Showing posts with label Black Reel Awards nominee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black Reel Awards nominee. Show all posts

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Review: "TENET" May Have Been 2020's Best Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 39 of 2023 (No. 1928) by Leroy Douresseaux

Tenet (2020)
Running time:  150 minutes (2 hours, 30 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Christopher Nolan
PRODUCERS:  Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Hoyte Van Hoytema (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Jennifer Lame
COMPOSER:  Ludwig Goransson
Academy Award winner


Starring:  John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Dimple Kapadia, Himesh Patel, Denzil Smith, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Clémency Poséy, Fiona Dourif, Laurie Shepherd, Martin Donovan, and Kenneth Branagh and Michael Caine

Tenet is a 2020 science fiction, secret agent, and action-thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan.  The film, Nolan's eleventh as a director, is a co-production between the United Kingdom and the United States.  Tenet focuses on a CIA operative on a mission to save the world, armed with only one word, “Tenet.”

Tenet introduces a CIA operative known only as "The Protagonist" (John David Washington).  The Protagonist leads a covert CIA extraction during a staged terrorist siege at the National Opera House in Kyiv., Ukraine.  After he is injured and the mission goes badly, the Protagonist is recruited by a secretive organization known only by the word, “Tenet.”  He is told that with a gesture, Tenet can “open the right doors and the wrong doors.”

He is briefed about bullets with “invertedentropy that move backwards through time.  It seems that the man who possesses the technology to invert entropy is a Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh).  The technology has been given to Sator from mysterious forces in the future, and those forces are also sending Sator the pieces of something called the “Algorithm,” which is a threat to the present world.

Suddenly, the Protagonist finds himself surrounded by a menagerie of people he cannot quite trust or really know.  That includes the Mumbai-based arms dealer, Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia), and Sator's estranged and abused wife, Katherine “Kat” Barton (Elizabeth Debicki).  Another is Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Tenet military commander.  Most mysterious of all is Neil (Robert Pattinson), who is supposed to be the Protagonist's “handler” from Tenet, and Neil seems to know the Protagonist in ways he does not know Neil.  Now, the Protagonist must uncover the secrets of inversion, the secrets of the Algorithm, and perhaps, even the secrets of himself.

Christopher Nolan gained many fans for his series of films starring DC Comics' Batman, known as “The Dark Knight Trilogy”: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  However, Tenet is closer to Nolan's films such as Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), The Prestige (2006), and Inception (2010), which, like Tenet, have some combination of complex plots and character time lines, ambiguous elements, and cleverly hidden details that are open to many theories and interpretations.

Tenet freely plays with the themes of free will and determinism.  Do people really have free will, or is it better that people think that they have free will?  In the end, I think the narrative ultimately decides that free will and determinism are compatible, which is one of many reasons that I love this film.  Many secret agent and spy films offer the illusion that the hero (or the protagonist) is in control.  From the first movie in Eon Productions' “James Bond film series, Dr No (1962), the hero, James Bond, seems to have a measure of control or at least force of will to save the day or often, the world.  One can say the same of Universal Pictures' “Jason Bourne” film series.  It starts with The Bourne Identity (2002), and Matt Damon's Jason Bourne seems to exert free will all the more with each film, although his fate was determined and settled before the narrative of the first film begins.  In Tenet, free will is a work in progress, exercised within the settled plots of determinism.

I love Tenet's cast.  Either The Protagonist was tailor-made for actor John David Washington, or he was the perfect casting.  I feel the same way about Robert Pattison's Neil, and Kenneth Branagh is such a fine actor that he can make any role seem like a real person.  Elizabeth Debicki, honestly, is Oscar-worthy as Kat Barton, and Dimple Kapadia adds a delightful flavor as Priya Singh.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson is all fire, menace, and masculinity as Ives.

I had not seen a Christopher Nolan film since Inception, although I'd planned to see Tenet in a theater.  However, I was really wary of returning to movie theaters during the 2020 year of COVID-19 movie theater shutdowns, even after they reopened.  In a way, that worked out.  I got to savor Tenet on DVD as a way of prepping for eventually seeing his most recent film, Oppenheimer.

