Showing posts with label Ben Stiller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ben Stiller. Show all posts

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Review: Steven Spielberg's "EMPIRE OF THE SUN"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 27 of 2023 (No. 1916) by Leroy Douresseaux

Empire of the Sun (1987)
Running time:  153 minutes (2 hours, 33 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Steven Spielberg
WRITER:  Tom Stoppard (based on the novel by J.G. Ballard)
PRODUCERS:  Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, and Kathleen Kennedy
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Allen Daviau (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Michael Kahn
COMPOSER:  John Williams
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, Joe Pantoliano, Leslie Phillips, Masato Ibu, Emily Richard, Rupert Frazer, Peter Gale, Takataro Kataoka, and Ben Stiller

Empire of the Sun is a 1987 wartime drama and historical film directed by Steven Spielberg.  The film is based on the 1984 semi-autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun, from author J.G. Ballard (1930-2009).  Empire of the Sun the film focuses on a young English boy who is separated from his parents and then, struggles to survive the Japanese occupation of China during World War II

Empire of the Sun opens in 1941 in the “International Settlement,” an enclave of British and American citizens in Shanghai, ChinaJames “Jamie” Graham is the only child of an British upper middle class couple, John Graham (Rupert Frazer) and Mary Graham (Emily Richard).  Jamie enjoys a privileged life in the International Settlement, but he keeps an eye on the activities of the Japanese who have encroached on Shanghai.  After their attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese begin their occupation of the settlement.  During the family's bid to escape, Jamie is separated from his parents.

Eventually, Jamie is taken prisoner and moved into an internment camp.  He survives by befriending the American expatriate and hustler, Basie (John Malkovich), and also the kindly Englishman, Dr. Rawlins (Nigel Havers).  Now, called “Jim” by everyone, he establishes a successful trading network that keeps him with food and necessities.  As World War II drags on, however, Jim realizes that he no longer remembers what his parents look like.

Last year, I began watching and, in some cases, re-watching early Steven Spielberg films, such as Duel, Jaws, and 1941, in anticipation of Spielberg's autobiographical film, The Fabelmans, which was released in 2022.  The film has long since completed its theatrical run, but there remained Spielberg films I wanted to see.  I had been putting off watching Empire of the Sun for 36 years, and my best resource to see it, DVDNetflix, is closing soon.  So why not see Empire of the Sun now?

What can I say?  Empire of the Sun is not one of Spielberg's better films.  It does not really have a narrative center, and the plot is unfixed.  The film plays like a series of anecdotes – many, many, many anecdotes – played over a film that runs nearly two and a half hours long.  Some of the scenes have great emotional impact, such as Jim's reunion with his parents and even that last shot of the suitcase in the water.  Still, overall, the film lacks dramatic heft and emotion.  It's too cold and is disjointed.  Instead of feeling like a narrative that flows from beginning to end, Empire of the Sun feels like individual pages from a children's picture book.

If Empire of the Sun is a coming-of-age story and a boys' adventure tale, then, the film needs a great boy.  That is what actor Christian Bale is for this film.  All of 13-years-old when filming began, Bale carries Empire of the Sun with the tenacity and acting chops of an actor more than twice his age.  Bale embodies the emotional depth and dramatic depth that this film lacks as a whole.  None of the other actors' performances approach his, not because they are bad, but because neither Spielberg nor Tom Stoppard's script gives them the space and material.

Spielberg makes this film seem as if its true purpose is to be about a boy and his wartime adventures.  Thus, none of the Japanese elements really feel as if they have the force of an empire behind them.  Still, the focus on Jim Graham works because Christian Bale is the child emperor of Empire of the Sun.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Sunday, June 25, 2023

1988 Academy Awards, USA:  6 nominations:  “Best Cinematography” (Allen Daviau), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Norman Reynolds and Harry Cordwell), “Best Costume Design” (Bob Ringwood), “Best Sound” (Robert Knudson, Don Digirolamo, John Boyd, and Tony Dawe), “Best Film Editing” (Michael Kahn), and “Best Music, Original Score” (John Williams)

1989 BAFTA Awards:  3 wins: “Best Cinematography” (Allen Daviau), “Best Score” (John Williams), and “Best Sound” (Charles L. Campbell, Louis L. Edemann, Robert Knudson, and Tony Dawe); 3 nominations:  “Best Screenplay-Adapted” (Tom Stoppard), “Best Costume Design” (Bob Ringwood), and “Best Production Design” (Norman Reynolds)

1988 Golden Globes, USA  2 nominations: “Best Motion Picture – Drama” and “Best Original Score-Motion Picture” (John Williams)

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



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Monday, December 31, 2018

Negromancer News Bits and Bites from December 23rd to 31st, 2018 - Update #26

Support Leroy on Patreon:

SCANDAL - From THR:  A Massachusetts judge order today (Monday, Dec. 31st) that Kevin Spacey must appear for his arraignment in a case of an alleged sexual assault made against him.

BOX OFFICE - From BoxOfficeMojo:  The winner of the 12/28 to 12/30/2018 weekend box office is "Aquaman" with an estimated take of $51.55 million.

From THR:  "Aquaman" looks to cross $900 million+.

LGBTQ - From Truthout:  Eight LGBTQ-Led Social Justice Struggles the Corporate Media Missed in 2018.

MOVIES - From IndieWire:  52 directors name their favorite movies of 2018.

TELEVISION - From BleedingCool:  Michael Palin becomes the first member of the British comedy troupe, Monty Python, to receive the honor of (substantive rather than honorary) Knighthood from Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which will occur during the New Years Honors investitures.

MOVIES-TV - From ShadowandAct:  Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw Productions has apparently sent out an open call for scripts.

AWARDS - From QZ:  You can watch some of the films shortlisted for nominations in the Academy Award category of "Best Animated Short Film" (not the official title) online - for free.

CULTURE - From Truthout:  Renew the Resistance! The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa Light the Way.

