Showing posts with label Black Film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black Film. Show all posts

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Review: "MEA CULPA" May Be Tyler Perry's Craziest Movie... Yet

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 of 2024 (No. 1963) by Leroy Douresseaux

Mea Culpa (2024)
Running time:  120 minutes (2 hours)
MPA – R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language, some violence and drug use
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Tyler Perry
PRODUCERS:  Will Areu, Tyler Perry, Angi Bones, and Kelly Rowland
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Cody Burmester (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Larry Sexton
COMPOSERS:  Amanda Delores and Patricia Jones

DRAMA/THRILLER

Starring:  Kelly Rowland, Trevante Rhodes, Nick Sagar, Sean Sagar, RonReaco Lee, Shannon Thornton, Kerry O'Malley, Arianna Barron, Connor Weil, Maria Gabriela Gonzalez, Paul Ryden, Ava Hill, and Angela Robinson

SUMMARY OF THE REVIEW:
--Tyler Perry's Mea Culpa could be titled Tyler Perry's I Want to Screw My Client

--The first half of the film is a slow-burn (slightly dull) romantic thriller; the second half is an explosion of WTF moments

--Despite poorly developed and under-utilized characters and middling dialogue, Mea Culpa is a typical shameless Tyler Perry guilty pleasure – that I found somewhat pleasurable.


Mea Culpa is a 2024 drama and legal thriller from writer-director Tyler Perry.  The film is a “Netflix Original,” Perry's fourth for the streamer (as of this writing), and it began streaming on Netflix February 23, 2024.  Mea Culpa follows an ambitious criminal defense attorney who takes on the case of an artist accused of murder, which only further complicates her own dysfunctional marriage.

Mea Culpa introduces Chicago-based defense attorney, Mea Harper (Kelly Rowland).  She and her husband,  Kal Harper (Sean Sagar), are having marital difficulties, made worse by Kal's overbearing and interfering white mother, Azalia (Kerry O'Malley).  Forced to financially support the two of them because of Kal's professional and personal problems, Mea decides to take on the defense of an accused murderer.  Acclaimed portrait painter, Zyair Malloy (Trevante Rhodes), has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Hydie (Maria Gabriela Gonzalez).  Her body is missing, but there is enough blood evidence in Zyair's loft, where he lives and paints, to get him charged with murder.

The problem is that Mea's brother-in-law and Kal's older brother, Raymond “Ray” Harper (Nick Sagar), is the assistant district attorney who is prosecuting Zyair's murder case.  Also complicating matters is that Zyair does not respect boundaries and wants to f**k Mea.  Eventually, Mea will have to admit “mea culpa,” but that might not save her from the myriad conspiracies that surround Zyair Malloy and this case.

Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that means “my fault” or “my mistake,” and it is also an acknowledgment of having done wrong, a wrong that could have been avoided.  It's my fault that I love Tyler Perry's work so much because otherwise, I would not have watched Mea Culpa.  Make no mistake, however; loving Tyler Perry films, no matter how crazy they are, is not a wrong.  Mea Culpa may be Perry's craziest non-Madea film to date, being even wackier than Temptations: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (2013).

Mea Culpa is quite enjoyable, especially the second hour of the film.  Critics tend to fault Perry's screenwriting, but the plot for Mea Culpa isn't any more nonsensical than a host of legal and erotic thrillers from the past five decades.  I'm thinking of Body Heat (1981), Presumed Innocent (1990), and Primal Fear (1996), to name a few.  If Mea Culpa had been released around a quarter-century ago, it would have been considered a clone of the classic erotic thriller, Basic Instinct (1992).

Where Perry's writing shows weakness is the dialogue and character development.  If the actors in this film seem average or mediocre to you, dear readers, I would bet it is because they are trying to build convincing characters while mouthing stiff, unimaginative dialogue.  The film's actual plot and action is not anywhere near as bland as the dialogue.  In fact, when this film finally explodes in the second half, even bad dialogue can't keep Mea Culpa's cheesy, shameless melodrama and violence from being its trashiest and most glorious self.  The shame of it is that there are some very interesting characters who are not fully realized and who would have made much the action in this film seem plausible, at the very least.  Perhaps, Mea Culpa should have been a miniseries instead of a film.

I must say that Mea Culpa may be Tyler Perry's most beautifully photographed film; kudos to director of photography, Cody Burmester.  The cinematography captures Kelly Rowland's unappreciated beauty, and when she gets nude, the camera celebrates her fineness.  Yes, Trevante Rhodes as Zyair Malloy is also fine, and the camera suggests that his big muscular body also comes with... an impressive endowment.  Yeah, the sex scene between Mea and Zyair is kinda funny, but they look so good pumping and bumping and grinding.

With Mea Culpa, Tyler Perry does unleash “strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language, some violence and drug use” as the “R” rating declares.  However, Perry's first almost NC-17 makes me love his work even more, and it makes me hope for future movies like Mea Culpa or even better.  I'll say “mea culpa” if I'm wrong and be happy about it.

6 of 10
B
★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, April 18, 2024


The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Review: "SURROUNDED" Takes a Different Path to the Wild West

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 9 of 2024 (No. 1953) by Leroy Douresseaux

Surrounded (2023)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPA – R for violence and language
DIRECTOR: Anthony Mandler
WRITERS:  Anthony Pagana and Justin Thomas & Andrew Pagana
PRODUCERS:  Jason Michael Berman, Aaron L. Gilbert, Derek Iger, Anthony Mandler, Ade O'Adesina, and Letitia Wright
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Max Goldman (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Ron Patane
COMPOSER:  Robin Hannibal

WESTERN/DRAMA

Starring:  Letitia Wright, Jamie Bell, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael K. Williams, Kevin Wiggins, Brett Gelman, Luce Rains, Andrew Pagana, Augusta-Allen Jones, Herman Johansen, Keith Jardine, C.M Petrey, Austin Rising, and Tony Sedillo

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SUMMARY OF THE REVIEW:

--Letitia Wright can make audiences put aside her most famous role – that of Shuri in Marvel's “Black Panther” films – and accept her as a 19th soldier who can defend herself with a gun and take on any man trying to get the best of her.

--Although it lacks the epic scope of the great American Western films, Surrounded is riveting and intense.

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Surrounded is a 2023 Western drama film directed by Anthony Mandler and starring Letitia Wright, who is also one of the film's producers.  After debuting at the Sun Valley Film Festival in April 2023, MGM released the film digitally (VOD) on June 20, 2023.  Surrounded focuses on a former former Buffalo Soldier who travels west to lay claim on a gold mine, only to end up playing guard to a dangerous, captured outlaw.

Surrounded opens in the year 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War.  Mo Washington (Letitia Wright) is a former Buffalo Soldier.  [This was the nickname given to U. S. Army regiments that were primarily comprised of African-Americans and were formed during the 19th century to serve on the American frontier.]  Mo arrives in Brushwood Gulch, New Mexico, the last stop on the edge of the Wild West.

Mo has a secret.  He is actually a she.  Mo is a former slave, who after becoming a freedwoman, disguised herself and became a soldier.  After leaving the army, she travels west to take possession of a gold claim in the Territory of Colorado.  Mo books passage on a stagecoach, but some time after departure, the coach is attacked by a group of “road agents” (marauders) led by the infamous Thomas “Tommy” Walsh (Jamie Bell).

