Showing posts with label 28DaysofBlack. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 28DaysofBlack. Show all posts

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Negromancer February 2021 is #28DaysofBlack

UPDATE:  So that's it.  The inaugural edition of #28DaysofBlack is over.  See you for #NegromancerBlackSummer May 31, 2021.

Welcome to February 2021. Welcome to Negromancer 2.0.  This is the rebirth of Negromancer, the former movie review website as a new movie review and movie news blog.

This month is special, as I am launching #28DaysofBlack, in celebration of "Black History Month." This program features a month of reviews of African-American cinema. This includes films starring Black actors and also films written by, produced by, and/or directed by Black directors.  I will also include reviews of films that are created by filmmakers that are not Black, but prominently feature contributions from Black people.

There will be some auxiliary programming focusing on reviews of comic books and books created by African-Americans or are, at the very least, African-American themed. You can find these at my I Reads You and Patreon blogs. - Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

Support me by donation at Paypal or on Patreon.

All images and text appearing on this blog are © copyright and/or trademark their respective owners.


Please, visit my BLACK FILM Review Page here for more reviews. 


Feb. 1 - Film Review:  The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Feb. 2 - Film Review:  Carmen Jones
Feb. 2 - Comics Review:  Justice League of America (Vol. 3): The Injustice Gang

Feb. 3 - Film Review:  If Beale Street Could Talk

Feb. 4 - Film Review:  Daughters of the Dust

Feb. 5:  Film Review: Suicide Squad

Feb. 6:  Comics Review: Eric Jerome Dickey's Storm #1-6
Feb. 7 - Book Review:  Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage

Feb. 8 - Film Review:  BlacKkKlansman

Feb. 10 - Film Review:  Coffy
               Film Review:  Harlem Nights
Feb. 11 - Film Review:  Fences
Feb. 12 - Film Review:  A Madea Family Funeral
Feb. 13 - Comics Review:  Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies #30 

Feb. 14 - Comics Review:  Black Panther by Jack Kirby Vol. 1

Feb. 15 - Film Review:  Get on Up
Feb. 16 - Film Review:  Marshall 
Feb. 17 - Film Review:  Hollywood Shuffle

Feb. 18 - Film Review:  I'm Gonna Git You Sucka

Feb. 19 - Film Review:  Darwin's Nightmare
Feb. 20 - Comics Review:  Quincredible Vol. 1
Feb. 21 - Manga Review:  Me and the Devil Blue Book One 

Feb. 22 - Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Feb. 23 - Film Review: Lilies of the Field
Feb. 24 - Film Review: The Brother from Another Planet
Feb. 25 - Film Review: Harriet

Feb. 26 - Film Review: Little Woods
Feb. 27 - Comics Review: Hardware: The Man in the Machine

Feb. 28 - Comics Review: King by Ho Che Anderson


Friday, February 26, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "LITTLE WOODS" Introduces an Up and Coming Director

[The independent film, the crime drama and quasi-modern Western, “Little Woods,” made noise at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2018.  It was released theatrically in the United States in April 2019.  The film marked writer-director Nia DaCosta as an emerging director and earned her the job of writing and directing Universal's update-sequel to the classic 1990s horror film, “Candyman.”  Later, Marvel Studios chose DaCosta to direct the sequel to its billion-dollar hit, Captain Marvel (2019).  Candyman's release was delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so while audiences await its release, they can watch DaCosta's directorial debut, Little Woods.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 22 of 2021 (No. 1760) by Leroy Douresseaux

Little Woods (2018)
Running time: 103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and some drug material
PRODUCERS:  Rachael Fung, Tim Headington, and Gabrielle Nadig
EDITOR:  Catrin Hedström
COMPOSER:  Brian McOmber

DRAMA/CRIME with elements of thriller and western

Starring:  Tessa Thompson, Lily James, Luke Kirby, James Badge Dale, Lance Reddick, Jeremy St. James, and Charlie Ray Reid

Little Woods is a 2018 drama and crime film from writer-director Nia DaCosta.  The film focuses on two sisters who work outside the law to fix bad situations in their lives via the Canadian–U.S. cross-border drug trade.

Little Woods introduces a young woman named Oleander “Ollie” King (Tessa Thompson), who lives in Little Woods, North Dakota.  Ollie is on probation because she had been bringing prescription medicine illegally across the border between Canada and North Dakota.  With eight days left on her probation, Ollie is determined to reinvent her life.  With the help and encouragement of her probation officer, Carter (Lance Reddick), Ollie has applied to find work in Spokane.

However, Ollie is getting numerous requests to return to her old life, which included illegally selling prescription medicine, as she scrapes by on odd jobs.  And Ollie might have a reason to return to a life of crime.  Her estranged sister, Deborah “Deb” Hale (Lily James), is barely surviving, living in an illegally parked trailer with her young son, Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid).  Deb is barely getting any help from her bum baby-daddy, Ian (James Badge Dale).

Worse still, Ollie, who has been living in the home of her and Deb's recently deceased mother, Bridget Sorenson, has discovered that a local bank has begun foreclosure proceedings on the house.  There is a payment of 5,682 dollars due to the bank in one week.  Desperate to make a place for Deb and Johnny, Ollie may jeopardize her future by selling and running drugs again.

Little Woods is the directorial debut of writer-director Nia DaCosta.  The subject matter and setting may seem like strange choices for an African-American director, but the story is a familiar one of familial obligations; the up-and-down relationship between bickering, but loving sisters; and the desperate day-to-day lives of the poor and struggling people of small town America.  DaCosta offers a riveting family drama that is part crime thriller and modern Western – that also has an excellent soundtrack full of plaintive songs that set the appropriate mood.  This is an engaging and sometimes haunting film that holds one attention.

However, the character writing is not as strong as it needs to be.  The screenplay relies on familiar conflicts between loved ones, friends, and acquaintances.  Bill (Luke Kirby), the local pill kingpin, barely registers as a character, and Ian's relationships with both Deb and Ollie, which are obviously, rich with potential, rely on familiar indie drama tropes.  Still, Tessa Thompson and Lily James deliver urgent and edgy performances of their respective characters.

My reservations aside, Little Woods is a necessary film because Nia DaCosta presents a side of the American experience, a side that need that needs to exist more in American popular culture.  DaCosta expertly details the lack of affordable housing, inadequate heath care, and shitty jobs that make ordinary people make choices that often hurt them or land them in jails and prisons or on parole and probation.  Little Woods is not a pretty film, but it exemplifies the power of film drama, and it makes me expect big things of Nia DaCosta.