BLM - From TheOregonian:  In the latest example of "Black-people-as-perceived-threat," meet Jermaine Massey vs. #HotelEarl.

COMICS TO FILM - From YahooEntertainment:  Stage and screen legend, Dame Julie Andrews, had to choose between a cameo in "Aquaman" and one in "Mary Poppins Returns."  Andrews starred in Disney's original "Mary Poppins."

COMICS-FILM  - From Newsarama:  Marvel Studios boss, Kevin Feige, has not started thinking about merging the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

CELEBRITY - From YahooNews:  In a rare photographic image, Eddie Murphy poses with all 10 of his children.

AWARDS - From Deadline:  Black Film Critics Circle name "Black Panther" the "Best Picture" of 2018.

MOVIES - From THR:  Universal has releases the first trailer for Jordan Peele's upcoming horror film, "Us," which is due March 15, 2019.

BOX OFFICE - From THR:  "Aquaman" crosses the $500 million mark in global box office.

From Collider:  With a week to go, the domestic box office has set a record with $11.383 billion in tickets sales, beating the 2016 total of $11.382 billion.

SCANDAL - From Deadline:  Yikes!  Kevin Spacey is facing a felony charge (indecent assault and battery) in Nantucket over an alleged attack on an 18-year-old in 2016.

TELEVISION - From Deadline:  Kill-my-husband prison bitch mad at Ben Stiller over "Escape from Dannemora."

BOX OFFICE - From BoxOfficeMojo:  The winner of the 12/21 to 12/23/2018 weekend box office is "Aquaman" with an estimated take of $67.4 million.

From Variety:  "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" opens at $26 million in China, the largest opening for a foreign animated film in China this year.

From TheWrap:   Universal's "Welcome to Marwen," directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Steve Carell, has a $2.4 million opening weekend.  That ties it with Paramount's "Action Point" as having the lowest opening weekend in 2018 for a film from a major studio.  It is also a career low for Zemeckis and Carell.

From Variety:  "Welcome to Marwen" to lose $50 million for Universal.

SPORTS-CULTURE - From RSN:  NBA star LeBron James says, "NFL Owners Are "Old White Men" With "Slave Mentality" Toward Players

TELEVISION - From THR:  Syfy has cancelled the zombie action-drama series, "Z Nation," with the current fifth season.  The December 28th, 2018 season ending episode will now be the series finale.

MOVIES - From BleedingCool:  Filmmaker Chad Stahelski still really, really wants to remake the film "Highlander" (1985).


From CNN:  Richard Overson, the oldest living American World War II veteran and the oldest man living in the United States, died at the age of 112, Thursday, December 27, 2018.  Overton volunteered for the Army starting in 1942 and served with the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit that served on various islands in the Pacific.

From TheWrap:  Hong Kong film director, Ringo Lam, has died at the age of 63, Saturday, December 29, 2018.  Lam's best known work is "City of Fire," which apparently "inspired" Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."  He also made three films starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

From Variety:  The actor Frank Adonis has died at the age of 83, Wednesday, December 26, 2018.  Adonis is probably best known for his appearances in the Martin Scorsese films, "Goodfellas," "Raging Bull," and "Casino."

Friday, November 27, 2015

New "Zoolander 2" Trailer Set Record



HOLLYWOOD, CA – The new trailer for Paramount Pictures’ “ZOOLANDER 2” has broken the record to become the most successful comedy trailer launch of all time. The trailer, which debuted online on November 18, 2015 and offers fans a sneak peek at the highly anticipated sequel to 2001’s “ZOOLANDER,” reached 52.2 million views in its first week of release.

“ZOOLANDER 2” is directed by Ben Stiller and features an all star cast of Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Milla Jovovich, Christine Taylor, Justin Theroux and Kyle Mooney. The film is written by Justin Theroux & Ben Stiller and Nick Stoller and John Hamburg. Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld, Scott Rudin and Clayton Townsend are producing. Jeff Mann is executive producing.

“ZOOLANDER 2”opens nationwide on February 12, 2016.

About Paramount Pictures Corporation
Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment, is a unit of Viacom (NASDAQ: VIAB, VIA), a leading content company with prominent and respected film, television and digital entertainment brands. Paramount controls a collection of some of the most powerful brands in filmed entertainment, including Paramount Pictures, Paramount Animation, Paramount Television, Paramount Vantage, Paramount Classics, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films, and Nickelodeon Movies. PPC operations also include Paramount Home Media Distribution, Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Licensing Inc., and Paramount Studio Group.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

New "Zoolander 2" Poster - Derek Zoolander's Cologne

ZOOLANDER 2 is in theaters February 12, 2016




Tuesday, November 10, 2015

New "Zoolander 2" Poster - Stiller and Wilson

ZOOLANDER 2 is in theaters February 12, 2016




Monday, August 3, 2015

First "Zoolander 2" Teaser Arrives


Zoolander 2 is in theaters February 12, 2016!


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Negromancer News Bits and Bites for May 24th to May 31st, 2015 - Update #16

Posted by Leroy Douresseaux - support on Patreon


From THR: Amandla Stenberg ("Rue" from Hunger Games) speaks out on the approbation of black culture and speaks some truth.

From RadioTimes:  Simon Pegg says sci-fi movies are "dumbing down" cinema.

From Vulture:   Geof Darrow on Frank Miller and The Matrix.

From TheWrap:  It's still being talked about and has no official release date, but we know a little more about "The Legend of Conan."  The film will be a direct sequel to 1982's Conan the Barbarian, and will take place 30 years later.  The film will also star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

From YahooMovies:  First, the very idea of a utopia as envisioned by Walt Disney is troubling, to say nothing of a movie inspired by that.

From EW:  Based on early estimates, Tomorrowland leads the Memorial Day 2015 weekend with an estimated haul of $32.2.

From EW: First look at Matt Damon in Ridley Scott's The Martian.

From Vulture:   At the 2015 iteration of the Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d'Or goes to the film, Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard.