After a chaotic fight, Mo is left to guard the captured Tommy Walsh, who tries to convince her to set him free.  He has buried somewhere in the area the $120,000 that he and his gang stole during a recent bank robbery.  So many sinister figures want him – from members of his gang to bounty hunters and assorted bandits.  Now, Mo finds herself surrounded, and she must survive everyone who is coming for Walsh.  Most of all, she must survive Tommy's wily ways.

Surrounded is a surprisingly intense Western drama made all the more intense that the lead character is a Black woman pretending to be a Black man in a world that hates both.  Add racism and also racial elements and Surrounded is... surrounded by intensity.  This is an unusual scenario for an American Western film, but Cathay Williams was a real-life African-American woman who disguised herself as a man and served out west in the U.S. Army from 1866-68 during the Indian Wars.

Like the film's tone, Letitia Wright is intense – quietly so – as the no-nonsense and devout Mo Washington.  Wright makes everything in her performance seem genuine and convincing, from the way Mo dresses to her ability to wield large pistols.  Wright is best known for playing the role of Shuri, the Wakandan princess in Marvel Studios' Black Panther (2018) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).  In Surrounded, however, Wright made me forget Shuri and accept her as 19th century Black woman who survives slavery, the tragic deaths of her parents, and her time as a Buffalo Soldier.

Surrounded is filled with good performances.  Fellow British actor, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), has excellent screen chemistry with Wright, and Bell is quiet good as a Western character, bringing complexity and eccentricity to the standard murderous Western outlaw and bank robber.  Surrounded is also the final film appearance of the Emmy Award-nominated actor, Michael K. Williams, who died in 2021.  Here, he makes the most of his small role as Will Clay, so much so that I wish that he had a bigger role in the film.

Surrounded is a surprisingly riveting film.  Early on, it seems as if it doesn't really have the energy to rise above being a mere historical drama and become a true Western film.  It does and eventually hits its stride, although I wish the film had focused on some of the interesting characters outside the Mo Washington-Tommy Walsh dynamic.  Surrounded is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu.

B+
7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Thursday, February 15, 2024


The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Friday, February 9, 2024

Review: "A MADEA HOMECOMING" Doesn't Come Out Quite Right

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 6 of 2024 (No. 1950) by Leroy Douresseaux

A Madea Homecoming (2022)
Running time:  105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for crude sexual content, language, and drug references throughout
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Tyler Perry
PRODUCERS:  Will Areu and Mark E. Swinton
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Taylor Randall (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Larry Sexton
COMPOSER:  Philip White

COMEDY/DRAMA

Starring:  Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, David Mann, Tamela J. Mann, Gabrielle Dennis, Brendan O'Carroll, Jennifer Gibney, Brandon Black, Isha Blaaker, Candace Maxwell, Geneva Maccarone, and Amani Atkinson

A Madea Homecoming is a 2022 African-American comedy-drama from writer-director Tyler Perry.  It is the 12th film in the Madea film series.  The film is a Netflix original and was released to the streaming service on February 25, 2022.  In A Madea Homecoming, family drama erupts and secrets are revealed during the celebration of Madea's great-grandson's college graduation.

A Madea Homecoming opens in Atlanta, GeorgiaMabel “Madea” Simmons (Tyler Perry) is preparing for the arrival of her extended family.  Uncle Joe (Tyler Perry) is criticizing people, and Mr. Brown (David Mann) is about to set himself afire while preparing the barbecue pit.  It is a special time for Madea's daughter, Cora Simmons (Tamela J. Mann), because of the impending arrival of her daughters, Laura (Gabrielle Dennis) and Ellie (Candace Maxwell).  Laura's son, Timothy “Tim” Marshall (Brandon Black), is graduating from college.  He is traveling to Madea's house with his best friend and fellow graduate, Davi O'Malley (Isha Blaaker), for a large family dinner before graduation day.

But there are some surprises arriving, also.  Tim has a secret to tell his family.  Laura has a secret.  Laura's divorce attorney, Sylvia (Geneva Maccarone), has a secret.  Richard (Amani Atkinson), Laura's ex and Tim's father, has a secret to tell, although Madea doesn't want him at her house.  Davi has a secret.  Davi's great-aunt, Agnes Brown (Brendan O'Carroll), and Agnes' daughter and David's cousin, Cathy Brown (Jennifer Gibney), have a secret.  They're coming to Madea's, but they weren't invited.  And it isn't a secret that Betty Ann Murphy a.k.a. “Aunt Bam” (Cassi Davis) is usually high, and everyone else may have to get high to make it through the family drama that is about to erupt.

2019's A Madea Family Funeral was supposed to be the final film in the Madea film series, but I ain't complaining.  A Madea Homecoming is similar to A Madea Family Funeral in that it features a large cast of new extended family members that many of us didn't know that Madea had.  Unfortunately, the 2019 film is better put together than A Madea Homecoming.

First, it should be noted that A Madea Homecoming is a crossover with British-Irish sitcom, “Mrs. Brown's Boys,” which is headlined by the character, “Agnes Brown,” played by Irish actor, Brendan O'Carroll.  Agnes Brown has been called the “Irish Madea,” but because this is my first encounter with O'Carroll and his character, I can't say otherwise.  Truthfully, neither the Agnes nor Cathy characters really add that much to A Madea Homecoming, but they are a pleasant addition, at least.

A Madea Homecoming has many, many very funny moments, but the film seems too long and too much of a rehash of scandals that have appeared in earlier films in the series.  The main plot and subplot feel more flat and dry than lively and funny.  The most consistently funny part of this movie is Madea Beyoncé parody that runs over the end credits, and Madea in a blonde Beyoncé wig singing off-key with the “Marcella Band” is delightful.

When I reviewed A Madea Family Funeral in 2021, I said that if it were indeed the final Madea film, I could say that the series went out on a relatively high note.  Madea returns on an off-key note with A Madea Homecoming, and it isn't the final Madea film.  Coming sometime in the future is Madea's Destination Wedding.

5 of 10
C+
★★½ out of 4 stars

Friday, February 9, 2024


The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Review: Prime Video's "THE UNDERDOGGS" is Vulgar, Funny and Holds The Titty

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 5 of 2024 (No. 1949) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Underdoggs (2024)
Running time:  96 minutes (1 hour, 36 minutes)
MPA – R for pervasive language, sexual references, drug use, and some underage drinking
DIRECTOR: Charles Stone III
WRITERS:  Danny Segal and Isaac Schamis
PRODUCERS:  Kenya Barris, Mychelle Deschamps, Jonathan Glickman, Constance Schwartz-Morini, and Calvin Broadus (Snoop Dogg)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Mitchell Amundsen (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Paul Millspaugh
COMPOSER:  Joseph Shirley

COMEDY/SPORT

Starring:  Snoop Dogg, Tika Sumpter, Mike Epps, Elias Ferguson, Jonigan Booth, Caleb Cm Dixon, Adan James Carrillo, Alexander Michael Gordon, Kylah Davila, Andrew Schulz, Thom Scott II, Kal Penn, Kandi Burruss, Tony Gonzalez, Terry Bradshaw, and George Lopez

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SUMMARY OF THE REVIEW:

--Snopp Dogg is excellent is this truly funny sports comedy.

--This film has a lot of profanity and bad behavior, and their reference to sex acts and sex organs is plentiful.  It's family comedy that is not appropriate for viewing, unless the family is a bit daring.