7 of 10

Friday, February 26, 2021

2020 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Emerging Director” (Nia DaCosta)

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "HARRIET" and Cynthia Erivo Are Magnificent

[A powerful historical Black woman deserves to have her story told powerfully.  Harriet Tubman, the face of the Underground Railroad, gets that in director Kasi Lemmons' 2019 film, “Harriet.”]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 21 of 2021 (No. 1759) by Leroy Douresseaux

Harriet (2019)
Running time:  125 minutes (2 hours, 5 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets
DIRECTOR:  Kasi Lemmons
WRITERS:  Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons; based on a story by Gregory Allen Howard
PRODUCERS:  Debra Martin Chase, Gregory Allen Howard, and Daniela Taplin Lundberg
EDITOR:  Wyatt Smith
COMPOSER:  Terence Blanchard
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Jennifer Nettles, Janelle Monáe, Omar Dorsey, Tim Guinee, Zackary Momoh, Henry Hunter Hall, Deborah Olayinka Ayorinde, and Rakeem Laws

Harriet is a 2019 biographical film and historical drama from director Kasi Lemmons.  The film is a fictional depiction of the life and work of Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), a black woman who was an American abolitionist, a suffragette, and the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad.  Harriet the movie tells the story of the runaway slave who transformed herself into one of America's greatest heroes by helping to free other slaves.

Harriet opens in Bucktown, Maryland, the year 1849.  A black female slave named Araminta “Minty” Ross (Cynthia Erivo) is newly married to a freedman, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh).  Minty is a slave on the farm of Edward Brodess, along with her mother, Rit (Vanessa Bell Calloway), and her sister, Rachel (Deborah Olayinka Ayorinde).  Minty's father, a freedman named Ben Ross (Clarke Peters), approaches Edward Brodess about gaining freedom for Rit and the children she bore based on an agreement made by Brodess' father, but Brodess rudely declines.

Shortly afterwards, Brodess dies, and his son, Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn), decides to sell Minty down the river, which mean down into the deep south, the worst place for a slave.  Minty suffers “spells” since being struck in the head as a child, but they are also visions from God.  The spell that Minty suffers after Gideon decides to sell her is the vision that Minty believes is telling her to run away before she is taken to the slave auction.

Fearing that she could endanger her husband and family, she leaves them behind and, after a long journey, makes her way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A year later, Minty has renamed herself Harriet Tubman and makes her first journey back to Maryland.  There, she will either take her first steps to free other slaves, or she will be returned to a cruel fate at the hands of an evil owner.

In Harriet, writers Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons fashioned a story that captures the horrors of slavery in a manner similar to that of the 2013 film, 12 Years a Slave.  However, 12 Years a Slave is the tale of a free black man trapped in hell of chattel slavery who is determined to survive until a miracle arrives.  Harriet is the tale of a black woman born into slavery who takes her fate into her own hands and runs through a hell's gauntlet to find freedom.

To that end, Kasi Lemmons as director creates a film that moves that narrative via action and opportunity.  Characters take action and take advantage of the opportunity to gain freedom.  As Harriet says at one point in the film – “God was watching me but my feet were my own.”  Harriet's lead character is a pistol-packing, action movie heroine every bit as stalwart as Captain America and as ruthless as actor Clint Eastwood's most famous roles in Westerns.

Actress Cynthia Erivo, as Harriet Tubman, is the center of this film's holy trinity.  Erivo's Harriet is a force of nature and the wrath of God against slavery.  In the film's quiet moments, Erivo presents Harriet as thoughtful and contemplative, but she maintains the roiling storm within, the elemental forces that drive her to return to the land of slavery time and again to free other slaves.  Erivo seems to transform Harriet's spells and visions into a living thing that devours fear and cowardice and the evil that is slavery.  One can believe that this Harriet was the star of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses in the United States used by enslaved black people to escape from slave states and into free states and Canada.

Erivo's almighty performance earned her an Oscar nomination for “Best Actress.”  It is a shame that she did not win, and it is a shame that Harriet did not receive more Academy Award nominations than it did.  This film has good supporting performances, an excellent musical score, and costume design that created costumes for the cast that look like the real deal.  However, it is Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons, and Cynthia Erivo that drive Harriet into being what may be the best film of 2019.

10 of 10

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

2020 Academy Awards, USA:  2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Cynthia Erivo) and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Song” (Cynthia Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell for the song “Stand Up”)

2020 Golden Globes, USA:  2 nominations:  “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Cynthia Erivo) and “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Joshuah Brian Campbell music/lyrics and Cynthia Erivo-music/lyrics for the song “Stand Up”)

2020 Black Reel Awards:  6 nominations: “Outstanding Actress, Motion Picture” (Cynthia Erivo), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Kasi Lemmons), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Janelle Monáe), “Outstanding Cinematography” (John Toll), “Outstanding Costume Design” (Paul Tazewell), and “Outstanding Production Design” (Warren Alan Young)

2020 Image Awards (NAACP):  7 nominations:  “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” (Cynthia Erivo), “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (Leslie Odom Jr.), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Janelle Monáe), “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in a Motion Picture: (Cynthia Erivo), “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture-Film” (Kasi Lemmons), and “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture-Film” (Kasi Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard)

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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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET" Still Out of This World

[Outside of television, no white filmmaker has presented the depth, diversity, and scope of African-American characters on the big screen to the extent that writer-director John Sayles has.  For years, I encountered black people who thought that Sayles' fourth feature film, “The Brother from Another Planet,” was a “black film.”  Why is that?  Sayles has the ability to create characters and stories from outside the mainstream of society or of storytelling, but his directorial approach is more observational than dictatorial.  The result is a film like The Brother from Another Planet, in which no one can say of those black characters, “they all look alike” or act alike.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 20 of 2021 (No. 1758) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Brother from Another Planet (1984)
Running time: 108 minutes (1 hour, 48 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, some drug content and brief nudity
PRODUCERS:  Peggy Rajski and Maggie Renzi
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Ernest R. Dickerson
EDITOR:  John Sayles
COMPOSERS:  Mason Daring; Denzil Botus; Martin Brody; John Sayles and others


Starring:  Joe Morton, Daryl Edwards, Steve James, Leonard Jackson, Carolyn Aaron, Bill Cobbs, Tom Wright, Minnie Gentry, Dee Dee Bridgewater, David Strathairn, John Sayles

The Brother from Another Planet is a 1984 science fiction and drama film from writer-director John Sayles.  This low-budget, independent film focuses on a mute alien that looks like an African-American man as he navigates the streets of Harlem and avoids the aliens hunting him.

The Brother from Another Planet opens inside an alien space craft of some kind that is in distress.  The pilot struggles with the controls of the ship that eventually crashes in the water near Ellis Island.  The alien emerges from the water, and other than his three-toed feet, he looks like a black human male.  He makes his way to New York City, specifically Harlem.

