and Tiffany (voice of Jennifer Tilly).  Six years after his birth, the doll-child is a slave to a sleazy ventriloquist named Psychs (Keith-Lee Castle), who might not really be a ventriloquist; Psychs has named the doll creature, Shitface (voice of Billy Boyd).

Trapped in Great Britain, the doll-child eventually escapes to Hollywood, where he finds Chucky and Tiffany dolls on a movie set.  He inadvertently recites the “voodoo” chant that brings Chucky and Tiffany’s spirits back to life in these movie dolls.  Tiffany and Chucky are surprised, but proud parents.  However, they discover that their doll-child is not anatomically correct.  In disagreement about Shitface’s gender, Tiffany names her Glenda, and Chucky names him Glen because he’s sure the child is a boy who will develop later.

The movie set upon which the newly formed family find themselves is a horror movie about Chucky and Tiffany’s infamous murder spree (from Bride of Chucky), and it stars Jennifer Tilly (as herself).  Tiffany is obsessed with being Tilly and thus a Hollywood star, so she hatches a plan to transfer her spirit into Tilly’s body and Chucky’s spirit Tilly’s chauffeur, Stan (Steve Lawton).  But the challenge of raising a child, especially a confused one like Glen/Glenda, stares the murderous pair right in the face and complicates their plans.  Chucky still wants to be a killer, but Tiffany wants to settle down (in Jennifer Tilly), although she must resist the urge to kill, especially when Tilly gets close to rapper-turned-movie director, Redman (as himself), to whom Tiffany takes an instant dislike.  All hell is about to break loose when Tiffany’s dreams of movie stardom clashes with Chucky’s need to kill, and Glen/Glenda is right in the middle, becoming more confused… and more dangerous.

The Child’s Play film series was, from the beginning, heavy with comedy, but the franchise turned solidly to comic horror with Bride of Chucky in 1998.  Seed of Chucky is a deliriously crazy gore fest.  Fake movie blood, steaming imitation intestines, severed limps, a blood-spurting, headless corpse, severed limps, Jennifer Tilly kissing a recently severed head, Chucky jerking off, Chucky holding a cup of his jizz, Tiffany holding a turkey baster full of Chucky’s semen while standing over Tilly’s prone body with the legs in the air, etc. all add up to a camp fest that is one of the few truly outrageously funny horror films outside of the Evil Dead series.  There is almost nothing in Seed of Chucky film that would qualify it as a scary movie, but with the explicit violence and troubling subject matter, Seed of Chucky could only be one of three things – a ghastly satire of the American nuclear family and America’s obsession with celebrity, an offensive horror flick, or a revolting comedy.  At different times in the narrative, the film tries on all three hats.

While I salute writer/director Don Mancini (who created the Child’s Play concept, while Seed’s co-producer Don Kirschner created the Chucky and Tiffany dolls) for being audacious enough to make this movie and while I also credit the studio and producers for letting Mancini put his insanity on the big screen, I am disappointed that the franchise has gotten away from Chucky as the sole antagonist.  I like Tiffany, and Jennifer Tilly’s voiceover work as Tiffany is superb played.  The fun Ms. Tilly has lampooning herself and her acting career (There are many hilarious mentions of the film Bound in which she and Gina Gershon played lovers) carries over to the viewer, but I want more killing.  Watching Chucky stalk victims excites me as much as it fills me with dread.  I root for victims – even the ones that are throwaway or underdeveloped characters, and I want more of that and less (faux) family drama.

In the final analysis, Seed of Chucky isn’t as good a horror movie as Bride of Chucky, but it’s a better comedy, and an outrageous thumb in the eye to taste and decorum.  Imagine this as a kind of underground film made palatable for a mass audience.  Think of it as a John Waters horror flick if Waters (who appears in the film as a paparazzi) made a “straight” horror movie.  I would answer the question of “is it good or bad” by saying Seed of Chucky makes me eager to see a sixth Child’s Play film.