--The Underdogg's scatological tale of a washed up, arrogant coach and a group of kids who know mostly disappointment does not come across as corny or phony.  The Underdoggs keeps it real, perhaps, too real sometimes.

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The Underdoggs is a 2024 sports comedy film from director Charles Stone III.  The film is an Amazon “Prime Original” that began streaming on “Prime Video” January 26, 2024.  The Underdoggs follows a washed-up former professional football player who decides to coach a peewee football team as way to regain his fame only to learn some important live lessons.

The Underdoggs opens at the “California High School State Championship 1997.”  Jaycen "Two J's" Jennings (Elias Ferguson) is the star wide receiver at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, and by catching the “Hail Mary” pass thrown his way, he wins the state championship for his school.  Jaycen goes on to be a star professional football player, but his ego eventually gets him tossed from the professional ranks.

Now, Jaycen Jennings (Snopp Dogg) is a washed-up ex-professional football star – an arrogant washed up former football star, and the days of being “Two J's” are behind him.  Still, he is desperately trying to hang onto fame, hopefully by landing a plum gig hosting his own Fox Sports TV show.  However, Jaycen hits rock bottom when he is sentenced to community service after an accident.

Eventually, he finds his way to the Los Angeles County Community Outreach Program, where he decides to coach a peewee football squad, a group of poor kids known as “the Green Team.”  Jaycen, however, sees this as a chance to get what he wants, but will he be forced to really give these kids what they need – a coach that cares?

I am shocked by how much I really like The Underdoggs.  Of course, the screenplay by Danny Segal and Isaac Schamis (from a pitch by Snoop Dogg and fellow producer, Constance Schwartz-Morini) revisits familiar territory.  The tale of a fallen coach, mentor, or role model and his team of poor kids, outcasts, and assorted misfits has played out in such films as The Bad News Bears (1976) and Role Models (2008).  The Mighty Ducks (1992), which is referenced in The Underdoggs, is apparently a similar film, but I have never seen it (nor have I ever wanted to).

I have been a long-time fan of Snopp Dogg, and perhaps because of serendipity, he is perfect as an actor is this story of underdogs.  I like that the film allows Jaycen to stay true to himself while also evolving, but the children also keep it real while learning to take pride in themselves and in their efforts.  In this way, The Underdoggs is a perfect, lesson-heavy, family film, but...

The Underdoggs is rated “R” by the MPA for “pervasive language, sexual references, drug use, and some underage drinking,” and alla' that shit is actually in the film, sometimes in large quantities.  There is even a funny “disclaimer” at the beginning of The Underdoggs that basically says that today's children use the same profane words spoken in the film.  Perhaps, the filmmakers' argument is this is indeed a thoroughly modern family-friendly film.  I think the “F-bomb” is said in The Underdoggs seemingly more than one hundred times.  So its appropriateness will vary from family to family, respective of decorum and personal tastes.  I have to admit that I was uncomfortable with the amount of profanity and bad behavior in this film, but...

I still laughed a lot.  The Underdoggs is uproariously funny.  I think Mike Epps as Kareem, Jaycen's friend who becomes his assistant coach, and Tika Sumpter as Cherise Porter, who was Jaycen's high school girlfriend, make the best of characters that are not that well written.  Epps is always a scene-stealer in everything from comedy to action to horror, and he grabs all he can here.  Sumpter makes Cherise an effective moral check on Jaycen's selfishness.

In the end, I feel totally comfortable recommending The Underdoggs to adult and older teen viewers.  It is one of the funniest films of the new year, so far.  I think some young viewers will be crazy about The Underdoggs, whether their parents approve or not.

A-
7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Tuesday, February 6, 2024


The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Friday, January 26, 2024

Review: "THE BOOK OF CLARENCE" - Black is Beautiful and So is Enlightenment

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 3 of 2024 (No. 1947) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Book of Clarence (2024)
Running time:  129 minutes (2 hours, 9 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for strong violence, drug use, strong language, some suggestive material, and smoking
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Jeymes Samuel
PRODUCERS:  Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), James Lassiter, Tendo Nagenda, and Jeymes Samuel
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Rob Hardy (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Tom Eagles
COMPOSER:  Jeymes Samuel

COMEDY/DRAMA/RELIGION

Starring:  LaKeith Stanfield, Omar Sy, Anna Diop, RJ Cyler, David Oyelowo, Michael Ward, Alfre Woodard, Teyana Taylor, Caleb McLaughlin, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Eric Kofi Abrefa, Chase Dillon,  Babs Olusanmokun, Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, and Nicholas Pinnock

The Book of Clarence is a 2024 comedy-drama and religious film written and directed by Jeymes Samuel.  The film focuses on a wayward man who decides to capitalize on the rise of Jesus by also declaring himself to be “the Messiah.”

The Book of Clarence opens in Lower Jerusalem, the home of the “Gypsies,” in the year 33 A.D, and it introduces a young man named Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield).  He is down-on-his-luck and is drifting in life.  He spends time selling weed with his close friend and sidekick, Elijah (RJ Cyler).  Their latest scheme is a chariot race against Mary Magdalene (Teyana Taylor), which goes disastrously bad.  In turn, that puts Clarence and Elijah deep in debt to a local crime boss, Jedediah the Terrible (Eric Kofi Abrefa), who threatens their lives if he isn't paid in 30 days.

Meanwhile, Clarence's twin brother, Thomas (LaKeith Stanfield), is one of the 12 Apostles that follow Jesus of Nazareth (Nicholas Pinnock).  After failing to make inroads with his brother's associates, Clarence decides to capitalize on Jesus and the rise of messianic figures by declaring himself “the Messiah.”  Clarence does not believe in the existence of God, but he finds success by preaching “knowledge over belief.”  Soon, Clarence has a large number of followers, and they are making him wealthy.  But then, something happens...

The Book of Clarence is not as partisan as Mel Gibson's 2004 masterpiece, The Passion of the Christ, nor is it Black-centric and anti-racist in the way director Jean-Claude La Marre's The Color of the Cross (2006) is.  In The Book of Clarence, Jesus is a Black man, but the narrative isn't really about Jesus being black.  The people of Jerusalem are black, but that just seems to be the way it is supposed to be – nothing special or deliberate.  Also, I don't think the film ever refers to them as Jews or Hebrews (as far as I can remember).

The Book of Clarence's plot and themes, which are soft and muddled in the film's middle act, seem to converge on the notion of enlightenment, not the movement “Enlightenment, but as a state of knowledge and understanding.  Clarence, who pushes knowledge over belief, gets the lesson that knowledge without understand is empty, the equivalent of “faith without good works is dead.”  The Book of Clarence unveils these messages and ideas, not with seriousness, but with sly wit and also with subtle digs at oppression, racism, and imperialism – for good measure.

That aside, the thing that most impresses me about The Book of Clarence is that writer-director Jeymes Samuel presents a film in which Black people are so very beautiful and alluring in all their varying dark and brown shades, all the textures and styles of their hair, and all the shapes, contours, and statures of their bodies.  Yet in spite of its allusions to white oppression, as all the Roman characters are white, The Book of Clarence treats having an all-Black cast play the characters in a story set in the time of Jesus as an utterly normal thing.  It's about time; British, Irish, and American actors have been frontin' in Biblical films as if that is an entirely normal thing.  [Even if Jesus was Caucasian, he wasn't white...]