I like Tenet's trippy, surreal, time-shifting, inscrutable nature, and I like that Nolan is willing both to throw out a lot of ideas and to engage them.  For me, it is mysterious, a mystery worth losing myself in every chance I get.  As far as my opinion is concerned, Tenet is Christopher Nolan's best, most imaginative, and truly most inventive film.

10 of 10

Sunday, August 27, 2023

2021 Academy Awards, USA:   1 win: “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley, and Scott R. Fisher); 1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Production Design”
{Nathan Crowley-production design and Kathy Lucas-set decoration)

2021 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Scott R. Fisher, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Lockley)

2021 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Ludwig Göransson)

2021 Black Reel Awards:  2 nominations: “Outstanding Cinematography” (Hoyte Van Hoytema) and 1 nomination: “Outstanding Production Design” (Nathan Crowley)

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



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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


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
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, March 2, 2023

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)

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



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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: Heroes Abound in "MARSHALL"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 of 10

Monday, February 15, 2021

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

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

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

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


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Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: "The Birth of a Nation" Offers a Counter Narrative

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 2 (of 2018) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

The Birth of a Nation (2016)
Running time:  120 minutes; MPAA – R for disturbing violent content, and some brief nudity
DIRECTOR:  Nate Parker
WRITERS:  Nate Parker; from a story by Nate Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin
PRODUCERS:  Nate Parker, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Preston L. Holmes, and Aaron L. Gilbert
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Elliot Davis (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Steven Rosenblum
COMPOSER:  Henry Jackman


Starring:  Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Aja Naomie King, Esther Scott, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gabrielle Union, Tony Espinosa, Jayson Warner Smith, Jason Stuart, and Chiké Okonkwo

The Birth of a Nation is a 2016 historical film and slave drama from director Nate Parker, who has the film's starring role.  A joint American and Canadian production, The Birth of the Nation is a fictional account and dramatization of the Black American slave Nat Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831), his life, and the rebellion of slaves and free Blacks that Turner led in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21, 1831.

The Birth of a Nation takes its name from from D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent movie and KKK propaganda film.  In Birth of a Nation 2016, Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising.  The film received some of its financing from professional basketball players and NBA stars Michael Finley and Tony Parker.  Among the film's executive producers are Oscar-winning filmmaker, Edward Zwick (Shakespeare in Love), and screenwriter and director David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight and Blade film franchises).

The Birth of a Nation opens in the antebellum South, where Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller) teaches a Black child slave, Nat (Tony Espinosa), to read.  Years later, Nat Turner (Nate Parker) is not only a field slave (picking cotton), but he is also a literate slave preacher.  A friend tells Nat's White slave owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), that other White slave owners need something to suppress their Black slaves, whom they believe to be unruly, disobedient, and indignant.  That friend suggests that Nat's preaching, popular with many of the slaves, could earn the financially strained Turner money from owners that want a slave preacher who can preach their slaves into submission.

As he travels with his owner, however, Nat sees countless atrocities committed by White masters against their Black slaves, many of the same that are committed against himself and the slaves at Turner's and other plantations.  Seeing himself as God's chosen instrument of freedom, Nat gathers trusted followers and prepares for a sign to lead a rebellion.

The 21st century has seen a rise in the number of African-Americans and people of color behind the camera in the American film industry.  The result is two great American films about slavery, one being the “Best Picture” Oscar-winner, 12 Years a Slave.  A second is The Birth of a Nation from writer-director Nate Parker.  However, this film was overshadowed by Parker's past (alleged rape charges that led to a trial in which Parker was acquitted – 1999 to 2001).

It is a shame that controversy overshadowed a film that is one of best of the decade, but it is also a truly unique film.  There are many powerful performances in this film:  Parker as Nat Turner, Penelope Ann Miller as Elizabeth Turner; Aunjanue Ellis as Nancy Turner; Aja Naomi King as Cherry Turner; Esther Scott as Bridget Turner; and Colman Domingo as Hark Turner.

For all those fine performances, what makes The Birth of the Nation 2016 unique is that it is like a folk tale or a fairy tale, as much as it is a period drama or biographical film.  Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin, who co-wrote the film's story, seem to approach Nat Turner as both a figure of history and of myth.  African-Americans, Black slaves, and White people (slave owners and otherwise) had and have different interpretations of Turner and his rebellion.