COMICS - Books and Movies:

From THR: Marvel apparently screen-testing actors who will be the next Spider-Man near the set of "Captain America: Civil War."

From Vulture:  Tilda Swinton cold be in Marvel's Doctor Strange movie.

From Vulture:  Fox is apparently reviving "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

From Collider:  Chris Pine in talks to appear in Warner's "Wonder Woman" movie.

From Vulture:  A history of Marvel Comics' "Ultimate" universe.

From YahooTVMichael B. Jordan talks about the online racist reactions to him being cast as "Johnny Storm."  It's not about you, Mike.  It's about "white fragility."

From YahooMovies: Tyler James Williams would be cool about being Miles Morales in a film.

From YahooFinance:  Is Flash the most important character in the DC Universe.


From TheWrapAnne Meara, the actress and comedian, has died at the age of 85.  She was the wife of Jerry Stiller and the mother of writer-actor-director, Ben Stiller, and daughter, Amy.

From TheWrap: The Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, John Forbes Nash, Jr. has died.  Nash's life inspired the film, A Beautiful Mind, which won the best picture Oscar-winner for the year 2001.  Russell Crowe played Nash in the film.  Nash, who was 86, and his wife, Alicia (82) died in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Zoolander 2" Due February 2016

Zoolander 2 Announced at Paris Fashion Week

ZOOLANDER 2: In theaters February 12, 2016

Derek and Hansel are back where they belong: on the runway. Watch them take Paris Fashion Week by storm at today’s Valentino show.

Watch the walk now:


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


Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Burning Love" Returns to Yahoo! Screen


Breakout Series is Produced by Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Digital, Abominable Pictures, Ken Marino and Erica Oyama

Los Angeles, CA (October 25, 2012) Paramount’s Insurge Pictures and Yahoo! today announced that Burning Love, the popular comedy series that spoofs reality dating shows, will return for two more hilarious seasons on Yahoo! Screen ( in 2013.

“At Yahoo!, we program based on insights about what our users want to watch,” said Erin McPherson, VP and Head of Video at Yahoo!. “We knew we found a hit with Burning Love given the caliber of the talent and the subject matter—and it was proven shortly after the launch with all the binge viewing that took place. We’re excited to offer two more seasons of it to our audience.”

“The success of Burning Love is a testament to the unparalleled creative team that delivered a truly hilarious series and set a new bar for original digital entertainment,” said Amy Powell, President of Insurge Pictures and EVP of Interactive Theatrical Marketing for Paramount Pictures. “Yahoo! did a tremendous job of getting the series in front of their audience, and we are thrilled to be working with them to bring the next two seasons to fans.”

The first season of Burning Love ( launched June 4th domestically on Yahoo! Screen to critical acclaim. The series media called ‘ridiculously awesome’ (Buzz Sugar), and ‘a hilarious parody series’ (Entertainment Weekly), followed fireman Mark Orlando (Ken Marino) in his search for the perfect woman to marry or at least be engaged. Burning Love featured an impressive line up of comedic actors from film and television including Marino, Ben Stiller, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Michael Ian Black, Ken Jeong, Adam Scott, Abigail Spencer, Natasha Leggero, June Diane Raphael, Noureen DeWulf, Janet Varney, Kerri Kenney Silver, Paul Scheer, Beth Dover, and many more.

"We are very excited to keep Burning Love on the fire -- get ready for it to get hotter and hotter till it scalds your comedy taste buds off," commented Stiller.

The next two installments of Burning Love will also be written by Erica Oyama (Childrens’ Hospital) and directed by Ken Marino and feature some returning cast including Ken Marino, June Diane Raphael and Natasha Leggero as well as new characters in their quest to find true love.

Season 2 follows Julie (June Diane Raphael), who failed to capture Mark Orlando’s heart in Season 1 of Burning Love, as she searches for love in a group of guys who are hopefully all there for the right reasons.

Season 3 Burning Down The House reunites our favorite rejected guys and girls as they return to the Burning Love mansion to compete for a hefty prize and for each other's affection.

Burning Love is executive produced by Red Hour’s Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld and Mike Rosenstein, Abominable Pictures’ Jonathan Stern, Ken Marino and Erica Oyama’s Dancing Workfriend with Paramount’s Insurge Pictures distributing the project.

Ben Stiller and Red Hour Films have an extensive history creating top tier comedy in film and television as well as for digital platforms, including Tropic Thunder, Zoolander, Dodgeball, Stiller and Meara for Yahoo!, and now Burning Love. Jon Stern’s Abominable Pictures has an impressive track record for creating successful comedy television and digital series including Childrens’ Hospital and NTSF: SD: SUV.

For more information on Burning Love visit or follow Mark Orlando on Twitter at @BurningLoveMark or Facebook at

Yahoo! sets the bar for best-in-class original video programming. With its recently launched video destination, Yahoo! Screen (, the development of women’s, men’s and comedy slates, and collaborations with world-class storytellers, creative partners and original voices, Yahoo! continues to build on its leadership position in video and to provide consumers and advertisers with the best premium content online.

About Paramount
Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPC), a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment, is a unit of Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA, VIAB), a leading content company with prominent and respected film, television and digital entertainment brands. Paramount controls a collection of some of the most powerful brands in filmed entertainment, including Paramount Pictures, Paramount Animation, ParamountVantage, Paramount Classics, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films, and Nickelodeon Movies. PPC operations also include Paramount Famous Productions, ParamountHome Media Distribution, Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Licensing Inc., and Paramount Studio Group.

About Yahoo!
Yahoo! is focused on creating deeply personal digital experiences that keep more than half a billion people connected to what matters most to them, across devices and around the globe. Yahoo!'s unique combination of Science + Art + Scale connects advertisers to the consumers who build their businesses. Yahoo! is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. For more information, visit the pressroom ( or the company's blog, Yodel Anecdotal (

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: "Madagascar 3" is DreamWorks Animation's Best to Date

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 79 (of 2012) by Leroy Douresseaux

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012)
Running time: 93 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
MPAA – PG for mild crude humor
DIRECTORS: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, and Conrad Vernon
WRITERS: Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach
PRODUCERS: Mireille Soria and Mark Swift
EDITOR: Nick Fletcher
COMPOSER: Hans Zimmer


Starring: (voices) Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio, Paz Vega, Frank Welker and Vinnie Jones

The subject of this movie review is Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, a 2012 3D computer-animated film from DreamWorks Animation. It is the third movie in the Madagascar film series, following Madagascar (2005) and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008). Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted finds Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman on the run in Europe and hiding with a traveling circus, which needs their help.

Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) was the king of New York City’s Central Park Zoo. A series of bizarre incidents found Alex and his friends: Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), as well as four crafty Penguins: Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights), and Rico (John DiMaggio), stranded on the exotic island of Madagascar. They make new friends, the Madagascar lemurs: King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), and Mort (Andy Richter).

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted finds Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman headed to Monaco, Monte Carlo in search of the penguins and their two chimpanzee companions, Mason and Phil. What they find is trouble in the form of Captain Chantal DuBois (Frances McDormand) of Monaco Animal Control. On the run from DuBois and her cohorts, Alex and company find a safe haven with Zaragoza Circus. The circus, which has seen better days, needs some help, but its animal denizens are suspicious of the newcomers. Alex sets out to reinvent the circus, a miracle that just may get him and his friends home – finally!

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is the best film in the Madagascar franchise. I’d planned on seeing it in a theatre, but I wasn’t really that enthused about it. I rented Madagascar 3 on DVD, and gave the copy to my mother. After watching it, she wanted to know if she could keep the disc to watch it a second time. She rarely watches films a second time, so I knew something was up. After watching the first few minutes of the film, I knew that it was going to be good. By the time the action explodes in the Hotel De Paris sequence, I knew that this movie was going to be something special, and it is. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is the best film DreamWorks Animation has produced to date – even better than the exceptional Kung Fu Panda movies. What’s the difference between Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and the earlier Madagascar films and most other DreamWorks’ cartoons? The difference is the writing/storytelling.

I’ve come across commentary that describes DreamWorks as the tech guys of computer animation and Pixar Animation Studios as the art of storytelling guys. There is some truth to that. DreamWorks is producing computer-animated films in which the quality of the animation in terms of movement of characters and objects is improving by sky-high leaps and bounds. The stories in Pixar’s films have heart and the characters almost seem like real people, as seen in the Toy Story films, Wall-E, and Up. These films captivate adults as much as they capture the imagination of children.

Europe’s Most Wanted has heart. The earlier Madagascar films relied on the personality quirks and the motivation and conflicts of the characters, but the plots and action weren’t as interesting or as funny as the characters. In fact, whenever the characters fell flat in the first two films, the plots could not rise to the level where the characters had been. The first film was interesting, and the second was not quite as good, but had its moments.

Europe’s Most Wanted has one great moment after another; the narrative is entrancing, and the action is exhilarating. This allows the characters, main and supporting, to shine, as excellent performers usually do when they have top-notch material. Of course, the animation is great, some of the best ever; it’s DreamWorks Animation, after all.

This movie also adds three fine new characters: Gia the Italian jaguar (Jessica Chastain), Vitaly the Russian tiger (Bryan Cranston), and Stefano the Italian sea lion (Martin Short). All three of the actors playing these characters give superb voice-acting performances. They help make Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted better than the earlier films – a lavish spectacle of animation brilliance. This story about the meaning of home and friendship is one of the great animated films in recent memory. I want to watch it again.

9 of 10

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Friday, June 8, 2012

First "Madagascar" a Looney Tune

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 86 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Madagascar (2005)
Running time: 80 minutes (1 hour, 20 minutes)
MPAA – PG for mild language, crude humor, and some thematic elements
DIRECTORS: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
WRITERS: Mark Burton and Billy Frolick and Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
PRODUCER: Mireille Soria
EDITOR: Mark A. Hester


Starring: (voices) Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, and Andy Richter

The subject of this movie review is Madagascar, a 2005 computer-animated film from DreamWorks Animation. The film focuses on a group of zoo animals accidentally shipped to Africa.

Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) is king of the animal attractions at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He and his friends: Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) have lived there their entire lives. However, on the day of his tenth birthday, Marty begins to wonder what life outside the zoo – in particular life in the wild, would be like. With the help of four crafty penguins, Marty escapes the zoo for an overnight excursion. When his friends discover him missing, they also leave the zoo to rescue him.

The quartet attracts so much attention, and the sight of Alex the Lion running loose and free scares many New Yorkers. After the quartet is captured, they along with some other animals who escaped (two monkey’s and those darned penguins, again) are put on a cargo ship to be transferred to a zoo in Kenya. Once again, the penguins cause trouble and sabotage the ship, inadvertently causing Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria to be stranded on the exotic island of Madagascar. Now, the quartet has to learn to survive in this lush jungle paradise, but Marty, Melman, and Gloria discover, much to their chagrin, Alex’s wilder side.

Madagascar is the fifth feature-length computer animated film from DreamWorks through their computer animation studio, PDI (DreamWorks Animation). With each film, the art and craft of PDI’s computer graphics and animation markedly improves. In terms of the “drawing” style, this film is closer to the Warner Bros. cartoon shorts of the 1930’s and 40’s, in particular the work of cartoon directors Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett. The characters are designed to look 2D (two-dimensional), like the hand drawn cartoon characters featured in the aforementioned trio’s legendary work, although the Madagascar’s characters exist in the 3D (three-dimensional) world of computer animation.

How did PDI successfully create a computer animated film that looks like classic “cartoony” animated cartoons of yesteryear? What makes this work is that they mastered “squash and stretch,” the process which animators use to deform an object and then snap it back into shape to portray motion or impact. The ability to squash and stretch is essential to cartoon slapstick comedy such as the Road Runner cartoons. While squash and stretch are easy for animators to do with a pencil in hand-drawn/2D animation, it is more difficult for computer animators to do. DreamWorks Animation has successfully moved to the next level in terms of the quality of their work by creating characters that stretch and expand. It’s a film that able captures the manic energy of Avery, Jones, and Clampett’s Warner Bros. cartoons.