Jeymes Samuel fills his film with outstanding performances, especially LaKeith Stanfield's powerful, eccentric, turn as Clarence.  It is too late in his career to discover Stanfield as a revelation; we been knew he was good.  He makes Clarence's awkward, bumbling, stumbling journey to enlightenment seem like a real, tangible thing.  I feel Clarence's evolution in my head and in my imagination.

Also, David Oyelowo knocks the film on its ass as the back-handing John the Baptist, much the way Alfre Woodard upends notions of Jesus Christ's mother, Mary, as “Mother Mary” later in the film.  Teyana Taylor throws her beauty at us as Mary Magdalene, and Anna Diop digs out the awkward layers of Varinia, Clarence's love-interest.  And RJ Cyler gives a best supporting actor type performance as Clarence's best friend and partner, Elijah.

The Book of Clarence isn't perfect.  Its plot staggers and lurches at times as it moves towards its explosive final act, which is filled with breath-taking miracles and shocking plot twists.  The film apparently was originally scheduled for a  theatrical release in September 2023, but ultimately made its only 2023 appearance via its world premiere at the 67th London Film Festival.  So as fate... or God would have it, The Book of Clarence is the best film of 2024 – thus far.

8 of 10
A
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Friday, January 26, 2024


The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site or blog for syndication rights and fees.

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Friday, October 20, 2023

Review: "BLACULA" Can't Stop, Won't Stop Rising from the Grave

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 47 of 2023 (No. 1936) by Leroy Douresseaux

Blacula (1972)
Running time: 93 minutes (1 hour, 33 minutes)
MPAA – PG
DIRECTOR:  William Crain
WRITERS:  Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig
PRODUCER:  Joseph T. Naar
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  John M. Stevens (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Allan Jacobs
COMPOSER:  Gene Page

BLAXPLOITATION/HORROR/ROMANCE

Starring:  William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Denise Nicholas, Thalmus Rasulala, Gordon Pinsent, Charles Macaulay, Emily Yancy, Lance Taylor, Sr., Ted Harris, Rick Metzler, Logan Field, Ketty Lester, Elisha Cook, Jr., Jitu Cumbuka, Eric Brotherson, and The Hues Corporation

Blacula is a 1972 American blaxploitation vampire horror and romance film directed by William Crain.  Originally released by American International Pictures, the film was a hit and inspired a wave of blaxploitation (black exploitation) films, including its own sequel, Scream Blacula Scream.  Blacula focuses on an 18th century African prince-turned-vampire who awakens to find himself in modern day Los Angeles.

Blacula opens in 1780, in Transylvania at Castle Dracula.  The African prince, Mamuwalde (William Marshall), has traveled there with his wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee), to seek the help of Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) in suppressing the African slave trade.  Dracula refuses and after some insults and violence, he bites Mamuwalde and curses him to an immortal existence as the vampire, “Blacula.”  He imprisons Mamuwalde in a sealed coffin in a crypt hidden beneath the castle, where he also leaves Luva to die.

In 1972, Blacula emerges from his coffin and begins a reign of terror and death.  However, he is shocked to discover a young woman named Tina Williams (Vonetta McGee) who looks exactly like his long-lost Luva.  Initially hesitant, Tina warms to Blacula, who introduces himself as Mamuwalde.  In turn, Tina introduces him to her sister, Michelle Williams (Denise Nicholas), and her boyfriend, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala).

A pathologist for the Los Angeles Police Department, Dr. Gordon has been investigating the deaths of people whom he suspects are victims of a vampire.  Teaming with LAPD's Lieutenant Jack Peters (Gordon Pinsent), Gordon must discover the force behind these deaths before its too late, even as Tina finds herself irresistibly drawn to Mamuwalde / Blacula.

I have seen Blacula several times, but I had previously not attempted to review it.  I have seen several “Black vampire films,” but I have previously only reviewed Spike Lee's Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014), although I have not seen the film it remakes, Ganja and Hess (1973).  Of course, I have reviewed all the films in New Line Cinema's Blade franchise that began with 1998's Blade.

When I discovered that Blacula was available on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) via Spectrum On-Demand, I decided to view it again with an eye towards writing a review.  I must say that I'd forgotten how good the music is, especially the funk score by conductor, composer, and record producer, Gene Page (1939-98), which was one of the first of its kind for a vampire film.  The songs:  three performed by the pop-soul trio, The Hues Corporation, and one by the short-lived L.A. soul group, The 21st Century Ltd., are quite nice.

Something I noticed for the first time is that Blacula depicts a world in which African-American professionals are equal to their white peers.  In fact, it isn't even a question that they are not.  For instance, Dr. Gordon Thomas is respected and his orders are followed without question.  The only time that his opinion is questioned involves the obvious – telling people that there is a vampire loose in Los Angeles and that he is murdering people.  Obviously, a blaxploitation film would feature a cast of black leads, but the film isn't really about them being “Black.”  Blacula, in a way, is a movie about humans fighting the forces of darkness; this time, the lead vampire killer is a black man.  Sometimes, I got the feeling that Blacula was almost nonchalant about the characters being African-American.

Of course, Blacula could not pass as an ordinary vampire film when the late, great stage, television, and film actor, William Marshall (1924-2003), played the title role.  Marshall doesn't play Mamuwalde as a victim, which he is (of Dracula); rather, he is a man (or creature) awakened to new circumstances, and as he did in his former life (based on assumptions), will live it to the fullest.  I like that Mamuwalde / Blacula is a man who gets what he wants.  Perhaps, that is what makes Mamuwalde so memorable to African-American audiences.  He isn't a tragic or misunderstood monster; he is a king.

I have believed for a long time that given the space and runtime, Blacula's screenwriters, Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig, with William Marshall adding his ideas, could have made a greater film.  Still, William Crain's deft directing and Allan Jacob's precision film editing allow Blacula to breeze past its shortcomings.  I love Blacula, obviously, and I can't wait to see it again.

B+
7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Friday, October 20, 2023


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Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Review: "THE EQUALIZER 2" is Brutal and Personal

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 40 of 2023 (No. 1929) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Equalizer 2 (2018)
Running time:  121 minutes (2 hours, 1 minute)
MPAA – R for brutal violence throughout, language, and some drug content
DIRECTOR:  Antoine Fuqua
WRITER:  Richard Wenk (based on the television series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim)
PRODUCERS:  Antoine Fuqua, Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Tony Eldridge, Mace Neufeld, Alex Siskin, Michael Sloan, Steve Tisch, and Denzel Washington
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Oliver Wood (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Conrad Buff IV
COMPOSER:  Harry Gregson-Williams

ACTION/CRIME/THRILLER

Starring:  Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Orson Bean, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Jonathan Scarfe, Kazy Tauginas, Garrett A. Golden, and Sakina Jaffrey

The Equalizer 2 is a 2018 action movie and crime thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington.  It is a sequel to the 2014 film, The Equalizer.”  Both films are based on the television series, “The Equalizer,” which was created by  Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim and was originally broadcast on CBS from 1985 to 1989.  The Equalizer 2 finds Robert McCall out to make the people who murdered someone he loves pay for their crimes with their lives.