6 of 10

Updated:  Monday, October 07, 2013

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: "50 First Dates" Surprisingly Works (Happy B'day, Adam Sandler)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 24 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

50 First Dates (2004)
Running time:  99 minutes (1 hour, 39 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for appeal for crude sexual humor and drug references
DIRECTOR:  Peter Segal
WRITER:  George Wing
PRODUCERS:  Jack Giarraputo, Steve Golin, Nancy Juvonen
EDITOR:  Jeff Gourson
COMPOSER:  Teddy Castellucci


Starring:  Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Lusia Strus, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Hill, Blake Clark, Nephi Pomaikai Brown, and Allen Covert

The subject of this movie review is 50 First Dates, a 2004 romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.  The film focuses on a man, who is afraid of commitment, and the girl of his dreams, who has short-term memory loss and wakes up every morning not remembering who he is.

The reunion of The Wedding Singer co-stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore sounds like a great idea, which it is, but even better than a great idea is when the movie reunion turns out to be such a charming and hilarious romantic comedy.  Although I initially had some misgivings about it, 50 First Dates is not only flat out hilarious, it’s also a very good romantic comedy.  50 First Dates' faults are few or are minor, but it definitely felt too long.

Lothario Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a serial dater, loving and leaving a legion of women and assorted lovers in the wake of whirlwind, weekend romances.  He finally believes he’s find that special lady when he experiences love at first sight.  However, Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), the object of his affection, suffers from short-term memory loss (like the protagonist in Memento) as the result of a car accident a year earlier.  Every day she awakens with no memory of anything she’s learned in the time since her accident.  After gaining the grudging approval of Lucy’s father, Marlin (Blake Clark), and brother, Doug (Sean Astin), Henry concocts a plan to remind Lucy of his love for her as the first thing she discovers when she awakens each morning, but for how long will she go along with the plan?

Director Peter Segal helmed Sandler’s 2003 smash, Anger Management, which is a harder belly laugh film.  Here, Segal smartly focuses on the leads to create and sustain the star-crossed romance, and he makes the best and most appropriate use of the supporting characters.  He lets the comic relief provide silly laughs and the more “mature” characters make just enough intensity to create what little dramatic conflict and tension 50 First Dates needs.  George Wing’s script is an exercise in sustaining laughs long enough to keep the audience chuckling and not looking behind the curtain to see the credibility gaffes until the film is over and they’ve reached the parking.

For all his detractors, Sandler is truly a talented comedian, and he has become a very accomplished comic actor.  His deadpan, sarcastic, neo-slob characters are endearing and charming, and the only viewers who truly dislike simply just want to dislike him.  Drew Barrymore is quite attractive, and, in spite of her beauty, she has an everyman, make that every woman quality, which endears her characters to the audience.  Sandler and Ms. Barrymore make a winning screen pair, and hopefully they won’t wait too long before giving us another fine film.

7 of 10

Updated:  Monday, September 09, 2013

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

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: "The Chronicles of Riddick" is Epic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 95 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language
DIRECTOR:  David Twohy
WRITER:  David Twohy (based upon characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat)
PRODUCERS:  Vin Diesel and Scott Kroopf
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Hugh Johnson (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Martin Hunter and Dennis Virkler
COMPOSER:  Graeme Revell


Starring:  Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos, Linus Roache, Yorick van Wageningen, Nick Chinlund, and Keith David

The subject of this movie review is The Chronicles of Riddick, a 2004 science fiction and action-adventure film from writer-director David Twohy.  Starring Vin Diesel in the title role, this film is a sequel to the 2000 science fiction thriller, Pitch Black.

Five years after the incidents in the movie Pitch Black, the dark hero Riddick (Vin Diesel) is a hunted man, but mercenaries aren’t just hunting Riddick to send him back to prison.  A fellow survivor of Pitch Black, Imam (Keith David), seeks Riddick because the Imam’s home world needs Riddick’s kind of evil to fight evil.  In The Chronicles of Riddick, the title character takes on the world conquering Necromongers and their vicious, quasi-supernatural leader, the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore).  Apparently, the Lord Marshal and Riddick have a mutual past.  Riddick learns that his people were known as the Furians, and a prophecy said that the Lord Marshal would die at the hands of a Furian.  Thirty years after the Lord Marshal’s pogrom against the Furians, the most contrary and stubborn of them all, Riddick, comes looking for payback.