The animation of human characters and the layout, lighting, and set designs of human environments is shocking in how good it looks, but once the narrative moves to Madagascar the character animation really takes off. The characters bend, twist, elongate, and expand in a constant barrage that has the manic energy of classic cartoons. This also helps to sell a limp concept.

The plot is a basic fish-out-of-water tale without much imagination. The characters, except for the penguins, aren’t exceptional or memorable. They are good for some laughs, but they lack the zip, zest, or tang of cast of the Shrek franchise. The buddies of this buddy film, Alex and Marty, have some chemistry, but aren’t that dynamic a duo. Actually, the animals and the actors that give voice to them (Stiller, Rock, Schwimmer, and Ms. Jada) have the best chemistry as either a trio or a quartet. Put three or four together, and the film sparkles and splashes over with slapstick comedy that works. Cut the quartet in half and the narrative loses its energy.

Overall, Madagascar is a pleasant family comedy with some exceptionally strong humor that should appeal to adults; plus, the film references lots of other movies, and that keeps older viewers interested. DreamWorks Animation hasn’t yet reached Pixar, the gold standard in computer animation, but the quality of entertainment in Madagascar proves that the studio can deliver high-quality, if not classic, animated entertainment.

7 of 10

"Madagascar 2" is Kinda like "The Lion King"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 47 (of 2012) by Leroy Douresseaux

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)
Running time: 89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – PG for mild crude humor
DIRECTORS: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
WRITERS: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath and Etan Cohen
PRODUCERS: Mireille Soria and Mark Swift
EDITORS: Mark A. Hester and H. Lee Peterson
COMPOSER: Hans Zimmer


Starring: (voices) Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio, Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd,, and Elisa Gabrielli

The subject of this movie review is Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, a 2008 computer-animated film from DreamWorks Animation and a sequel to the 2005 film, Madagascar. It is also the company’s 10th computer-animated feature film released to theatres. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa finds the zoo animal heroes from the first film now accidentally stranded in Africa.

Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) was the king of New York City. Actually, he was the king of the animal attractions at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He and his friends: Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), had lived at the zoo practically their entire lives. However, a series of events found them stranded on the exotic island of Madagascar. Four crafty Penguins: Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights), and Rico (John DiMaggio) were also stranded with them.

In Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Alex and friends and the penguins hope a rickety airplane can get them back to New York. The Madagascar lemurs: King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), and Mort (Andy Richter) join them on a flight that goes bad quickly. Now, the group is stranded in continental Africa, where Alex (whose birth name is “Alakay”) is reunited with his parents, his father, Zuba the Lion (Bernie Mac), and his mother, Florrie the Lioness (Sherri Shepherd). It is a happy reunion until a rival, Makunga the Lion (Alec Baldwin), hatches a plot to use Alex to unseat Zuba as king of the pride.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is an exceedingly family-friendly film; for a DreamWorks Animation production, it has surprisingly little scatological humor or romantic innuendo. The story is rife with themes built around family and friendship, and it emphasizes that friends can also be another kind of family. Escape 2 Africa is all about love, and in this story, love means understanding and then, acceptance.

I find the last half hour of this film to be much better than the rest. Getting the duet featuring Alex and Zuba makes watching this movie worth the time spent. As was the case with the first film, there is a subplot featuring the Madagascar penguins, who are some of my all-time favorite animated characters. This plot involves some tourists and hundreds of monkeys, and it’s like its own mini-movie – a good mini-movie.

Like the first film, Escape 2 Africa has great production values. The character animation and the overall film design and art direction are beautiful; this is the computer animation equivalent of The Lion King, one of Walt Disney’s most gorgeous and visually striking films. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa won’t have the place in film history that The Lion King has, but I love this movie’s almost-obsession with being about family and friends. It is a movie that has just enough balance to get parents to watch it with their children.

6 of 10

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Everything About "The Royal Tenenbaums" is Wonderful (Happy B'day, Wes Anderson)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 15 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Running time: 110 minutes (1 hour, 50 minutes)
MPAA – R for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
WRITERS: Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson
PRODUCERS: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, and Scott Rudin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Yeoman (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Dylan Tichenor
COMPOSER: Mark Mothersbaugh
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, Seymour Cassel, Kumar Pallana, Grant Rosenmeyer, and Jonah Meyerson

The subject of this movie review is The Royal Tenenbaums, the 2001 Oscar-nominated comedy and drama from director, Wes Anderson. The film follows siblings whose early success was mitigated by their eccentric father’s behavior. I love this film and…

Apparently, Rushmore was not a fluke.

When Royal O’Reilly Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) announces that he is dying, his family slowly, painfully reunites. His wife Etheline “Ethel” Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston) removed her philandering husband from the home over a decade prior to the beginning of the movie. Their three children are business whiz Chas (Ben Stiller), playwright Margot Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is actually adopted, and Richie “Baumer” (Luke Wilson), who grew up to become a professional tennis champion. Family friend and unofficial fourth Tenenbaum child is Elijah “Eli” Cash (Owen Wilson), a novelist and a drug addict, who is also in love with Margot.

Royal would like to get in good with his family, again, but he left so many open wounds when Ethel exiled him. The Tenenbaum children were celebrated prodigies who have fallen on bad times. Chas, a single father of two boys and who lost his wife the previous year in a plane crash, despises his father. Margot is a playwright in limbo, and Richie’s suffered a meltdown during his last championship tennis match. Royal is also disturbed by his wife’s engagement to her accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), and he wants desperately to connect with Chas’s sons, his grandsons. What unfolds is a touching, but unusual family drama/comedy.

Directed by Wes Anderson of the aforementioned Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums is a film with a conventional story, the family drama, filled with the usual comedy, familial intrigue, and requisite feuds. What makes this film so different from other family dramas is Anderson’s conviction and determination not to be like other filmmakers or not to deliver something that is nothing more than film industry product. His vision is unique, and his storytelling technique demands not only one’s attention but that one also engage the film.