The Equalizer 2 opens on a train headed to Istanbul, Turkey.  Robert “Bob” McCall (Denzel Washington) is about to serve his unflinching brand of justice on man who kidnapped his daughter in order to punish his ex-wife.  McCall still lives quietly in Boston, where he works as a Lyft driver and assists the less fortunate, the exploited, and the oppressed.  Among the people he is currently helping include Samuel “Sam” Rubinstein (Orson Bean), a Holocaust survivor trying to recover a painting of his sister, Magda, who died in a Nazi death camp.  Lately, he has taken an interest in Miles (Ashton Sanders), a troubled African-American teen who lives in the same apartment building.  Miles has tremendous artistic talent, but he is also being recruited by a violent, drug-dealing street gang.

However, the big action is in Brussels, Belgium.  There, Robert's friend and former DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) colleague, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), is investigating the apparent murder-suicide of DIA “agency affiliate” and his wife.  That investigation costs Susan her life.  McCall begins investigating Susan's murder with the assistance of her colleague and his former DIA teammate, Dave York (Pedro Pascal).  Determined to avenge Susan's murder, McCall will have to go deep into his past and risk endangering people very close to him.

With his Oscar-winning turn in 2001's Training Day, Denzel Washington proved to be a convincing bad guy.  With 2010's The Book of Eli, Washington showed that he could be a bad-ass, kick-ass, action hero with fancy martial arts-styled moves.  The first take on The Equalizer allowed Washington to blend hero and anti-hero in a visceral mix.  So in anticipation of The Equalizer 3, I decided to see The Equalizer 2, of which I have seen bits and pieces on television over the past few years.

In the original film, the screenplay by Richard Wenk had McCall constantly in peril or made it seem as if he were in danger even when he was not.  Wenk returns for the sequel and delivers a script that adds compassion to the standard revenge thriller.  McCall can be a gentle soul helping a teen go through growing pains that are filled with danger, and he can lend a kind ear to an old man whose current quest could be the real thing or the result of a failing memory crashing from the accumulation of data over a long life.  On the other hand, McCall will also break a mutha down to the blood and bone if he deserves such a reckoning, even if it means killing him.

The Equalizer would be a standard revenge thriller if its avenger were portrayed by just any other movie star, but Denzel Washington is a consummate professional and charismatic actor.  That means he can deliver the meat and potatoes and the art to every performance – whether it is Shakespeare on stage or Hollywood entertainment product destined for the multiplex.  In this second film, Washington super-charges his performance in order to make the personal so personal that it is murderous. 

Director Antoine Fuqua plays Washington's skills for everything he can get out of this brilliant actor.  Fuqua is an impressive director in his own right, especially when it comes to dark, violent, dramatic thrillers, such as Shooter (2007).  Together, Fuqua and Washington deliver in The Equalizer 2 a film that slightly surpasses the original.  I find myself endlessly fascinated by it because The Equalizer 2 is a really good thriller.

7 of 10
A-
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Wednesday, August 30, 2023


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Sunday, March 19, 2023

Review: What's Love Got to Do With It" - The First Time the Oscars Screwed Angela Bassett

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 13 of 2023 (No. 1902) by Leroy Douresseaux

What's Love Got to Do With It (1993)
Running time:  118 minutes (1 hour, 58 minutes)
MPAA – R for domestic violence, strong language, drug use and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Brian Gibson
WRITER:  Kate Lanier (based on the book, I, Tina, by Tina Turner and Kurt Loder)
PRODUCERS:  Doug Chapin, Barry Krost, and Kate Lanier
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Jamie Anderson
EDITOR:  Stuart Pappé
COMPOSER:  Stanley Clarke
Academy Award nominee

BIOPIC/DRAMA/MUSIC

Starring:  Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Jenifer Lewis, Chi McBride, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Pamela Tyson, Khandi Alexander, Penny Johnson, Richard T. Jones, James Reyne, and RaéVen Kelly

What's Love Got to Do with It is a 1993 biopic and music film directed by Brian Gibson.  It is an adaptation of the 1986 autobiography, I, Tina, by Tina Turner and Kurt Loder and is also based on the life of American music icon and Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Tina Turner.

The film takes its name from Tina's 1984 hit single, “What's Love Got to Do with It,” which was a Billboard magazine “Hot 100” #1 single.  What's Love Got to Do With It the movie is a fictional depiction of Tina's professional and personal life with her former husband, the late Ike Turner (1931-2007), who was a musician, bandleader, record producer, singer-songwriter and Grammy Award winner.  The film follows Tina Turner's life from her upbringing in rural Tennessee (early 1950s), through her rise to music stardom and her abusive marriage to Ike Turner (1960s-70s), and finally, to her career revival as a solo artist (early to mid 1980s).

What's Love Got to Do with It introduces Anna Mae Bullock (Angela Bassett).  In 1958, she moves to St. Louis where she reunites with her elder sister, Alline Bullock (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney), and her mother, Zelma Bullock (Jenifer Lewis). Not long after her arrival, Anna is taken by Alline to a nightclub at East St. Louis where she sees a performance by “Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm.”  Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne) is a charismatic bandleader, and Anna, who likes to sing, wishes she could perform with his wild band, the Kings of Rhythm.

When she finally gets a chance to perform onstage with Ike and his band, Anna impresses him with her singing and her exuberant stage presence.  Ike offers to mentor Anna and to produce her music, and he gives her the stage name “Tina Turner.”  In time, Ike and Anna develop a close relationship and eventually marry.  The musical act, “Ike & Tina Turner” (the “Ike & Tina Turner Revue” when performing live) become stars, but Ike has a dark side.  He is addicted to narcotics and is violent and abusive.  And Tina feels the brunt of his physical abuse.  Will Anna/Tina find the courage to break away from him and forge her own career path?

Until recently, I had never watched What's Love Got to Do with It in its entirety.  I decided to watch it in anticipation of Angela Bassett hopefully winning the “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar at the recent 95th Academy Awards (March 12, 2023) for her performance as “Queen Ramonda” in Disney/Marvel Studios' hit film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.  Unfortunately, Bassett did not win, nor did she win the “Best Actress” Oscar for which she was nominated 29 years ago for her performance in What's Love Got to Do with It?

The shame of it is that in the case of What's Love Got to Do with It, it is Bassett's performance, along with Laurence Fishburne's, that carries this film.  Quality wise and in terms of production and execution, What's Love Got to Do with It is a theatrical film that plays like a television movies.  Had What's Love Got to Do with It been a TV movie it would have been a much-talked about “television event,” but the end result would have been an elevated melodrama.

The film's direction, by the late Brian Gibson (1944-2004), emphasizes spousal abuse as style over the substance of plot and character.  The screenplay, written by Kate Lanier (who is also one of the film's producers), suffers from what plagues many biographical films and celebrity biopics.  That is the problem with time.  Rather than focus on a specific and pivotal moment in time, What's Love Got to Do with It, like other biopics, covers multiple decades.  By my estimation, the film covers roughly 1950 to 1983.  The first depiction of Ike abusing Tina is about 55 minutes into the movie, but one of the supporting characters states that this particular incident isn't the first time Ike has hit Tina.  So basically, the film skips over key early moments in Ike and Tina's tumultuous relationship.  [Both Tina and Ike apparently were not happy with the accuracy of this film.]