Thus, The Birth of the Nation 2016 clearly demarcates the line between good and evil; kindness and hate; and good and greed.  However, the righteousness of, the success of, and/or the meaning of Nat Turner's actions and his rebellion are left up to interpretation.  One can say the same about this film because it is a bold vision that demands the viewer grapple beyond viewing it as entertainment or as a pastime.  It is a story about the story of our nation, the good ol' U.S. of A, and how one sees the nations will affect how one views this film.

This film is built on powerful visuals that tell the story, more than it is the script that tells the story.  The visuals are not about sensation, but are about narrative.  The Birth of a Nation 2016 is a counter-myth to the story of the United States of America.

9 of 10

Friday, January 5, 2018

2017 Black Reel Awards:  6 nominations: “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture” (Nate Parker), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Nate Parker), “Outstanding Screenplay, Motion Picture” (Nate Parker), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Andrea Craven, Craig Fincannon, Lisa Mae Fincannon, Mary Vernieu, and Michelle Wade Byrd), “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female” (Aja Naomi King), and “Outstanding Score” (Henry Jackman)

2017 Image Awards:  6 nominations:  “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Independent Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Nate Parker), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Aja Naomi King), “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture-Film” (Nate Parker), and “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture-Film” (Nate Parker)

The text is copyright © 2018 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Review: "Never Die Alone" Uneven, but Inspired

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 of 10

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

Edited: Wednesday, February 3, 2016

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: "Fruitvale Station" Heartbreakingly Beautiful and Beautifully Heartbreaking

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 30 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Fruitvale Station (2013)
Running time:  85 minutes (1 hour, 25 minutes)
MPAA – R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use
PRODUCERS:  Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Rachel Morrison (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Claudia S. Castello and Michael P. Shawver
COMPOSER:  Ludwig Girabsson


Starring:  Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ariana Neal, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Anha O’Reilly, Kenan Coogler, and Trestin George

Fruitvale Station is a 2013 drama from writer-director Ryan Coogler.  A docu-drama and quasi-historical film, Fruitvale Station is a dramatization of the last day in the life of Oscar Louis Grant III, a real-life African-American man who was shot to death by a police officer.  Actor Forest Whitaker is one of the film’s producer (although he does not appear in the film), and Harvey Weinstein is one the film’s executive producers, although he does receive a screen credit in the film as such.

Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old San Francisco Bay Area resident, and his friends were traveling on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train during the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009.  After a fight on the train, Grant and his friends were detained by BART Police officers at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California.  While being restrained Grant, who was lying face down and allegedly resisting arrest, was fatally shot by BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle.  Grant was pronounced dead around 9 a.m. that morning at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

The incident at the train station is the basis of Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station.  The film follows Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) from the early morning of New Year’s Eve 2008 to his death.  The film examines his relationship with his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who is the mother of his child, Tatiana (Ariana Neal).  The film also pays particular attention to Grant’s close relationship with Tatiana and his relationship with his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), which had improved since Oscar’s stint in jail.  By illustrating the energy he brought to life, the film celebrates how much Oscar meant to his family and friends.

I often dread watching films based on real-life events when I know that the lead character died or was killed.  It took me three days to watch Fruitvale Station because I knew the heartbreak that was coming, and this film is indeed poignant and heartbreaking.  It eulogizes Oscar Grant, while simultaneously mourning a unique soul lost through senseless death.  By portraying Oscar’s relationships, Coogler emphasizes what a tragic loss Oscar was for his friends and family.  However, Coogler makes that sense of loss feel genuine in ways that films about real life people often do not.  Some movies about the senseless killing of person can make the viewer feel outrage.  Fruitvale Station simply cause hurt deep in the soul.

Michael B. Jordan as Oscar and Octavia Spencer as his mother, Wanda, give tremendous performances.  Spencer (who is one of the co-executive producers of this film) shows that she can build characters that seem real right down to their souls.  I can see why many thought that she would get an Oscar nod for her work here, which she ultimately did not.

Jordan is so good; it is as if he disappeared and then, reappeared as the real Oscar Grant.  After such a performance, people will obviously think that the sky is the limit for this bright and talented young actor.  Because of his performance, I don’t think I could watch Fruitvale Station again.  I cannot let Jordan, Spencer, and Coogler break my heart and make me cry again.