Anderson is a visual stylist, but in a quite manner. His cinematographer, Robert D. Yeoman has worked on Anderson’s other films and contributes a peculiar color palette that resembles Technicolor, but is merged with clean, earth tones. Tenenbaums has a dreamlike quality with a slight breath of realism. It’s eye candy, but doesn’t distract from the story; in fact, it keeps one attentive to what the camera reveals. Unlike many directors who are visually sharp by way of quick cuts and editing, Anderson doesn’t mind allowing his camera to linger on and to follow his characters.

The script by Anderson and Tenenbaum co-star Owen Wilson is filled with idiosyncrasies, but is, nevertheless, a story about a family and the damage family members do to one another. We’ve seen it before, but unlike American Beauty, Tenenbaums really manages to tell a familiar story in a unique and special way.

The performances are subtle and nuanced even as the characters appear to be over the top. We know that Gene Hackman is good, but he has a knack for giving range to familiar character types. His performances nearly always hint at characters that have lived long lives before their respective movies begin. Royal is like a book, and Hackman makes the mental exercise that it takes to figure out Royal worth it.

Gwyneth Paltrow continues to reveal the scope of her abilities. She is a classic film pretty face, but with the acting chops of serious thespian. Owen Wilson is his usual wacky self; he manages to be self-confident and endearing even when playing a not too bright character. However, the surprise here is his brother Luke Wilson. Even through dark glasses, he makes his eyes the windows to the soul of his troubled character. He is the film’s mystery man, and he is the sum of his family’s troubles. Wilson doesn’t miss a beat while carrying this burden.

The Royal Tenenbaums is filled with wonderful acting, directing, story telling. Too make such an offbeat clan and their associates so lovable, charming, and fun to follow is no minor feat. Anderson takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Truly, he does it like few before him. Bravo!

We get all this and a wonderful voiceover narration by Alec Baldwin.

9 of 10

2002 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson)

2002 BAFTA Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Screenplay – Original” (Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson)

2002 Golden Globes, USA: 1 win: “Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Gene Hackman)



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Craig Roberts Keeps "Submarine" Bouyant

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 100 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Submarine (2011)
Running time: 97 minutes (1 hour, 37 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and some sexual content
DIRECTOR: Richard Ayoade
WRITER: Richard Ayoade (based upon the novel by Joe Dunthorne)
PRODUCERS: Mary Burke, Mark Herbert, and Andy Stebbing
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Erik Alexander Wilson (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton
COMPOSER: Andrew Hewitt
SONGS: Alex Turner


Starring: Craig Roberts, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins, Darren Evans, and Gemma Chan

Submarine is a 2010 coming-of-age comedy/drama film that was released theatrically earlier this year (2011). The film is based upon the 2008 novel of the same title by author Joe Dunthorne and is also the debut directorial effort from British comedian and actor, Richard Ayoade. Actor/director Ben Stiller is one of the film’s executive producers. Submarine follows the story of a teenaged boy who wants to lose his virginity and to save his parents’ marriage.

Set in Swansea, a coastal city in Wales, United Kingdom, Submarine takes place in 1986 and focuses on 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts). Oliver thinks that he is a genius, although he is actually pretentious and socially alienated. He is in love with a classmate, a straight-talking girl named Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), whom he hopes will relieve him of his virginity.

Oliver is also concerned that his parents’ sex life and, therefore, their marriage are failing. His father, Lloyd Tate (Noah Taylor), a marine biologist, is depressed. His mother, Jill (Sally Hawkins), is apparently flirting with Graham (Paddy Considine), the new age guru who just moved in next door and, surprisingly, was once Jill’s boyfriend. Oliver’s intense concern about his parents’ relationship threatens his own relationship with Jordana, who has troubles of her own at home.

When you think of movies about young men losing (or attempting to lose) their virginity, an insipid or coarse teen comedy might come to mind. Submarine isn’t really about sex, although many descriptions of the film focus on Oliver’s quest to get his cherry popped. Nor is Submarine a typical coming-of-age story; as Oliver says at one point: he doesn’t know if he has come-of-age or just gotten older.

Submarine is a character-driven story and is about a precocious teen who suffers from depression and is also a bit too self-absorbed. However, writer/director Richard Ayoade doesn’t study Oliver so much as he presents him, so the movie doesn’t really delve into the character. It’s as if Ayoade wants us to be amazed by Oliver, rather than dissect him, as much as we might want to dissect him (and I wanted to).

What makes Submarine such a good film is Craig Roberts’ performance as Oliver Tate. Whatever the screenplay may lack in depth, Roberts replaces with self-assuredness as a performer. He makes Oliver seem like an unaffected and authentic teen dealing with the mental wonky-ness brought on by puberty. Yasmin Paige also adds a salty sweet taste and sparklingly brightness to this moody comedy as Jordana.

And yes, Submarine is a comedy. Richard Ayoade pokes fun at how self-absorbed people are and at their obsession with self-gratification. Don’t worry. Submarine offers a happy ending that sparkles with airy magic as if it were a Hollywood romantic comedy.

7 of 10

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: "DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story" is Still Funny (Happy B'day, Ben Stiller)

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

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

COMEDY/SPORTS with elements of romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 of 10

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


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: "Tower Heist" Captures Classic Eddie Murphy

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 92 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Tower Heist (2011)
Running time: 104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for language and sexual content
DIRECTOR: Brett Ratner
WRITERS: Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson; from a story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, and Ted Griffin
PRODUCERS: Brian Grazer, Eddie Murphy, and Kim Roth
EDITOR: Mark Helfrich
COMPOSER: Christophe Beck

COMEDY/CRIME with elements of a thriller

Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Stephen Henderson, Judd Hirsch, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, Nina Arianda, Marcia Jean Kurtz, and Juan Carlos Hernandez

Tower Heist is a 2011 crime comedy from director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour franchise). The film follows the misadventures of a gang of working stiffs who plot to rob a Wall Street tycoon who stole their pensions. Tower Heist is a comic caper that lives up to the comedy part, and the film’s actors deliver on their characters, especially Eddie Murphy who returns to the kind of character that made him popular in the 1980s.