In a way, he successfully blends with the denizens of NYC, and makes his way into a bar owned by a man named, Odell (Steve James).  There, Odell and the regulars:  Fly (Daryl Edwards), Walter (Bill Cobbs), and Smokey (Leonard Jackson) begin to refer to the alien as “The Brother” (Joe Morton).  The Brother has the ability to heal his wounds and to heal or fix machines, and he soon lands a job as a technician and repairman.  Meanwhile, two men in black (David Strathairn and John Sayles) are hunting for The Brother … because he is a slave.

It has been over a decade since I last saw The Brother from Another Planet, but there was a time period when I saw it several times.  Every time I saw it, I loved it as much as I did the time before, if not more.  Before I watched it recently, I wondered how I would feel about it now, and it turns out that I am still in love with this film.  I once described The Brother from Another Planet as one of my all-time favorite films, and it must remain so.  As a low-budget, independent science fiction film, it is ripe for a remake.  However, the truth is that even with its seat-of-the-pants film-making and bare-bones special effects, The Brother from Another Planet seems to be perfect the way it is.  At least, that is what my mind keeps thinking.

Writer-director John Sayles has described The Brother from Another Planet as being about the immigrant experience of assimilation.  In a way, both The Brother and the denizens of Harlem and NYC, in general, are aliens, depending on the perspective and point of view from which they are viewed.  In fact, Sayles' Harlem in a grimy, funky alien world of people and places.  Somehow, Sayles makes every person and every thing unique; nothing and no one is like anything or anyone else.

For all that the cast brings to the film, The Brother from Another Planet's strength is in its creator, John Sayles, and in its star, Joe Morton as The Brother.  Sometimes, the film seems like a series of documentary or anthropological vignettes – as erratic in their presentation as they are inventive in the conception.  In that he is a most imaginative filmmaker, Sayles is a genius at creating characters that the viewer will want to observe.

Joe Morton's performance, exploratory without being penetrative and aggressive, brings the disparate parts of this film together into a whole, although it is not a seamless whole.  Perhaps that is the point; very little of this film's setting should seem connected.  On this planet that is our Earth, Joe Morton's Brother explores the strange worlds within the strange world.  Morton's is one of the greatest film performances that I have ever seen.  Without saying a word, Morton becomes like the actors of the silent film era, using physicality and facial expressions (or lack thereof) to tell The Brother's story, doing so in vivid colors and with rich texture.

The Brother from Another Planet is indeed an immigrant story, focusing on a being forced to be an immigrant and to find a new place in which to live because he is a slave.  The film is not about slavery, although the fact that The Brother is a runaway slave waits patiently on the periphery of this film and its narrative.  But, then again, The Brother from Another Planet gives the viewer so much to think about, and its seems like a chapter in a larger narrative.  Perhaps, that is why every time I watch this film, I feel like The Brother, always discovering something new.

10 of 10

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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


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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "LILIES OF THE FIELD" Feels Timeless and Spiritual

[For his performance in Lilies of the Field, Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win the “Best Actor” Oscar.  Poitier received his Oscar at the 36th Academy Awards ceremony, held in April 1964.  It would be 38 years later, at the 74th Academy Awards in March 2002, when the second Black man won a “Best Actor” Oscar, Denzel Washington.  That night, Halle Berry also became the first, and of this writing, only Black woman to win a “Best Actress” Oscar.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 of 2021 (No. 1757) by Leroy Douresseaux

Lilies of the Field (1963)
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
WRITER:  James Poe (based on the novel, The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Ernest Haller (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  John W. McCafferty
COMPOSER:  Jerry Goldsmith
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Lisa Mann, Isa Crino, Francesca Jarvis, Pamela Branch, Stanley Adams, and Dan Frazer

Lilies of the Field is a 1963 drama film from producer-director, Ralph Nelson.  The film is based on the 1962 novel, The Lilies of the Field, written by William Edward Barrett.  Lilies of the Field the film focuses on a traveling handyman and the nuns who believe that he is the answer to their prayers.

Lilies of the Field opens somewhere in the Arizona desert.  Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier), an itinerant jack-of-all-trades, stops at what he assumes is an ordinary farm to obtain some water for his car, a station wagon.  There, he sees a group of women working around the farm.  These women turn out to be five nuns:  Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), Sister Gertrude (Lisa Mann), Sister Agnes (Iro Crino), Sister Albertine (Francesca Jarvis), and Sister Elizabeth (Pamela Branch).  The nuns, who speak very little English, introduce themselves as German, Austrian and Hungarian nuns.

Maria, the “Mother Superior” (the leader of the nuns), persuades Homer, whom she calls “Homer Schmidt,” to do a small job of roofing repair on the main building.  He stays overnight, assuming that he will be paid in the morning.  The next day, Smith tries to persuade Mother Maria to pay him by quoting from the Holy Bible, but she responds by asking him to read a Bible verse from the “Sermon on the Mount” (“Consider the lilies of the field...).  This won't be the last time that Mother Maria stonewalls Homer on the payment she owes him, but his strengths and skills are apparent to her and her nuns.  Mother Maria believes that Homer has been sent by God to fulfill their dream of building a chapel (which they call a “shapel”) on their land.

If people remember Lilies of the Field, it would be for Sidney Poitier's performance, which earned him the “Best Actor” Oscar, and for the film's historical relevance.  Poitier's win for portraying Homer Smith was the first time a black man had won the “Best Actor” Oscar, and it was also the first time a black actor had won an Academy Award in a lead acting category.  To date, Homer Smith is my favorite performance of Poitier's.  Poitier presents Homer as a man full of skill, grit, and determination, with plenty of sly wit and humor.  Most of all, through Homer, Poitier makes the audience believe in man's capacity for kindness and in a man having a sense of duty and honor that he does not use to place himself above other men.

The film is blessed with several good performances.  Lilia Skala, who earned a “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar nomination for her performance, can convince the audience that Mother Maria is a real person and not just a character in a movie.  Skala makes Maria's faith seem genuine, and it is Maria's faith in God that in turn makes this film feel like a religious movie, or even a Christian movie, for that matter, without Lilies of the Field specifically being either religious or Christian.

Faith in God and faith in the goodness of man are at the heart of this film.  James Poe's screenplay and the way that director Ralph Nelson presents this story combine to send a simple message of faith in God over worrying about the things one wants to happen.  Lilies of the Field is not a Christmas movie, but I think it could be a wonderful entry in people's “Happy Holidays” playlist.

I found myself often very emotional while watching this film.  At a little more than a hour and a half of run time, Lilies of the Field seems like a fairy tale, a folk tale, or even a Biblical story.  It is magical.  It is wonderful.  And it makes faith seem like a very good thing, indeed.  When people speak of the magic of Hollywood films, I think that there is plenty of that magic in Lilies of the Field.