9 of 10

2014 Black Reel Awards:  9 nominations:  “Outstanding Motion Picture” (Forest Whitaker-producer and Nina Yang Bongiovi-producer – The Weinstein Company), “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture,” (Michael B. Jordan), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Melonie Diaz), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Octavia Spencer), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Ryan Coogler), “Outstanding Screenplay-Adapted or Original, Motion Picture” (Ryan Coogler), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Nina Henninger-Casting Director), “Outstanding Score” (Ludwig Göransson), and “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female” (Melonie Diaz)

2014 Image Awards:  1 win: “Outstanding Independent Motion Picture;” 4 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Michael B. Jordan), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Octavia Spencer), and “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture - Theatrical or Television” (Ryan Coogler)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

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

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Spike Lee's "25th Hour" Focuses on Mood (Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 116 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

25th Hour (2002)
Running time:  135 minutes (2 hours, 15 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong language and some violence
DIRECTOR:  Spike Lee
WRITER:  David Benioff (based upon his novel, The 25th Hour)
PRODUCERS:  Spike Lee and Jon Kilik and Julia Chasman and Tobey Maguire
EDITOR:  Barry Alexander Brown
COMPOSER:  Terrence Blanchard
Golden Globe nominee


Starring:  Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tony Siragusa, Tony Devon, and Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.

The subject of this movie review is 25th Hour, a 2002 drama from director, Spike Lee.  The film is based on The 25th Hour, a 2001 novel by David Benioff, who also wrote the screenplay for this film.  25th Hour the movie focuses on a convicted New York City drug dealer who reevaluates his life in the last 24 hours of freedom he has before he begins serving a seven-year jail term.

Montgomery “Monty” Brogan (Edward Norton) is just a day away from entering prison on a seven-year stint for dealing heroin.  He spends the last 24 hours of his freedom with his two best friends – his childhood buddies, Frank (Barry Pepper), a Wall Street bond trader; and Jakob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a high school English teacher; and his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson).  They plan to party the night away at their New York City haunts as they ruminate on the their pasts and futures and on 9/11.  Monty also touches base with his widower father, Frank (Brian Cox), who has trouble dealing with what has happened to his only child.

Spike Lee’s 25th Hour isn’t so much about plot and story as it is about emotions and moods.  The story is certainly compelling – a man trying to find some closure the last day of is freedom (especially when one considers that Monty Brogan really doesn’t look like he’s going to do well in prison).  However, Lee emphasizes the raw feelings and powerful emotions, as well as the thoughts that press and weigh on the mind of a condemned man.  It makes for some riveting scenes, such as the one in which Monty asks Frank to help him get the right look for prison (by beating him up).  There is an equally poignant, heart-rending, and ultimately beautiful monologue in which Monty’s dad, Frank, offers him a vision for a better tomorrow.  Combine that with the 9/11 references, and this is a New York film that is familiar to us all.

There are good performances all around, making the most of Lee’s stunning succession of potent moods.  No really stands out, because all the leads: Norton, Hoffman, Pepper, Dawson and Cox get at least a few chances to show their dramatic chops in an earthy way that tests their intellects as actors.  The film does dry up in a few places, but its closing sequence will remind viewers of how well a film can capture the human story.

8 of 10

2003 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: Best Original Score - Motion Picture (Terrence Blanchard)

2003 Black Reel Awards:  3 nominations: “Theatrical - Best Supporting Actress” (Rosario Dawson), “Theatrical - Best Director” (Spike Lee), “Best Film” (Spike Lee, Tobey Maguire, Jon Kilik, and Julia Chasman)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Updated:  Monday, February 03, 2014

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: "Black Knight" is a Black Mark on Martin Lawrence's Career (Happy B'day, Tom Wilkinson)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 40 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Black Knight (2001)
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for language, sexual/crude humor and battle violence
DIRECTOR:  Gil Junger
WRITERS:  Darryl J. Quarles, Peter Gaulke, and Gerry Swallow
PRODUCERS:  Michael Green, Arnon Milchan, Darryl J. Quarles, and Paul Schiff
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Ueli Steiger (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Michael R. Miller
COMPOSER:  Randy Edelman


Starring:  Martin Lawrence, Marsha Thomason, Tom Wilkinson, Vincent Regan, Daryl Mitchell, Michael Countryman, Kevin Conway, and Jeannette Weggar

The subject of this movie review is Black Knight, a 2001 comedy starring Martin Lawrence and directed by Gil Junger.  At the time this film was produced, Junger had primarily directed episodes of television series such as Living Single and Ellen.  This movie is also loosely based on Mark Twain’s novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).  In Black Knight, Lawrence plays an amusement park employee who awakens to find himself in 14th century England after an accident.