Tower Heist focuses on Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), the building manager of The Tower, a high-rise luxury apartment complex in New York City’s Columbus Circle (Manhattan). The residents are wealthy and are used to being catered to, and the building’s security is no joke. Still, Josh has everything under control until the Tower’s most noteworthy tenant, wealthy businessman, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), is arrested by the FBI for running a Ponzi scheme. It was Kovacs who suggested that Shaw invest the Tower employees’ pension fund, and now that money is also apparently gone.

When FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) tells him that Shaw may get away with his crimes, Josh decides to get revenge on Shaw by breaking into his apartment to steal from him. He gathers fellow coworkers: his brother-in-law, Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck); a bankrupt Wall Street investor, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick); bellhop Enrique Dev’reaux (Michael Peña), and Jamaican-born maid, Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe) as his crew. Josh knows, however, that his crew needs a real criminal, so he recruits his neighbor, a petty crook named Slide (Eddie Murphy), to assist them in the robbery. But as determined as they are, things keep getting in their way.

Tower Heist is not really a heist film like the edgier The Italian Job (either version) or the cool and clever Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels. Tower Heist is comic fluff – successful comic fluff, but still fluff, and its concepts, ideas, and set pieces are utter fantasy. Things happen in this movie that are so unbelievable that they are often funny; it’s ridiculous stuff, but quite amusing.

The real treasures in Tower Heist are the actors and their characters. The story that is Tower Heist is Josh Kovacs’ story, and Ben Stiller, who has been a successful leading man in big screen comedies for well over a decade, is funny. However, Stiller gives the film a surprising dramatic heft by giving Kovacs a dark and melancholy side that simmers right alongside this movie’s humor – even if many viewers may not see it.

Eddie Murphy, in his role as Slide, has done what many critics (and some fans) have been demanding for over two decades – return to playing the wiseass who makes being rude, confrontational, and streetwise a gold standard. This kind of character, in one form or another, appeared in early Murphy films like 48 Hrs., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop and at various time during Murphy’s tenure on “Saturday Night Live” (1980-84), yet in this film, that kind of character still seems fresh. The reason for this may be that Murphy plays Slide as a genuine criminal, a confrontational person who may appear comical, but who is actually an opportunistic career criminal and felon that is dangerous and untrustworthy. Slide is a real hood rat and is good for the film’s conflict and tension. He makes you believe that this heist has a better than 50% chance of going really bad.

There are other good supporting performances: Téa Leoni (who should have had a larger role), Matthew Broderick, and Alan Alda (who makes Arthur Shaw seem like a really nasty piece of work). I’ll also give credit for Tower Heist’s success as a comedy to both director Brett Ratner and editor Mark Helfrich. Ratner allows the actors room to play their characters for strong (if not maximum) effect. Helfrich composes a film that makes sure the comic moments are really funny and turns the heist sequence into a surprising thriller. I’d like to be a snob about this sometimes shallow and fluffy movie, but I really enjoyed Tower Heist. So why front?

7 of 10

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: "Megamind" More Than Mindless Superhero Action

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Megamind (2010)
Running time: 96 minutes (1 hour, 36 minutes)
MPAA – PG for action and some language
WRITERS: Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons
PRODUCERS: Lara Breay and Denise Nolan Cascino
EDITOR: Michael Andrews
COMPOSERS: Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer


Starring: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Brad Pitt, J.K. Simmons, Ben Stiller, Justin Long, Bill Hader, and Amy Poehler

It is not a rousing tale of a superhero family-that-plays-together like The Incredibles. It lacks the heartwarming, cuddliness of Despicable Me. Still, Megamind, a 2010 computer-animated movie from DreamWorks Animation, is a top notch superhero movie. It takes a different path, turning the ups-and-downs of friendship, dating, relationships, and career into a movie that mixes action comedy, romantic comedy, and superheroes.

Megamind (Will Ferrell) is a super-intelligent, blue-skinned alien who was sent here as a baby by his parents before their world was destroyed. Metro Man (Brad Pitt) also came to earth as a baby. Megamind grew up to be a supervillain, and Metro Man became a superhero and the defender of Metro City. Megamind and Metro Man have fought each other for years, and Metro Man always wins.

Then, one day, Megamind actually kills Metro Man. Metro City becomes Megamind’s playground, but he soon finds his life boring and pointless with a superhero to fight. Megamind creates a new superhero he names Titan (Jonah Hill), but instead of using his powers for good (and for fighting Megamind), Titan turns bad. Meanwhile, Megamind falls in love with Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), a reporter he used to kidnap to irritate Metro Man. Now, Megamind and Roxanne have to save the city.

Not only is the animation sleek, gracefully, and colorful in Megamind, but it is also spectacular. As befitting a good superhero movie, there are big action set pieces, and the explosions, fights, and mass destruction look nearly as awesome as anything found in a Transformers movie. From a technical point of view, this film should have gotten an Academy Award nomination for animated feature film and at least sound editing.

Perhaps, what held this movie back from greater acclaim is that quite a bit of Megamind seems recycled from other films, even if those similarities were unintentional. It seems like the odd man out, especially because before Megamind debuted, movie audiences had already seen a 3D animated film about a supervillain, the aforementioned Despicable Me. While Despicable Me is a heartwarming tale of a reluctant surrogate father and three cute little girls, Megamind is actually an adult-leaning film about mid-life crisis and relationship disappointments.

Megamind rises above any faults because of its voice cast. They tackle the various comic tones of the screenplay with wit and, occasionally, with style and substance. I think Will Ferrell is a brilliant comic actor with impeccable timing. Truthfully, Megamind would be pedestrian filler material, but Ferrell’s voice performance offers so many textures and layers that add richness to Megamind the character.