The Chronicles of Riddick isn’t by any means a great movie, but it’s rather a very entertaining macho movie.  Despite the sci-fi trappings, the film and its title character are basically throwbacks to the kind of action movies and muscular heroes that stomped the shit out silver screen bad guys in films like the Rambo, Die Hard, and Terminator franchises.  Visually, the production design is as dark as The Empire Strikes Back and The Crow, so TCOR is very much the work of talented artists, craftsman, and photographers and CGI artists.

Beyond that, director David Twohy has put together a fun film full of explosions and (relatively) gore free wrestling matches.  TCOR may look like a video game, but it’s futuristic fisticuffs in which the dark champion speaks with the force of muscular body and wins by guile and savvy.  Vin Diesel may not be a solid actor, but he’s game to throw testosterone around a movie set, and the lead doesn’t need to be a great actor when a fine stage actor like Colm Feore (he was the bad guy Andre Linoge in the TV mini-series Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century”) plays the villain.

I had a good (if not great) time, and when it comes down to it, The Chronicles of Riddick is a slugfest man’s movie for the guy who’ll watch any half decent action movie.  And this one is a lot better than half decent.  Some ladies might get a kick out of it, too.

7 of 10

2005 Razzie Awards:  1 nomination: “Worst Actor” (Vin Diesel)

Updated:  Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Read the Pitch Black review and The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury review.

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

Review: "The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury" Fast and Furious

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 61 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004) – Video
Running time:  35 minutes
Not rated by the MPAA
DIRECTOR:  Peter Chung
WRITERS:  Brett Mathews; from a story by David Twohy (based upon characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat)
PRODUCERS:  John Kafka and Jae Y. Moh
EDITOR:  Ken Solomon
COMPOSERS:  Machine Head with Tobias Enhus and Christopher Mann
ANIMATION STUDIOS:  Sunwoo Entertainment and DNA Animation


Starring:  (voices) Vin Diesel, Rhiana Griffith, Keith David, Roger Jackson, Tress MacNeille, Julia Fletcher, Nick Chinlund, and Dwight Schultz

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury is a 2004 made-for-DVD, animated short film.  It is directed by Peter Chung, the Korean-American best known for creating the animated series, Æon Flux.  Dark Fury acts as a bridge between the films, Pitch Black (2000), and its sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury takes place shortly after the events depicted in Pitch Black.  The last survivors of the Hunter-Gratzner spacecraft:  Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), Jack (Rhiana Griffith), and Imam Abu al-Walid (Keith David), are aboard the shuttle they used to leave the planet upon which the transport ship crashed.

They find themselves the target of a Mercenary spacecraft (“Merc ship”), after the mercenaries realize that Riddick, a wanted man with a huge bounty on his head, is aboard the shuttle.  Riddick discovers that he has piqued the interest of Antonia Chillingsworth (Tress MacNeille), the Merc ship’s owner, and this crazy woman has some crazy plans in store for Riddick.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury is one of the best made-for-DVD animated films that I have ever seen.  It is true to the spirit and nature of the two feature-length Riddick films and the characters, especially Riddick.  Dark Fury’s script is as well-written and as imaginative as the scripts for Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick.

The voice acting is also superb.  Whatever Vin Diesel may lack as an actor in live-action films, he has as a voice actor for an animated character:  nuance, affect, and richness and the ability to create a depth of character.  It goes without saying that Keith David is good, and Rhiana Griffith makes Jack a lively character that brings energy to Dark Fury every time she opens her mouth.

Dark Fury is further proof that Peter Chung is one of the true visionary animators, character designers, and directors of animated film of the last quarter-century.  Dark Fury needs a buddy.  There should be more animated Riddick films or maybe a television series, especially if Chung were to be the hands guiding animated (or anime) Riddick.  No Riddick fan should miss The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury.

8 of 10

Sunday, September 01, 2013

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

Read Pitch Black review.