Black Knight is a really bad movie, and I mean “bad” in its pejorative sense.  There’s nothing cool or hip about it, and Martin Lawrence could lose much of his street credibility behind this garbage.  He goes out of his way to harangue, embarrass, and make fun of people (his comedian’s job, I guess), and then he makes a dog like this.  Who’s dumb, now?

Those moments in the movie that might illicit a chuckle are so few and far between that a viewer could be too tired to laugh by the time he found anything worth a guffaw.  The movie is a star vehicle, one of the those movies made especially as a showcase to further the career and star power of its lead actor, so it’s not supposed to be art – just a commercial property; many star vehicles are.  However, this thing is practically impossible to watch, and it could turn people off Lawrence for a long time, if not forever.  All it takes is a few bombs like this, and people are wary of paying the high cost of a movie ticket to see a movie star’s latest work.  Ask Eddie Murphy.

A fish out of water story, Lawrence plays Jamal Walker aka Skywalker, an employee at a medieval theme park, who through some kind of accident, ends up in 14th century England.  Bare with me.  A despot, King (of England, I guess) Leo (Kevin Conway) comes to believe that Jamal is a Moor (that would explain his dusky complexion) who is a messenger from Normandy sent to herald some kind of Norman delegation.  To complicate matters, Jamal falls for Victoria the Chambermaid (Marsha Thomason), a black woman (if they can pass off Jamal’s presence, they can pass off hers) who is leading a covert assassination attempt against King Leo.

Okay.  In time travel stories, especially ones in which African-Americans are in lands where they were unlikely to be in a particular era, require a huge, willing suspension of disbelief.  And we know that the extreme cultural differences between the denizens of 14th century England and Jamal would ostensibly allow Martin to be very funny – the hip black man versus the so unhip, bland, not streetwise white medieval folks.  The premise might have sounded very funny when the writers first discussed it, laughing while they sat around smoking pot, drinking expensive liquor, or nursing a pile of coke on the living room table.  But tragedy struck when the premise became an awful script and Martin, probably awash in personal and mental problems, just couldn’t get his funny up.

Better luck next time.

1 of 10

2002 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Theatrical - Best Screenplay-Original or Adapted (Darryl J. Quarles and Peter Gaulke)

Updated:  Thursday, December 12, 2013

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Review: "Undercover Brother" Timeless and Funny

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 110 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Undercover Brother (2002)
Running time:  86 minutes (1 hour, 26 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for language, sexual humor, drug content and campy violence
DIRECTOR:  Malcolm D. Lee
WRITERS:  John Ridley and Malcolm McCullers, from a story by John Ridley (based upon the Internet series by John Ridley)
PRODUCERS:  Brian Grazer, Michael Jenkinson, and Damon Lee
EDITOR:  William Kerr
COMPOSER:  Stanley Clarke


Starring:  Eddie Griffin, Chris Kattan, Denise Richards, Aunjanue Ellis, Dave Chappelle, Chi McBride, Gary Anthony Williams, Neil Patrick Harris, Billy Dee Williams, Robert Trumbull, J.D. Hall (voice), William Taylor

The subject of this movie review is Undercover Brother, a 2002 comedy and action film from director Malcolm D. Lee.  The movie is based on an original Internet animated series created by screenwriter John Ridley.  The movie spoofs 1970s blaxploitation films and also James Bond movies via the character “Undercover Brother.”  Undercover Brother the movie focuses on a group of secret agents trying to stop “The Man” from derailing an African-American candidate’s presidential campaign.