10 of 10

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

1964 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Sidney Poitier); 4 nominations: “Best Picture” (Ralph Nelson), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Lilia Skala), “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium” (James Poe), and “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (Ernest Haller)

1964 Golden Globes, USA:  2 wins:  “Best Actor – Drama” (Sidney Poitier) and “Best Film Promoting International Understanding” and 2 nominations:  “Best Motion Picture – Drama” and “Best Supporting Actress” (Lilia Skala)

1965 BAFTA Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Foreign Actor” (Sidney Poitier) and “UN Award” (USA)

2020 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  1 win: “National Film Registry”

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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Monday, February 22, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "A WRINKLE IN TIME" is Wonderfully Weird


[I imagine that The Walt Disney Company had to make “A Wrinkle in Time” an accounting write-off.  The film under-performed at the box office, which is a shame.  It is one of the most original science fiction and fantasy films of the 21st century.  I also honestly believe that this film is such a unique vision because it was directed by an African-American woman, Ava DuVernay.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 18 of 2021 (No. 1756) by Leroy Douresseaux

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
Running time:  109 minutes (1 hour, 49 minutes)
MPAA – PG for thematic elements and some peril
DIRECTOR:  Ava DuVernay
WRITERS:  Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell (based on the novel by Madeleine L'Engle)
PRODUCERS:  Catherine Hand and Jim Whitaker
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Tobias Schliessler (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Spencer Averick
COMPOSER:  Ramin Djawadi


Starring:  Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Pena, Andre Holland, Rowan Blanchard, and David Oyelowo

A Wrinkle in Time is a 2018 science fiction and fantasy-adventure film directed by Ava DuVernay.  The film is based on Madeleine L'Engle's 1962, A Wrinkle in Time, the first book in her “Time Quintet” series.  A Wrinkle in Time the movie follows a young girl, her brother, and a school friend as they set off on a quest across the universe to find the girl's missing father.

A Wrinkle in Time introduces 13-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid).  She continues to struggle to adjust at school four years after the disappearance of her father, Alex Murry (Chris Pine), a renowned astrophysicist.  Meg and her gifted younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), have also been in trouble with their school's Principal Jenkins (Andre Holland).  Even their mother, Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatah-Raw), struggles in the wake of the disappearance of her husband.  However, Meg has made a new friend, her classmate, Calvin O'Keefe (Levi Miller).

Then, the Murrys and Calvin start to get unusual visitors.  They call themselves “the Misses.”  They are Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), a trio of astral beings who claim that the “tesseract,” a method of space travel that Alex Murry was studying, is real.  These astral travelers reveal that they have come to help find Alex, who has transported himself across the universe.  They need Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin's help, and they need them to be “warriors.”  However, Meg doubts her own abilities and really doesn't like herself all that much, and that will make her vulnerable to the powerful enemy that awaits them, “The IT.”

The cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler, the costume design by Paco Delgado, and the production design by Naomi Shohan come together to create one of the most visually beautiful science fiction films that I have seen in a decade.  The film editing by Spencer Averick and the gorgeous score by Ramin Djawadi make that beauty move and feel vibrant, creating a film like no other.

Beyond the high production values, director Ava DuVernay has fashioned a big-hearted film that is one of the most ambitious science fiction and fantasy films in recent memory.  I have never read Madeleine L'Engle's now legendary novel, so I assume that screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell (and any other writers that contributed to the final product) condensed the character drama in order to focus on Meg Murry.  However, DuVernay and the writers, through Meg, tell a story in which love and imagination and determination and fortitude can send humans on a voyage that traverses not only our galaxy, but also the universe.

Young actress Storm Reid as Meg Murry is poignant and engaging as the young hero who must learn to both love and accept herself and to believe in herself.  Her teen (or 'tween) struggles seem honest and genuine.  In a movie full of offbeat performances of odd characters, Reid makes Meg seem solid and the driving force of this narrative.

Young Deric McCabe seems supernaturally self-assured as Charles Lawrence Murry, making the young brother an important counterpart to Meg.  Levi Miller is a pleasant addition as Calvin O'Keefe whose main role is to believe in Meg even when she doesn't believe in herself, but the story also gives Calvin his own poignant journey.

I get why adults, especially film critics, had mixed feelings about the film.  I think young viewers will get it, and this film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is important because Ava DuVernay, once again, reinvents what a black female can be on screen in a Hollywood film.  A Wrinkle in Time may be a fantasy film dressed in the many multi-colored robes of science fiction, but this film introduces new kinds of warriors in service of the universe.  And one of those new colors is a young black girl, and that makes A Wrinkle in Time an exceptional film for this time.

9 of 10

Monday, February 22, 2021

2019  Black Reel Awards”  3 nominations: “Outstanding Cinematography” (Tobias A. Schliessler), “Outstanding Costume Design” (Paco Delgado), and “Outstanding Production Design” (Naomi Shohan)

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, 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

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "I'M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA" is Still Crazy Funny

[What can I say?  I'm Gonna Git You Sucka remains one of the funniest films that I have ever seen.  And I wish Keenen Ivory Wayans and his regulars were still giving us a regular serving of great African-American comedy … great American comedy.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 17 of 2021 (No. 1755) by Leroy Douresseaux

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)
Running time:  88 minutes
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Keenen Ivory Wayans
PRODUCERS:  Carl Craig and Peter McCarthy
EDITOR:  Michael R. Miller   
COMPOSER:  David Michael Frank


Starring:  Keenen Ivory Wayans, Bernie Casey, Ja'net Dubois, Isaac Hayes, Jim Brown, Antonio Fargas, Steve James, John Vernon, Dawnn Lewis, Kadeem Hardison, Damon Wayans, Clarence Williams III, Anne-Marie Johnson, Kim Wayans, Eve Plumb, Hawthorne James, David Alan Grier, Clu Gulager, and Chris Rock

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka is a 1988 comedy film written and directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans.  The film is a blaxploitation film (Black exploitation film) and also a parody of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s.  I'm Gonna Git You Sucka focuses on a Black wannabe hero who joins a former Black hero on a mission to stop a crime lord who is plaguing the Black community with vice.

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka introduces Jack Spade (Keenen Ivory Wayans), a soldier who returns home (“Any Ghetto, U.S.A.”) after ten years away.  He has learned that his brother, Junebug Spade, has died of "OG" – overdosing on gold chains (wearing too many gold chains).  Jack looks around his old neighborhood and sees the effect of gold chains on his community.  Jack wants revenge for his brother's death, but he also wants to stop the proliferation of gold chains in his community.  That means he has to stop “Mr. Big” (John Vernon), who rules the crime world and is responsible for the epidemic of gold chains that claimed Junebug's life.