What's Love Got to Do with It is elevated because of the performances by both Bassett and Fishburne, as well as those of the supporting cast.  Jenifer Lewis proves once again why she is a national film treasure as Anna's mother, Zelma.  The shamefully underrated and underutilized Vanessa Bell Calloway shines in important and key moments of this film.  Laurence Fishburne does more than just make Ike Turner a monster.  He deftly conveys Ike's bitterness and resentment and especially his sense that he has never really gotten what he deserves in terms of financial success, record sales, and industry credit for what he contributed to both the art and business of popular music.

The treasure in What's Love Got to Do with It is, of course, Angela Bassett.  The real-life Tina Turner's voice was dubbed into this movie for the scenes in which Bassett's Turner has to sing.  Still, Bassett offers a richly crafted fictional version of Anna Mae Bullock/Tina Turner.  Her emotions resonate, and her joy and happiness, love and pride, and fear and sorrow come across as genuine.  In this film's quiet, reflective moments, Bassett seems as if she is really thinking Tina's thoughts.  That alone should have earned Bassett an Oscar win back on March 21, 1994 at the 66th Academy Awards.  What should have made Bassett a shoo-in is the physicality of her performance and the way she transformed her body for the role.  It's all superb:  the dancing, posing, and movement on stage; how she mimics the real Tina Turner's facial expressions on stage and when she sings; and the way Bassett carries herself and moves through the trials and tribulations of her life offstage as Ike Turner's wife.

Let's be honest; What's Love Got to Do with It would work better as a TV miniseries.  Let's be real; if Angela Bassett were a white actress, she would have won an Oscar already, probably for What' s Love Got to Do with It.  Not having an Oscar does not change the fact that Bassett has been one of the most versatile and charismatic actors of the large and small screen.  Bassett has also given commanding performances and has been a dominating presence in a number of supporting and small roles in popular films released over the better part of the last four decades.  Although Bassett has not received her Oscar crown, her performance in What's Love Got to Do with It remains her crowning achievement … in a career that should have had more of them since then.

7 of 10
B+
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Sunday, March 19, 2023


NOTES:
1994 Academy Awards, USA:  2 nominations:  “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Laurence Fishburne) and “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Angela Bassett)

1994 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Angela Bassett)

1995 Image Awards (NAACP): 1 win: “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture” (Angela Bassett); 3 nominations: “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Laurence Fishburne), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Jenifer Lewis), and “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Vanessa Bell Calloway)


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Saturday, March 4, 2023

Review: "CREED III" Lets Loose with Fists of Fury

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 of 2023 (No. 1900) by Leroy Douresseaux

Creed III (2023)
Running time:  116 minutes (1 hour, 56 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language
DIRECTOR:  Michael B. Jordan
WRITERS: Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin; from a story Ryan Coogler, Keenan Coogler, and Zach Baylin
PRODUCERS:  William Chartoff, Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Glickman, Elizabeth Raposo, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, and Irwin Winker
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Kramer Morgenthau (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Jessica Baclesse and Tyler Nelson
COMPOSER:  Joseph Shirley

DRAMA/SPORTS

Starring:  Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Mila Davis-Kent, Jose Benavidez, Selenis Leyva, Florian Munteanu, Thaddeus James Mixson, Jr., Spence Moore II, Tony Bellew, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Yahya McClain, and Stephen A. Smith

Creed III is a 2023 boxing drama and sports movie directed by Michael B. Jordan.  It is the ninth entry in the Rocky film series, which began with the 1976 film, Rocky.  Creed III is also a sequel to 2018's Creed II.  In Creed III, Adonis Creed has retired on top of the boxing game, but a childhood friend who was once a boxing prodigy returns bringing trouble with him.

Creed III finds champion boxer, Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan), defending his unified heavyweight boxing championship of the world (including the WBC titles) against an old rival.  Then, he retires to the life of a boxing promoter and manager via Delphi Boxing Academy in Los Angeles with its owner, Tony “Little Duke” Evers (Wood Harris).  His wife, music producer Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson), has a thriving career, and they have a bright, inquisitive, and hearing-impaired daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent).  Life is good, but...

Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), the wife of Donnie's late father, Apollo Creed, adopted Donnie, and he must now deal with her failing health.  Also, Donnie has been teaching Amara to fight, and that causes a clash with Bianca after an incident at Amara's school.

The most shocking turn of events is the return of Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors).  Once upon a time, Dame was an 18-year-old, “Golden Gloves-winning,” boxing prodigy (Spence Moore II).  He was also 15-year-old Donnie's (Thaddeus James Mixson, Jr.) best friend.  However, a terrible incident separated them, and now, a reunion has become a dangerous face-off.

I did not think that I would enjoy Creed III as much as I enjoyed Creed (2015) and Creed II, but I did.  I will say, however, that Creed III is not quite as good as the earlier films.  The main reason is that the screenplay, written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin with contributions for producer Ryan Coogler, is full of fanciful nonsense that would not happen in the real world of boxing.  Much of what happens in the planning and managing of fights seems illogical.  Still, the film's fight scenes are quite intense and even crazy, especially the fighting between Donnie and Dame.

Creed III, however, does not run on logic; it runs on emotions and passions.  The film's themes revolve around time and loss, and, to a lesser extent, love and longing.  Time does not heal all wounds, and the loss of opportunity can be devastating – as the film sees it.  Under the guidance of first time director, Michael B. Jordan, who is obviously also the film's star, the characters are direct – sometimes stunningly so – to each other about their feelings.  So can there be healing?

In that mode of raw emotions, Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Wood Harris give strong performances.  Phylicia Rashad offers a poignant painful turn as Mary Anne, and Mila Davis-Kent steals scenes as young Amara Creed.  Jonathan Majors, currently a blazing hot movie star, presents Dame Anderson as crazy, but not too crazy, and as bull-in-the-china-shop who hides two decades of hurt behind his destructiveness and brutality.

Creed III”s maelstrom of emotions and feelings fascinated and got me past the plot holes.  For all the bitterness, wall-pounding, regret, and hurt that this film presents, it is about making amends.  I am impressed by Michael B. Jordan's directorial debut, and I think that fans of the previous films will really enjoy Creed III.

7 of 10
B+
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Saturday, March 4, 2023


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Thursday, March 2, 2023

Review: "CREED II" Stands Strongly on Its Own

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 10 of 2023 (No. 1899) by Leroy Douresseaux

Creed II (2018)
Running time:  130 minutes (2 hours, 10 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality
DIRECTOR:  Steven Caple, Jr.
WRITERS: Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone; based on a story by Sascha Penn and Cheo Hodari Coker (based on characters created by Sylvester Stallone and Ryan Coogler)
PRODUCERS:  William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, and Irwin Winker
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Kramer Morgenthau (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, and Paul Harb
COMPOSER:  Ludwig Goransson

DRAMA/SPORTS

Starring:  Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris, Milo Ventimiglia, Robbie Johns, Brigitte Nielsen, Andre Ward, Tony Bellew, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Max Kellerman, Jim Lampley, Roy Jones, Jr., Michael Buffer, and Scott Van Pelt

Creed II is a 2018 boxing drama and sports movies directed by Steven Caple, Jr.  It is the eighth entry in the Rocky film series, which began with the 1976 film, Rocky.  Creed II is also a sequel to 2015's Creed, which was a spin-off of the Rocky series.  In Creed II, newly crowned heavyweight champion, Adonis Creed, faces off against a boxer who is the son of the man who killed his father in the boxing ring.