As a comedy, Undercover Brother, a broad parody of black exploitation films and 70’s Afro-American pop culture, focuses on its characters rather than its simple storyline and straightforward, but thin plot.  A light plot is a treacherous path for a film; especially in light of how uneven previous blaxtiploitation parodies were, focusing almost entirely on skewering preconceptions rather than telling a story.

This includes Hollywood Shuffle and I’m Gonna Git you Sucka.  Both films rapidly ran out of steam, and Shuffle, which also skewered stereotypes of black people in mainstream Hollywood films, struggled with being both a comedy and social satire.  Sucka tried to be both a parody and a conventional action movie (or it certainly seemed that way) and often failed on both counts.

Undercover Brother doesn’t have any of those problems because it’s a straight yuck fest.  Any social commentary on the relationships between the skin colors is either simply coincidental or so slyly and quickly interjected that the audience will either miss it or ignore it.  Director Malcolm D. Lee (Spike Lee’s cousin and the director of The Best Man) carefully navigates the dangerous straits that are parodies.  He keeps things moving, and with a script that makes almost every word an integral part of a joke, he doesn’t have to deal with nuisances like character development.  I do have to give the film credit because the jokes are little sharper than they appear.  It’s like the mainstream gets to join the mostly black cast for the laughs, but it’s as if the creators aren’t letting them in on the entire joke because “they” might be the punch line.

In the plot, a lone black agent, Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin), joins B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., an organization engaged in a secret war against The Man (voice of J.D. Hall), an evil figure who wants to reverse the influence of African-Americans on white American culture.  The Man also wants to derail the candidacy of a promising black presidential hopeful (Billy Dee Williams) by controlling his mind.  Undercover Brother must also face off against The Man’s main henchman, Mr. Feather (Chris Kattan).  Crazed and struggling with own attraction to hip-hop culture, Mr. Feather unleashes the one weapon sure to bring a brother down, an attractive white woman in the form of White She Devil (Denise Richards).

Well, I laughed a lot, and I think that anyone who likes black exploitation films, 70’s black cinema, and movies that poke fun at such will like Brother.  The acting is good enough, although Chris Kattan and Dave Chappelle struggle with over the top characters whose routines are too long and often wear out their welcome.  Denise Richards, an underrated actress because people focus on her stunningly good looks and super fine body, is underutilized in the film.  White She Devil’s successful quest to conquer Brother is funny, the best parody and only true satire in the film, but once her part is over, she is reduced to window dressing.  It’s a shame because the dynamic between Brother, White She Devil and the savvy Sistah Girl (Aunjanue Ellis), who is not big on the idea of a black man sleeping with a white woman, is the film’s best subplot.

My reservations aside, I want to see this movie again because what it does well it does oh-so-damn well.  The filmmakers are incredibly inspired and when they’re on in this film, I laughed as hard as I’ve ever done watching any movie.  Comedy is tricky, so I can only give kudos to this solid effort.  And, hey, I have to give props for the film’s large cast of African-Americans.

7 of 10

2003 Black Reel Awards:  6 nominations:  “Theatrical - Best Actress” (Aunjanue Ellis), “Theatrical - Best Director” (Malcolm D. Lee), “Theatrical - Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted)” (John Ridley), “Best Film Soundtrack,” “Best Film Poster,” and “Best Song” (Snoop Dogg-performer, Bootsy Collins-performer and song writer, George S. Clinton-song writer, Jerome Brailey-song writer, and Fred Wesley-performer for the song “Undercova Brother (We Got the Funk”)

Updated:  Monday, November 18, 2013

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: "Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin" Shames Us for Forgetting

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 59 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2003)
Running time:  84 minutes (1 hour, 24 minutes)
PRODUCERS/DIRECTORS:  Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Robert Shepard (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Rhonda Collins, Veronica Selver, and Gary Weimberg
MUSIC:  B. Quincy Griffin

DOCUMENTARY – History/LGBT/Civil Rights

I was recently searching Netflix, looking for a movie I could review in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (also known simply as the March on Washington).  I suddenly came across the name of a person involved in the American Civil Rights Movement of whom I had never heard.