Jack and Junebug's mother, Bell Spade (Ja'net Dubois), does not want her only remaining son engaging in something that could get him killed.  Junebug's widow, Cheryl Spade (Dawnn Lewis), who once loved Jack, does not want him killed now that he is back in her life.  Still, Jack is determined to be a Black hero, so he seeks the help of the retired hero, John Slade (Bernie Casey), once the community's biggest Black hero.  While Slade is initially wary, he eventually brings in other classic Black heroes from the past:  Hammer (Isaac Hayes), Slammer (Jim Brown), and Kung Fu Joe (Steve James), and also a once prominent pimp, Flyguy (Antonio Fargas), in on the mission.  But can this group really come together and “take it to the man?”

I saw I'm Gonna Git You Sucka in early 1989 in a movie theater at the Bon Marche Mall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a group of friends.  We laughed until we cried.  Although I did see parts of it again over the next few years, I have not watched I'm Gonna Git You Sucka in its entirety since that first time.  As a parody of a film genre, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka is more like the films of the former team, Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (Airplane!, The Naked Gun series), than it is like the work of Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles).

Keenen Ivory Wayan's talents as a writer are underrated.  What I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and his later hit, Scary Movie (2000), reveal is that Wayans can pile on sight gags, comic references, riffs, funny sounds, replications of famous film moments into a movie, but none of that stops the movie cold.  Almost all of it fits seamlessly into the narrative, so the movie works as whatever genre it is parodying, and is not just a series of gags pretending to be a film narrative.  I'm Gonna Git You Sucka is not just a parody of blaxploitation films; it is a blaxploitation comedy film.  In fact, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka is also a loving send-up of blaxploitation films.  There is never a moment when it seems that Wayans holds the genre in disdain.

It would take an incredibly long essay to talk about all the wonderful things in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, so I'll point out a few.  I was happy to see actor Clarence Williams III as the aging revolutionary, Kalinga, show his comic talents.  I also enjoyed Ja'net Dubois' sense of humor and comic timing.  Kim Wayans, Keenen's sister, is always a welcomed sight, here giving her all as a wacky nightclub singer.  Of course, the distinguished Bernie Casey, with that wonderful voice and the way he carries himself, gives any movie in which he appears some credibility that it would have lacked without him.  He should have been a major movie star … alas …

Since Keenen Ivory Wayans co-wrote Hollywood Shuffle, it was often connected to I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.  However, each film had a different purpose, and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka revealed how quickly Wayans arrived as a major Hollywood comedy talent.  I hope new generations of movie audiences discover this thoroughly underrated cinematic comedy gem.

9 out of 10

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE" Still Has Something to Say

[Upon its release, Hollywood Shuffle felt like something that needed to be said.  It was time to say enough to the way Black people were portrayed in Hollywood film and television productions.  And yes, maybe some Black actors should have said no to stereotypical roles, as long as they didn't have bills to pay …]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 16 of 2021 (No. 1754) by Leroy Douresseaux

Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
Running time:  81 minutes (1hour, 21 minutes)
WRITERS:  Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans
EDITOR:  W.O. Garrett
COMPOSERS:  Udi Harpaz and Patrice Rushen


Starring:  Robert Townsend, Anne-Marie Johnson, Craigus R. Johnson, Helen Martin, Starletta DuPois, David McKnight, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Lou B. Washington, John Witherspoon, Eugene Robert Glazer, Lisa Mende, Dom Irrera, Brad Sanders, Conni Marie Brazelton, Sena Ayn Black, Jesse Aragon, Verda Bridges, Grand L. Bush, and Damon Wayans

Hollywood Shuffle is a 1987 American satirical comedy film from producer-director Robert Townsend.  The film focuses on the trials and tribulations of a Black actor limited to stereotypical roles who dreams of making it as a highly respected actor.

Hollywood Shuffle introduces Robert “Bobby” Taylor (Robert Townsend), a young black man aspiring to become an actor.  Bobby has been preparing for his audition for the lead role in Tinsel Town Pictures' new urban drama.  Entitled “Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge,” this movie about street gangs is full of stereotypes about African-Americans and Latinos.

Bobby's grandmother (Helen Martin) overhears the “jive talk” Bobby uses to practice his lines, and she vociferously expresses her disapproval, while Bobby's mother (Starletta DuPois) is more supportive.  Bobby wants to be a great actor so that he won't have to work at places like his current place of employment, “Winky Dinky Dog.”  Bobby's grandmother says that if he desires a respectable job, there is honest work at the post office.  Bobby believes that if he lands the role of Jimmy in Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge, everything will get better for his career and for his family.  But is that true?  As Bobby works towards his dream, the film also takes a satiric look at African-American actors in Hollywood and at Hollywood in general.

As far as I can tell, it has been over twenty years since I last saw Hollywood Shuffle.  Seeing it after such a long time, I find that it has actually aged well.  African-American actors have made great strides in the American film and television industry since Hollywood Shuffle's first release.  However, in some ways, African-American actors, indeed actors of color and non-white actors, continues to deal with stereotypes about who they are, what roles they should play, and in what kind of films and TV in which they should appear.

There are notions about the limited box office potential of films featuring African-American and non-white actors, especially when they have lead or major roles in films.  Because of that, Hollywood Shuffle's satire remains sharp, if for no other reason than that there are still Bobby Taylors and Bobbi Taylors dealing with casting directors that have concrete, incorrect ideas about the physicality of Black people and performers.

Meanwhile, Hollywood Shuffle is more than a satirical comedy about Hollywood.  It is also a comedy that is both a send-up of and tribute to Hollywood's most familiar genres.  Writers Robert Townsend, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and comedian Dom Irrera (who did not receive a screen credit as a writer) fashion numerous skits and sketches that fit well with the main story line, Bobby Taylor's quest.  “Sneaking into the Movies,” a send-up of the late film critics, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, is unforgettable and much-copied.  Sam Ace and “The Death of a Breakdancer,” a spoof of the detective movies of Hollywood's Golden Era, surprisingly works much better than one might think.  Having a villain like “Jerry Curl” (Keenen Ivory Wayans), with his curl activator addiction, helps.  “Black Acting School” is satire so savage that it is almost strident … almost.  And “ho cakes” is worth remembering.

I am still amazed at how much Townsend and his cast and crew got out of a one-hundred thousand dollar budget.  An exercise in guerrilla filmmaking, Hollywood Shuffle remains one of the top indie comedies and African-American films of the 1980s, showing that imagination, inventiveness, and working together for a common cause can overcome budget constraints … for the most part.

Yes, things are “better than they were.”  As long as white supremacy and white privilege reign in the United States, Hollywood Shuffle will always be relevant and also funny.