Creed II opens three years after the events depicted in Creed.  Boxer Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) finally defeats his rival, Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler (Andre Ward), to win the heavyweight championship of the world.  By his side is his trainer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the rival-turned-friend of his late father, Apollo Creed.  Creed's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who adopted Donnie as her son, is proud of him and his accomplishments.  His girlfriend, singer-songwriter Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson), also accepts his proposal of marriage

On the other side of the world, however, ghosts from his and Rocky's pasts stir. In Kyiv, Ukraine lives Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the former Soviet Union boxer who killed Apollo Creed during a bout in 1985.  After losing to Rocky in a subsequent boxing match, Ivan moved to Ukraine in exile.  Seeking an opportunity for redemption and a chance to regain glory, Ivan has been training his son, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), to be a professional boxer.  Using training methods that are practically torture, Ivan has turned Viktor into a monster of a boxer who can and has broken his opponents' bodies.

Assisted by American boxing promoter, Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), Ivan is determined to get Viktor a match against Donnie.  For Donnie, it is a chance to settle his late father's affairs, but Rocky wants no part of such a match.  Can Donnie's body take the punishment fighting Viktor will inflict?  Donnie must also answer this question: why is he really a fighter?

As I said in my review of Creed, I have never watched the movie, Rocky, or any of its sequels in their entirety.  I doubt that I have ever watched enough of them to amount to an entire film.  I don't like boxing movies, but after watching these Creed films, I am thinking about diving into the Rocky series.

I thought director Ryan Coogler delivered some powerful work in the first Creed, and I think director Steven Caple, Jr. delivers an equally powerful film in Creed II.  Although Creed II's story is directly connected to 1985's Rocky IV, it is not as reliant on the Rocky franchise the way Creed, with its multiple intimate connections, was.

Like Coogler did in the first film, Caple gives Sylvester Stallone the space he needs to give one of his best performances as Rocky Balboa in decades.  Stallone, who also co-wrote Creed II's screenplay, actually evolves the character of Rocky, showing more about his character and life.

Caple also gets an excellent performance from Michael B. Jordan.  Jordan makes Adonis Creed seem genuine; all his hopes and dreams and the things that make him proud or angry resonate strongly in Creed II.  I dare say that Jordan is Adonis Creed the way great actors have seemingly made themselves into their characters (for instance, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and as Henry “Indiana” Jones).  Simply put, Jordan makes Donnie real.

Tessa Thompson as Bianca Taylor is good, but the character seems as if she is becoming a younger version of Phylicia Rashad's Mary Anne, and Rashad already does the mothering in this film quite well.  Dolph Lundgren is nice as Ivan Drago, delivering a layered performance as a fully developed character.  I must say, however, that Florian Munteanu is magnificent as Viktor Drago.  Viktor does not have many lines, but Munteanu tells the character's story and reveals his personality with his expressive eyes and emotive facial expressions.  Viktor Drago needs his own movie.

I did not think that I would like Creed II so much, but I love it.  I think its depictions of boxing matches are more intense than those in Creed (shout-out to Creed II's editors:  Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, and Paul Harb).  The finale between Donnie and Viktor is the cherry on top of Creed II, a movie that can go toe-to-toe with the other boxing movies that I have deigned to watch.

8 of 10
A
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, March 2, 2023


NOTES:
2019 Black Reel Awards:  2 nominations: “Outstanding Actor” (Michael B. Jordan) and “Outstanding Score” (Ludwig Göransson)

2019 Image Awards (NAACP): 1 nomination: “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Michael B. Jordan)

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Saturday, February 25, 2023

Review: "CREED" Fights Furiously in the Shadow of "Rocky"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 9 of 2023 (No. 1898) by Leroy Douresseaux

Creed (2015)
Running time:  133 minutes (2 hours, 13 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
DIRECTOR:  Ryan Coogler
WRITERS: Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington; from a story by Ryan Coogler (based on characters created by Sylvester Stallone)
PRODUCERS:  Roger Chartoff, William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, and Irwin Winker
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Maryse Alberti (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver
COMPOSER:  Ludwig Goransson
Academy Award nominee

DRAMA/SPORTS

Starring:  Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Ward, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Graham McTavish, Gabe Rosado, Brian Anthony Wilson, Max Kellerman, Jim Lampley, Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, and Hannah Storm

Creed is a 2015 boxing drama and sports movies directed by Ryan Coogler.  It is the seventh film in the Rocky film series, which began with the 1976 film, Rocky.  Creed is also a spin-off of the Rocky series.  The film focuses on a young boxer who struggles with his legacy, but seeks out his late father's friend and former rival to be his trainer.

Creed introduces Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan).  He is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed via an extramarital affair.  Creed's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), took Donnie into her home in Los Angeles, which opens up many opportunities for him.  However, Donnie also wants to be a boxer, but when he finds that no one will support or train him, he travels to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

There, he convinces Apollo Creed's old friend and former rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), to train him.  Initially reluctant to return to boxing, Rocky eventually agrees and begins training Donnie at his old stomping grounds, Front Street Gym.  When Donnie gets the offer to fight the “light heavyweight” champion of the world, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), Stallone isn't sure that he should do it.  Donnie's new girlfriend, singer-songwriter, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), also has her doubts.

To do this, Donnie will have to embrace his legacy as well as forge a new one for himself.  But is he willing to accept that the world does not want Adonis Johnson.  It wants “Adonis Creed?”

I have never watched the movie Rocky or any of its sequels in their entirety.  I doubt that I have ever watched enough of them to amount to an entire film.  I don't like boxing movies, although there is one I do like, the 1949 Film-Noir, The Set-Up.  However, I have been a fan of writer-director Ryan Coogler since seeing his powerful film debut, Fruitvale Station (2013).  I am crazy about his two films for Disney's Marvel Studios, Black Panther (2018) and its sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).  I am intrigued by the upcoming Creed III, so I decided to see the one Coogler film that I'd skipped, the first film in the series, 2015's Creed.

In some ways, Creed seems entirely reliant on the first three film in the Rocky series.  It obviously would not exist with those films, but sometimes Creed acts as if it could not exist without constantly referencing the past.  Creed, as a film, struggles with its own legacy (Rocky) as it tries to become its own thing just as Adonis Johnson struggles with the legacy of Apollo Creed.  Will becoming Adonis Creed overshadow Adonis' own identity and achievements?  Can Creed escape the shadow of Rocky.  Perhaps, they find a happy medium, Adonis more so than the film that tells his story.

Beyond that, Creed is a really good film because Ryan Coogler is an exceptionally good filmmaker.  Here, his work makes him come across as a natural, and I now see why Marvel was willing to consider him for Black Panther all those years ago.  Coogler gives Sylvester Stallone the space he needs to give his best performance as Rocky Balboa in three decades.  The role had become a stereotype, but here, Coogler makes old and ailing Rocky seem like a genuine life lived instead of as a caricature revived.

Coogler also gets Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson to give what still seem to be the best performances of their careers.  Adonis and Bianca have weight and depth, and Jordan makes Adonis feel like an especially developed character.  Jordan carries Adonis' history and emotions as if they were real things.

It is a shame that the Oscars could only recognize Stallone – via the “Best Supporting Actor” category that he did not, but should have won.  It is as if the Academy, especially the directors and screenwriters' branches, fears Ryan Coogler colossal talent.  Still, Creed, in spite of its spin-off imperfections, will be remembered much more than many of 2016's Oscar favorites.