That man is Bayard Rustin, and he turned out to be the perfect subject matter for this remembrance for several reasons.  One of them is that Rustin was the chief organizer (official title: Deputy Director) of the March on Washington (August 28, 1963), where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous and historic “I Have a Dream” speech.  The second reason is that there is an award-winning documentary about Bayard Rustin.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin is a 2003 documentary film from the producing and directing team of Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer.  Brother Outsider was originally broadcast as an episode of the long-running PBS documentary series, “P.O.V.” – Season 15, Episode 9 (January 20, 2013).  The film was also shown at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, where it received a nomination for the festival’s “Grand Jury Prize Documentary” award.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin presents a broad overview of Rustin’s life.  Rustin was an American leader and activist in several social movements, including civil rights, gay rights, non-violence, and pacifism.  Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1912, and Brother Outsider follows his life from there.  West Chester is where Rustin began his life as an activist, when as a youth he protested Jim Crow laws.

The film chronicles Rustin’s arrival to Harlem, and his subsequent involvement in communism and later in the anti-war movement.  The film also recounts Rustin’s run-ins with the law enforcement officials over his activities and also how he was monitored by the FBI.  The film discusses Rustin’s life as an openly gay man, which got him into trouble, both with police and with his colleagues and contemporaries.  Of course, the film’s centerpiece is Rustin’s long involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, so the film covers the March on Washington.  There is also an examination of Rustin’s relationship with Dr. King and with his mentor, A. Philip Randolph.

Rustin’s friends, family, companions, and figures from the Civil Rights Movement speak on camera about Rustin.  That includes Civil Rights figures such as Eleanor Holmes Norton, Andrew Young, and actress Liv Ullmann.  The film uses a lot of archival footage, which includes film and video of Dr. King, Malcolm X, Strom Thurmond, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Robert F. Kennedy, and President Lyndon Johnson, among many.  Brother Outsider also includes a sequence from the 2001 HBO movie, Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright.

In a recent article for, writer and CNN contributor LZ Granderson talks about Bayard Rustin’s marginalization in Civil Rights history, which Granderson attributes to homophobia among some African-Americans and in some segments of the black community.  Running through Brother Outsider is the question asking why Rustin remained in the background of the Civil Rights Movement, never really coming forward.  I don’t think the film ever directly answers that question.

Watching the film and understanding the pariah status that gay people had in the United States for the majority of Rustin’s life, one can understand that Granderson is likely right.  Rustin’s status or lack thereof in Civil Rights history has been affected by his being openly gay.  Rustin was both a “brother,” to many in the social movements in which he participated, but his sexual identity also made him an “outsider.”  For portraying this, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin won the GLAAD Media Award for “Outstanding Documentary” in 2004.  Rustin’s place in history is being restored.  On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin (who died in 1987) the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin is essential, not only because it brings Rustin to light, but also because it is a good overview of the movements that preceded the Civil Rights Movement.  The film also draws attention to the figures that both influenced the movement before it began and also built the movement in its early days.  Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, as a documentary, is essential Civil Rights viewing.

8 of 10

2004 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Black Reel Television: Best Original Program” (Public Broadcasting Service-PBS)

2004 Image Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding TV News, Talk or Information-Series or Special”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

For the time being, LZ Granderson’s column, “The man black history erased,” can be read (as long as the article remains posted) here or

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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: "S.W.A.T." is by the Book Crime Thriller

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 126 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

S.W.A.T. (2003)
Running time:  117 minutes (1 hour, 57 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for violence, language and sexual references
DIRECTOR:  Clark Johnson
WRITERS:  David Ayer and David McKenna; from a story by Ron Mita and Jim McClain (based upon characters by David Hamner)
PRODUCERS:  Dan Halsted, Chris Lee, and Neal H. Moritz
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Gabriel Beristain
EDITOR:  Michael Tronick
COMPOSER:  Elliot Goldenthal


Starring:  Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, Josh Charles, Jeremy Renner, Brian Van Holt, Olivier Martinez, Reginald E. Cathey, Larry Poindexter, and James DuMont

The subject of this movie review is S.W.A.T., a 2003 action-thriller and crime film.  The film is based on the short-lived television series, “S.W.A.T.”  This ABC action-crime drama (Feb. 1975 to April 1976) was created by Robert Hamner and Lee Stanley.  In S.W.A.T. the movie, S.W.A.T. tries to prevent an imprisoned drug kingpin from breaking out of police custody.