7 out of 10

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

1987  Image Awards:  2 nominations:  “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” (Helen Martin) and “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Robert Townsend)

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


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: Heroes Abound in "MARSHALL"

[The year after he first played Marvel Comics superhero, Black Panther, the late Chadwick Boseman played real-life hero, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, early in his career when he was a defense attorney defending oppressed African-Americans.  There is something about playing both Thurgood Marshall and the Black Panther that makes an actor special.  That is why some of us both mourn Boseman's passing and celebrate his work.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 15 of 2021 (No. 1753) by Leroy Douresseaux

Marshall (2017)
Running time: 118 minutes (1 hours, 58 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexuality, violence and some strong language
DIRECTOR:  Reginald Hudlin
WRITERS:  Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff
PRODUCERS:  Reginald Hudlin, Jonathan Sanger, and Paula Wagner
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Newton Thomas Sigel (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Tom McArdle
COMPOSER:  Marcus Miller
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, James Cromwell, Sterling K. Brown, Keesha Sharp, John Magaro, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ahna O'Reilly, Jeremy Bobb, Derrick Baskin, Jeffrey DeMunn, Andra Day, Sophia Bush, Jussie Smollett, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas

Marshall is a 2017 biographical film, period drama, and legal thriller directed by Reginald Hudlin.  The film's lead character is Thurgood Marshall (1908 to 1993), the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.  Marshall the film focuses on one of the first cases of his career, the State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell, which concerns an African-American chauffeur accused of raping a white woman in 1940.

Marshall opens in 1941.  Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) is an attorney for the “NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,” which he founded.  Marshall travels the country defending people who are accused of crimes solely because of their race.  Upon his return to his New York office, Marshall finds more work waiting for him.  Walter Francis White (Roger Guenveur Smith), Executive Secretary of the NAACP, sends Marshall to Bridgeport, Connecticut.  There, he will defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a chauffeur accused of rape by his white employer, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), in a case that has gripped the newspapers.

In Bridgeport, insurance lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), is assigned by his brother, Irwin Friedman (John Magaro), to get Marshall admitted to the local bar, against Sam's will.  At the hearing for Spell, Judge Carl Foster (James Cromwell), a friend of the father of prosecutor Lorin Willis (Dan Stevens), agrees to admit Marshall, but forbids Marshall from speaking during the trial, forcing Friedman to be Spell's lead counsel.  Now, Marshall must guide Friedman through the trial via notes, but is this case a lost cause when Thurgood and Sam discover that it is rife with lies – on both sides.

Marshall is technically a biographical film, focusing on a specific period in the life and career of future Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall.  Early in the film, however, it is obvious that director Reginald Hudlin has his mind on making Marshall a film that resembles a 1940s film noir with elements of a legal drama and a crime thriller.  The audience can hear that in Marcus Miller's lovely film score and in the way Hudlin stages the action, uses space, and places the actors.

In one of the film's early moments, when Marshall has his back to the camera and is ironing a shirt, I immediately thought of my favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart, and one of his most famous roles, that of Sam Space in director John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941).  From that point, there is hardly a setting in which Marshall's life does not seem to be in danger.  Hudlin races his audience through a movie that seems to be shorter than its almost two hours of run time.  Is Marshall a courtroom drama?  Yes, and it is also a courtroom thriller with a mystery at its center.

I do wish the father-son screenwriting team of Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff had given the script  more depth, as the narrative is mostly style and genre.  There is also a lack of depth in the  characterization, and the characters are a bit shallow.  As hard as actor Sterling K. Brown tries, he can't seem to really draw anything from the well of defendant Joseph Spell's soul.  Spell comes across as more of a stand-in than an actual portrait of a man whose life is on the line.

The very talented Josh Gad is able to give a lot of color to Sam Friedman, playing as a subtly wily man who is able to navigate his way between conflicting sides.  Kate Hudson, mostly known for romantic comedies, shows some serious dramatic chops as the trapped suburban wife and alleged victim, Eleanor Strubing.  As usual, Roger Guenveur Smith is spry, this time as the real-life Walter Francis Wright.

Of course, in the wake of his 2020 death to complications of colon cancer, Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall will be the center of attention in the film, Marshall, going forward.  Despite a lack of characterization in the film's script, Boseman turns Marshall into a relentless paladin, traveling the countryside fighting the forces of white bigotry and racism.  His field of battle is the courtroom, and black men falsely accused because they are black are the people he defends.  Boseman makes me believe that he is a stubborn attorney and hero in an old-fashioned courtroom drama.  He also makes me believe that he is a superhero, almost a year before he became the beloved Black Panther of Disney/Marvel Studios' Oscar-winning film, Black Panther.

Marshall convinces me that Thurgood Marshall was both a heroic lawyer and a superhero.  The film also convinces me that Boseman was the best at bringing the most famous African-American men to life on the big screen.  Plus, Marshall is a really good movie.

8 of 10

Monday, February 15, 2021

2018 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Song” (Common and Diane Warren for song “Stand Up for Something”)

2018 Black Reel Awards:  7 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture” (Jonathan Sanger, Paula Wagner, and Reginald Hudlin), “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture” (Chadwick Boseman), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Reginald Hudlin), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Victoria Thomas-Casting Director), “Outstanding Score” (Marcus Miller-Composer), “Outstanding Original Song” (Andra Day-Performer, Common-Performer, Writer, and Diane Warren-Writer for the song “Stand Up for Something”), and “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male” (Sterling K. Brown)

2018 Image Awards (NAACP):  5 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Chadwick Boseman), “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (Sterling K. Brown), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Keesha Sharp), “and  “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture” (Reginald Hudlin)

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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Monday, February 15, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: GET ON UP

[The late Chadwick Boseman portrayed four African-American historical figures, three of them as the lead actor.  His performance as James Brown in “Get on Up” is an example of why so many are devastated by his passing and also by the loss of what could have been.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 14 of 2021 (No. 1752) by Leroy Douresseaux

Get on Up (2014)
Running time:  139 minutes (2 hours, 19 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations
DIRECTOR:  Tate Taylor
WRITERS:  Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth; from a story by Steven Baigelman and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth
PRODUCERS:  Brian Grazer, Erica Huggins, Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman, and Tate Taylor
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Stephen Goldblatt
EDITOR:  Michael McCusker
COMPOSER:  Thomas Newman


Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Jamarion and Jordan Scott, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Jamal Batiste, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer, Josh Hopkins, Brandon Mychal Smith, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis, Tariq Trotter as Pee Wee Ellis, John Benjamin Hickey, and Allison Janney

Get on Up is a 2014 biographical film and musical drama directed by Tate Taylor.  The film is a fictional depiction of the life of singer, songwriter, recording artist, and concert performer, James Brown (1933-2006).  Get on Up chronicles the rise from extreme poverty of one of the most influential musical performers in history.