Tina Fey’s sparkling, witty turn creates a winning Lois Lane-like star reporter in Roxanne Ritchi. Brad Pitt proves, as he did in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003), that voice-acting for animated characters is not his thing. Jonah Hill is surprisingly good as the spurned nerd-turned-villain, and J.K. Simmons is pitch perfect as the Warden of Metro City Prison.

The advertising campaign for Megamind failed the film because it emphasized the fantastic action scenes, special effects, inventive mechanical creatures and devices, while ignoring the heart of the story. Megamind is about the search to be accepted, to belong, and to be loved. It is a Woody Allen-like take on the superhero movie, and is, in fact, much better than Allen’s recent relationship comedies.

8 of 10

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Meet the Fockers Just Wants to Make You Laugh... Nothing More

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 111 (of No. 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Meet the Fockers (2004)
Running time: 115 minutes (1 hour, 55 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, and a brief drug reference
WRITERS: Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg, from a story by Marc Hyman and Jim Herzfeld (based upon characters created by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke)
PRODUCERS: Robert De Niro, Jay Roach, and Jane Rosenthal
EDITOR: Alan Baumgarten, Lee Haxall, and Jon Poll


Starring: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson, Spencer Pickren, Bradley Pickren, Alana Ubach, Ray Santiago, Tim Blake Nelson, Shelly Berman, and Cedric Yarbrough

In 2000’s Meet the Parents, “Greg” Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) meets his girlfriend Pam Byrne’s (Teri Polo) parents, Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Blythe Danner), but Jack Byrnes is the suspicious father that is every date’s worst nightmare. Much hilarity ensued as Greg tried to earn Jack, a retired CIA officer’s, trust. Four years later, here comes the sequel, Meet the Fockers (the MPAA allegedly demanded that the studio find a family with Focker as a real last name before they allowed the name to be in the film’s title.), and this time Greg and Pam are planning marriage. Jack has more or less grown to accept Greg, mainly because most of his attention is currently on his grandson, Little Jack (Spencer and Bradley Pickren), whom the Byrne’s are sitting while his parents are away.

So it’s time for the Byrnes to meet the Fockers, Greg’s parents, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Roz (Barbra Streisand). Greg and Pam join her parents for the long road trip to Miami where the Bernie and Roz live, and while the trip goes well, the initial meeting between the two sets of parents goes a little awry. That’s just a taste of troublesome things to come, especially after Jack learns that Greg has a few bombshell secrets that Greg’s trying to hide in order to stay in Jack’s vaunted “circle of trust.”

Meet the Fockers is exceedingly funny, although also deeply shallow. The film’s vulgar and crude comedy matches such teen and twenty-something favorites as There’s Something About Mary and American Pie for raunchiness. Meet the Fockers was a giant hit over the 2004 Christmas holidays and well into 2005 because it is ostensibly a family comedy with a lot of belly laughs and plenty of outrageous humor – some of it capable of chasing prudes out of the theatre. Still, the screenwriters and the cast, who are so game to play this script to the hilt, are to be commended for making great humor out of incidents, misunderstandings, misfires, miscalculations, etc. that would bring real families to the brink of a war of the relatives.

Ben Stiller, coolly playing the straight man, keeps this movie sane. Robert De Niro is too intense and actually makes his character hateful, except for the opening and closing scenes. Dustin Hoffman alternates between being annoying and funny. Barbra Streisand is a comedy dynamo, and shows a side of her talent that hasn’t been seen much the last 20 years or so – that of the delightful comedienne. Overall, Meet the Fockers gives much laughter for its value, whether you see it at home or in a theatre. In fact, this is a must-see for people who just want to watch a movie that will make them laugh.

6 of 10


Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: "Greenberg" is an Excellent Character Study

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 103 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

Greenberg (2010)
Running time: 107 minutes (1 hour, 47 minutes)
MPAA – R for some strong sexuality, drug use, and language
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
WRITERS: Noah Baumbach; from a story by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Noah Baumbach
PRODUCERS: Jennifer Jason Leigh and Scott Rudin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Harris Savides (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Tim Streeto


Starring: Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Greenberg is the most recent film from filmmaker Noah Baumbach, the writer/director of the Oscar-nominated films, The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding. Greenberg focuses on a New Yorker returning to Los Angeles, the place where he grew up, to figure out some things.

Fresh out of a mental institution, 40-year-old Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) travels to L.A. to housesit for his brother, 15 years after he left the city. At a crossroads in his life, Roger, a carpenter, hopes to fix his wreck of life, while he fixes some things around his brother’s house. Roger meets his brother’s personal assistant, Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig), a sweet and considerate, but naïve 20-something. Roger needs Florence because he doesn’t drive, and the two begin an awkward relationship. Roger, however, has a quick temper, over-analyzes everything, and does not have a sense of humor when it comes to himself. Can Roger really fix himself?

Greenberg seems more like an extended chapter in a longer story than it does a self-contained film narrative. I have to give Baumbach credit for presenting a character like Greenberg who seems broken beyond repair and who is also funny, but mostly unlikable. I give him even more credit for writing a script and creating a visual narrative that makes Roger Greenberg so interesting and then dares to tackle his complicated ways.

Ben Stiller seems to shape his performance as Greenberg in a way to make readers always want to know more about the character, including his past and even his future. Stiller really sells the idea that Greenberg is broken and in need of repair. Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans are also quite good, creating engaging characters whose own stories matter well beyond their connections to the lead, Greenberg.

Like Baumbach’s other films, Greenberg is inimitably human, balancing the fragile with the sturdy and the mundane with the humorous. Baumbach and Stiller give us a wild adventure into the personality and connectivity turmoil of a complicated, complex character. The only problem is that sometimes, writer/director and lead actor hide too much of Greenberg’s nature and thoughts behind a wall of eccentric behavior and petulance. Still, such an all-too-human character in the cinematic world of vapid characters is welcomed.

7 of 10

Friday, December 17, 2010