8 of 10
A
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Saturday, February 25, 2023


NOTES:
2016 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Sylvester Stallone)

2016 Black Reel Awards:  5 wins: “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture” (Michael B. Jordan), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Tessa Thompson), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Ryan Coogler), “Outstanding Original or Adapted Screenplay, Motion Picture” (Aaron Covington and Ryan Coogler), and “Outstanding Motion Picture” (Sylvester Stallone, Irwin Winkler, David Winkler, Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Kevin King-Templeton); 4 nominations: “Outstanding Score” (Ludwig Göransson), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Francine Maisler), “Outstanding Original Song” (Tessa Thompson, Ludwig Göransson, and Sam Dew for the song, “Grip”), “Outstanding Original Song” (Donald Glover, Vince Staples, Jhené Aiko, Ryan Coogler, and Ludwig Göransson for the song, “Waiting for My Moment”)

2016 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Sylvester Stallone)

2016 Image Awards (NAACP):  4 wins: “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Michael B. Jordan), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Tessa Thompson), “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture-Theatrical” (Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington), “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture-Theatrical” (Ryan Coogler); 2 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture” and “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Phylicia Rashad)


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Thursday, February 16, 2023

Review: Spielberg's "THE COLOR PURPLE" Still Wants to Be Seen (Celebrating "The Fabelmans")

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 7 of 2023 (No. 1896) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Color Purple (1985)
Running time:  154 minutes (2 hours, 34 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13
DIRECTOR:  Steven Spielberg
WRITER:  Menno Meyjes (based on the novel by Alice Walker)
PRODUCERS:  Steven Spielberg; Quincy Jones, Frank Marshall, and Kathleen Kennedy
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Allen Daviau (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Michael Kahn
COMPOSER:  Quincy Jones
Academy Award nominee

DRAMA

Starring:  Whoopi Golderg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Willard E. Pugh, Akosua Busia, Desreta Jackson, Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, Dana Ivey, Leonard Jackson, Bennet Guillory, and Laurence Fishburne

The Color Purple is a 1985 drama and period film directed by Steven Spielberg.  The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel, The Color Purple, by author Alice Walker.  The Color Purple the movie focuses on an African-American woman who suffers abuse from the men in her life, but finds strength in the women close to her.

The Color Purple opens in 1909, in rural Hartwell County, GeorgiaCelie Harris (Desreta Jackson) is a teenage African-American girl living with an abusive father who rapes her.  He has already fathered two children by Celie, both of which he sold shortly after Celie gave birth.  Celie's father eventually gives her to an older man named Albert Johnson (Danny Glover), who Celie calls “Mister.”

A widower with three children, Mister initially wants to marry Celie's younger sister, Nettie (Akosua Busia).  Now, Mister abuses Celie, while his children also mistreat her.  One day, Nettie arrives at Mister's door, thrown out after rejecting her father's advances.  Nettie eventually also has to fight off a rape attempt by Mister, who promptly throws her off his property.

In the years and decades that follow, an adult Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), grown meek from years of abuse, finds strength in two other women.  The first is Mister's daughter law, Sofia (Oprah Winfrey).  The second is a woman Mister once wanted to marry, jook joint singer, Shug Avery (Margaret Avery).  For Celie, however, there are still great secrets from her past that will eventually be revealed.

It had been nearly 37 years since I last watched The Color Purple.  I cried so much during the first time I saw it that I had not been able to watch it again until now.  Over the years, I planned to view it a number of times, especially during the twentieth (2005) and twenty-fifth (2010) anniversaries of its original release.  It is also one of my favorite directorial efforts by Steven Spielberg.  I forced myself to watch it again because of my “celebration” of the release of Spielberg's recent autobiographical film, The Fabelmans.

The film's themes of domestic violence, pedophilia, and sexism still resonate, and, for me, the themes of racism and sexism seem to have strengthen with time.  The screenplay does so much to emphasize these themes that it is as if it creates a world within the larger world where abuse and degradation are the natural order.  Over the years, I have encountered people, mostly black men, who say that the film makes black men look bad.  I say that the film makes an honest portrayal of the abuse that black women faced in the past – from both black and white men.  [Over time, I have spoken with African-American women who personally knew older African-American women whose experiences are of the exact kind of abuse faced by Celie, Nettie, Sofia and other women in the film.]

That aside, I consider The Color Purple to be one of Spielberg's most subtle efforts as a director.  Some contemporaneous commentary said that the film was overly sentimental, but I find that Spielberg allows the film's narrative and characters to grow naturally from the screenplay.  In collaboration with his longtime editor, the Oscar-winning Michael Kahn (nominated here), Spielberg creates the illusion that he is simply capturing the evolution of Celie's tale from its harsh beginnings to its golden-hued happy ending.  The Color Purple feels organic … although I don't think anyone would have described it as such when it was first released.

One of the most impressive things about The Color Purple is that two its best performances are by actresses who have little or no acting experience – Whoopi Golderg as Celie and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia.  Spielberg gets these performers to create characters that are unique in form and substance.  To me, characters like Celie and Sofia seem so genuine because they were utterly new to American cinema, and truthfully, there has been nothing like them since.

Truthfully, all the film's performances are unique and winning.  Margaret Avery amazingly makes her Shug Avery an oasis in the often relentless pain of this film.  Danny Glover is also brilliantly cruel as the awful Mister, and Willard Pugh is sweet and charming as his son and Sofia's husband, the hapless Harpo.

At the 58th Academy Awards, The Color Purple did not win in any of the 11 categories in which it was nominated.  In fact, Steven Spielberg did not even receive a “Best Director” Oscar nomination.  In the decades since its release, The Color Purple remains as relevant today as it was being a historical and monumental release in 1985 and 1986.  The films that bested it at the Oscars are largely forgotten compared to it.  Alice Walker's novel was also adapted into a 2005 Broadway musical, and the film adaptation of that musical is scheduled for release later this year (2023), as of this writing.

As a triumph in Spielberg's filmography, some may discount The Color Purple, considering the films Spielberg has made since then (such as Schindler's List).  Still, as a line in the film says (more or less), The Color Purple wants to be seen and loved … and it still is.

10 of 10

Thursday, February 16, 2023


NOTES:
1986 Academy Awards, USA:  11 nominations: “Best Picture” (Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Quincy Jones), “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Whoopi Goldberg), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Margaret Avery), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Oprah Winfrey), “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium” (Menno Meyjes), “Best Cinematography” (Allen Daviau), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (J. Michael Riva, Bo Welch, and Linda DeScenna), “Best Costume Design” (Aggie Guerard Rodgers), “Best Music, Original Song” (Quincy Jones-music/lyrics, Rod Temperton-music/lyrics, and Lionel Richie-lyrics for the song “Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)”), “Best Music, Original Score” (Quincy Jones, Jeremy Lubbock, Rod Temperton, Caiphus Semenya, Andraé Crouch, Chris Boardman, Jorge Calandrelli, Joel Rosenbaum, Fred Steiner, Jack Hayes, Jerry Hey, and Randy Kerber), and “Best Makeup” (Ken Chase)

1987 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Menno Meyjes)

1986 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Whoopi Goldberg); 4 nominations: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Steven Spielberg), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Oprah Winfrey), and “Best Original Score – Motion Picture” (Quincy Jones)

1986 Image Awards (NAACP):  2 wins: “Outstanding Motion Picture” and “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture” (Whoopi Goldberg)


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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