Get on Up opens in Augusta, Georgia, the year 1988James Brown (Chadwick Boseman), one of the world's most famous recording artists and performers, gets high on mix of marijuana and PCP.   He visits one of his businesses and discovers that someone from a nearby seminar has used his private restroom.  Furious, Brown confronts the seminar attendees while carrying a shotgun, which he accidentally fires into the ceiling.

The film then uses a nonlinear narrative, following James Brown's stream of consciousness, as he recalls events from his life.  We meet young James Brown (Jamarion and Jordan Scott), living in poverty with his mother, Susie Brown (Viola Davis), and abusive father, Joseph “Joe” Brown (Lennie James).  Eventually abandoned by both his parents, young James lives in a brothel run by his Aunt Honey Washington (Octavia Spencer).

Later, James joins “The Flames,” a gospel singing group fronted by his new friend, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis).  Soon, they become “The Famous Flames” and sing R&B songs, but within a decade James Brown is ready to go solo.  It would not be the last time James is willing to go it alone on the way to becoming one of the most influential singer, songwriters, musicians, producers, dancers, bandleaders, and recording artists of all time.

Director Tate Taylor and screenwriters Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth have fashioned of a story that looks at two sides of James Brown:  his musical talent and performances and his personal and professional relationships.  This allows Get on Up to give audiences what they want – lots of James Brown on stage – and to also tell a behind-the-music-like story of a complicated man.

Get on Up takes its title from a chorus in James Brown's 1970 hit, “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.”  Brown does indeed “get on up” every time he experiences something personally or professionally that could have brought him down and kept him down.  The thing that I can respect about this film is that it does not only portray Brown as someone who overcomes, but also portrays him as someone who does not appreciate that he was never alone in creating his success.  Late in the film, Brown breaks the fourth wall (one of many times he does this) to tell the audience that he “paid the cost to be the boss.”  However, he did not pay the cost alone, to which wives, girlfriends, lovers, children, band mates, and employees can certainly testify.

Through the impressive work of Get on Up's film editor, Michael McCusker. Tate Taylor jumps around time to show the many faces of this artist who was, in a way, a chameleon as a performer.  We see moments from the years:  1939, 1949, 1955, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1971, 1988, and 1993.  This time-shifting of the film's narrative also reveals the many dark times of Brown's life.

Everyone's work would not mean much without a great performer giving a great performance as James Brown, and Chadwick Boseman certainly does that.  Boseman fashions a James Brown that is perfect for the story that Get on Up tells, creating a Brown that is an inspired genius and a dictatorial general.  Boseman nearly buries himself in the role, and I often found myself forgetting that Get on Up is not a documentary and that the James Brown on screen was a portrait not the real man.  However, Boseman's dynamic performance gives us both sides, the public persona known as James Brown, the musical revolution, and the private James Brown, unyielding to family, friends, collaborators, and partners and beset by demons.

There are other good performances.  Viola Davis packs her own power into every scene in which she appears as Brown's mother, and Octavia Spencer's displays the naturalism of her acting that charms her audiences as well as her fellow thespians.  Nelson Ellis offers a rich and layered performance as Brown's longtime collaborator, Bobby Byrd, and twins Jamarion and Jordan Scott damn near steal Get on Up with their performances as young James Brown.

Because of Chadwick Boseman's tragic passing in 2020, Get on Up will largely be remembered for his performance.  That's a shame because Get on Up is a really good film and is one of the best contemporary biographies of an African-American figure and of an icon figure in popular music in recent memory.  So, I'll take both.  Get on Up captures the music and the madness of James Brown, and the film captures a truly great performance by an actor who was becoming great and greater still before he died.

9 of 10

Monday, February 15, 2021

2015 Black Reel Awards:  3 nominations: “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture” (Chadwick Boseman), :Outstanding Supporting Actor, Motion Picture” (Nelsan Ellis), and “Outstanding Ensemble” (Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee)

2015 Image Awards (NAACP):  5 nomination: “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Chadwick Boseman), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Jill Scott), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Octavia Spencer), and “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Viola Davis)

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, February 12, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "A Madea Family Funeral"

[I could not imagine committing to a focus on black films and not offer at least one film from media mogul, Tyler Perry.  Within a decade, Perry became a successful performer and producer of stage plays.  He entered the film business with his 2005 film, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and owned a film production studio, Tyler Perry Studios, by 2006.  Perry's signature character, Mabel "Madea" Earlene Simmons, has played a significant part in Perry's rags to riches story, and he apparently brought the film saga of Madea to an end with “A Madea Family Funeral.”]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 13 of 2021 (No. 1751) by Leroy Douresseaux

A Madea Family Funeral (2019)
Running time:  109 minutes (1 hour, 49 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for crude sexual content, language, and drug references throughout
PRODUCERS:  Ozzie Areu, Will Areu, Tyler Perry, and Mark E. Swinton
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Richard Vialet (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Larry Sexton
COMPOSER:  Philip White


Starring:  Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Jen Harper, Courtney Burrell, Ciera Payton, Rome Flynn, KJ Smith, Aeriél Miranda, David Otunga, Quin Walters, Ary Katz, and Derek Morgan

A Madea Family Funeral is a 2019 comedy-drama from writer-director Tyler Perry.  It is the eleventh and (supposedly) final film in the Madea film series.  A Madea Family Funeral focuses on an anniversary celebration that unexpectedly turns into a funeral that unveils unsavory family secrets.

A Madea Family Funeral opens in the home of Vianne (Jen Harper) and Anthony Thompson (Derek Morgan).  Their children are planning a surprise party to celebrate their parents' 40th wedding anniversary.  Sylvia (Ciera Payton) is with her husband, Will (David Otunga).  Carol (KJ Smith), who is married to older brother, A.J. (Courtney Burrell), is awaiting his arrival.  Younger brother, Jesse (Rome Flynn), is awaiting the arrival of his fiancé, Gia (Aeriél Miranda).

Meanwhile Mabel “Madea” Simmons (Tyler Perry), Uncle Joe (Tyler Perry), Betty Ann Murphy a.k.a. “Aunt Bam” (Cassi Davis), Hattie (Patrice Lovely), and Joe's son, Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry), are also traveling to the reunion.  Vianne and Anthony's family is also the family of Madea and Joe's brother, Heathrow (Tyler Perry), a lecherous, wheelchair bound Vietnam veteran.

Not long after Madea and company arrive at their hotel, they discover that A.J. is also there with Gia, with whom he is having an affair.  Even more shocking is that they discover that Anthony is in a room next to A.J. and Gia's and is engaged in kinky sex with Renee (Quin Walters), a friend of both Vianne and Anthony's.  Anthony suffers a heart attack from the sexual activity and is taken to a hospital where he dies.

Now, Madea is charged with planning Anthony's funeral, which Vianne wants to occur in two days.  In the meantime, Anthony's secret life and the secrets of his two sons threaten to spill over.

A Madea Family Funeral qualifies as a dramatic film because of the secrets and lies and melodrama that apparently have long been a part of Vianne and Anthony's family.  Writer-director Tyler Perry deals with this the way he normally does – with soap opera, gospel theatrics, and Christian philosophizing.  Still, this family drama is pretty dark, and I do credit Perry for once again telling a story about mothers who make tough choices in order to provide for, to protect, and to keep their families together.  What might seem like weakness and stupidity might actually be strength and practicality.

A Madea Family Funeral is a comedy because of … well, because of Madea, Joe, Aunt Bam, and Hattie.  I have to be honest; I think much of the humor in this film as being an inappropriate match for the dramatic side of this film.  Still, I found myself vigorously laughing through more than half this film.  In a way, Anthony's funeral becomes a hilarious nightmare, both because of the unsavory family secrets and because of Madea and company.  But, hell, sometimes laughter helps a family get through a funeral, especially a hot mess of a death and funeral like Anthony's.

If A Madea Family Funeral is indeed the final Madea film, I can say that it went out on a relatively high note.  Perry gives us his trademark Christian moralizing, and Madea gives us the shameless, shameful comedy.  Truthfully, only Tyler Perry could be Madea, so there can be no other true Madea films unless he makes them.  So I hope A Madea Family Funeral doesn't put the Madea film franchise to rest.

7 of 10

Wednesday, February 10, 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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Thursday, February 11, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: Denzel and Viola Tear it Up in "FENCES"

[Over a decade after his death, August Wilson's acclaimed stage play, Fences, finally made it to the big screen, three decades after word came that it was to be adapted into film.  Every time I think that Denzel Washington:  the film's star, director, and one of its producers, can no longer amaze me, he amazes us all.  It turns out that America's greatest male actor is also a really fine director.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 12 of 2021 (No. 1750) by Leroy Douresseaux

Fences (2016)
Running time: 139 minutes (2 hours, 19 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references
DIRECTOR:  Denzel Washington
WRITER:  August Wilson (based upon his play, Fences)
PRODUCERS:  Todd Black, Scott Rudin, and Denzel Washington
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Charlotte Bruus Christensen (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Hughes Winborne
COMPOSER:  Marcelo Zarvos
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney

Fences is a 2016 period drama film directed by Denzel Washington.  It is based on playwright, August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences (1985).  Wilson also wrote the film adaptation's screenplay before he died in 2005 at the age of 60.  Fences focuses on a working-class African-American father in the 1950s who tries to come to terms with the events of his troubled life.

Fences opens in 1950s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and introduces 53-year-old Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington).  Troy lives with his wife, Rose Lee Maxson (Viola Davis), and their son, Cory (Jovan Adepo).  Troy works as a garbage collector alongside his best friend, Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson).  Troy has a younger brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who sustained a head injury in World War II that left him mentally impaired.  Gabriel received a $3,000 government payout that Troy subsequently used as a down payment on a home for his family.  Troy sometimes wonders if he has done right by Gabriel, who now lives at “Miss Pearl's house.”

Troy also has an adult son from a previous relationship, Lyons Maxson (Russell Hornsby), an apparently talented musician who visits Troy on payday when he wants to borrow money.  Troy's relationship with Lyons is strained, as are his relationships with just about everyone else.  Troy is especially bitter about his professional baseball career.  He played professionally in the Negro Leagues, but never played Major League Baseball, which had a “color barrier” until 1947 that prohibited Black players from joining the majors.  Now, Troy refuses to give permission for Cory to play football because he does not want the teen to fail in sports as he did … he says.  This decision, his general contrarian ways, and his rancor about his life is pushing his family and friends away from him.

Fences is the sixth play in August Wilson's ten-part, “Pittsburgh Cycle,” of plays.  Like all the plays in the cycle, Fences explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes.  Back in the late 1980s, actor Eddie Murphy had the film rights to Fences, but his planned film never came about.  Wilson and Murphy clashed over Wilson's insistence that the film adaptation of Fences be directed by an African-American because, more or less, only a black man could understand Troy Maxson's life.  At least, that is how I remember the behind-the-scenes happenings concerning Murphy's planed Fences film.

Watching Denzel Washington play Troy Maxson made me realize how universal Fences action and especially its themes are.  Washington is one of the film's producers as well as being the director, so he could make the film he wanted, and he filmed Fences in the city of Pittsburgh, where it is set.  It seems to me that Washington made Fences in its original setting, but played Troy Maxson and presented his world as a story in which audiences, practically from around the world and most certainly in the United States, could recognize and even identify.

Troy isn't just bitter about not being a Major League Baseball player; he is also always yearning.  Troy knows what he's got, but surpassing that is the desire to have more.  It is as if he is constantly thinking, “I have a good wife, son, home, and job, but …”  I have never seen Fences the play or read its text, so I am assuming that Fences the film is true to its source.  However, I interpret Fences the film as revealing that Troy's biggest obstacle isn't race, but is him always believing that what he has now will no longer make him happy, if it ever did.  He always believes that if he gets this “next thing” he will be happy or, at least, happier than he is at the present.

Washington's performance as Troy Maxson in his film, Fences, is a performance for the ages.  If this isn't his best acting, it is his best since The Hurricane.  And what do you know, Washington was nominated for the “Best Actor” Oscar for his performances in both Fences and The Hurricane, and he lost to actors who gave good but inferior performances to Washington's.

At least, Viola Davis finally won an Oscar – for “Best Supporting Actress” – for her performance in Fences.  She was long overdue, and in Fences, as Rose Maxson, she grounds the story and keeps Washington and Troy Maxson from dominating the entire story.  Some thought that Davis should have been nominated in the lead actress category, but Rose Maxson is a supporting character in this film.  Fences the film needs Viola Davis and Rose Maxson's support.

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson give some of the best performances of their careers.  I have no doubt that Henderson would have been nominated in the “Best Supporting Actor” category if he were a white actor...

That's okay.  All these black folks make Fences a major cinematic accomplishment.  They make it an African-American experience writ large, and anyone who can comprehend a movie, regardless of ethnic background, can take into Fences into his or her soul.

10 of 10

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

2017 Academy Awards, USA:  1 winner: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Viola Davis); 3 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Todd Black, Scott Rudin, and Denzel Washington), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Denzel Washington), and “Best Adapted Screenplay” (August Wilson-Posthumously)

2017 Golden Globes, USA:  1 winner: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Viola Davis) and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Denzel Washington)

2017 BAFTA Awards:  1 winner: “Best Supporting Actress” (Viola Davis)

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


Amazon wants me to inform you that the link below is a PAID AD, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on the ad below AND buy something(s).