When the law gets a hold of Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez), billionaire drug lord and arms dealer, Montel offers 100 million dollars (say it in a heavy Al Pacino/Tony Montana accent to get the full effect) to anyone who can free him.  Who you gonna call?  How about the Los Angeles Police Department’s finest – S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics)?

Led by a legendary S.W.A.T. veteran, Sgt. Dan “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson), the group includes LAPD’s best, brightest, and toughest: Jim Street (Colin Farrell) a disgraced S.W.A.T. officer Hondo gives a second chance; Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), repeatedly denied admission into the S.W.A.T. program because she is a female; and David “Deke” Kay (LL Cool J), a tough street cop who can run down you and yo mama.

S.W.A.T. is a by the book action thriller that correctly presses all the right buttons except those bothersome story and character buttons.  But the fireworks, explosions, gunshots, and machismo all work, and that’s pretty much all that’s needed to make an successful action movie – one that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve wasted your money as soon as you leave the theatre.  The plot is simple and straight, and the script contains familiar American archetypes:  Jackson’s Hondo is the black mentor to Farrell’s Street, the dangerous young white stud.  Hollywood seems intent on making Farrell a matinee idol whether the matinee wants him or not.

The movie was fun, a pleasant distraction, pleasantly intense, not manically and obscenely intense like Bad Boys II, but intense in a way that lets us get excited about overwrought gun battles.  There’s even an ultra hilarious segment in which an L.A. street gang tries to liberate Montel for his 100 meeeeell-yon dollerz!  There’s no meaningful drama in the story, nothing to make you really care for the characters other than the fact that you’d like to see Street show the department it was wrong for disgracing him.  But this is good film popcorn, one I’d heartily recommend to fans of hardcore action films and one I’ll see again.

Of course, if you want a gritty cop film, something with meat on the bones, there’s always Joe Carnahan’s Narc.

5 of 10

2004 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Film” (Christopher Lee, Neal H. Moritz, and Dan Halsted)

2004 Image Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Samuel L. Jackson)

Updated:  Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: "Dark Blue" Dark Indeed

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 22 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Dark Blue (2003)
Running time: 118 minutes (1 hour, 58 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence, language and brief sexuality
DIRECTOR: Ron Shelton
WRITERS: David Ayer; from a story James Ellroy
PRODUCERS: David Blocker, Caldecot Chubb, Sean Daniel, and James Jacks
EDITORS: Patrick Flannery and Paul Seydor
COMPOSER: Terence Blanchard

CRIME/DRAMA with elements of action and thriller

Starring: Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele, Brendan Gleeson, Ving Rhames, Kurupt, Lolita Davidovich, Dash Mihok, Master P, and Khandi Alexander

The subject of this movie review is Dark Blue, a 2002 crime drama from director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) and writer David Ayer and based on an original story by James Ellroy. The film was released to theatres in February 2003.

Describing Ron Shelton’s Dark Blue is not an easy task. Even if I only dealt with the surface issues, I’d still have a hard time defining the film. What I can say is that it is brutal and unflinching in its display of violence, corruption, and human frailty. Shelton, who usually writes his own screenplays, has a devil of script in this one with which to work. James Ellroy, the mack daddy of American crime fiction and the novelist of L.A. Confidential, wrote the story and David Ayer, the writer of Training Day and The Fast and the Furious, wrote the script; thus, the pedigree of the story is one of immense power and frank honesty when dealing with the Los Angeles on a street level and in its darkest corners.

Set in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on the eve of the 1992 riots after the “Rodney King Beating Trial” verdict, the film focuses on a hardnosed cop with a penchant for shooting suspects, Sgt. Eldon Perry, Jr. (Kurt Russell) and his youthful partner Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), whom Perry is training to follow in his tough footsteps. Perry is sometimes a kind of hit man and troubleshooter for his boss Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), who is also Bobby’s uncle. Van Meter’s web of deceit has drawn the attention of an ambitious deputy chief (Ving Rhames), who closes in on the corruption as the city awaits the verdict of King trial.

Dark Blue isn’t just about police corruption although that seems to be its central focus. The film has so much going on around the central character Perry that it’s hard to zero in on any particular issue. It’s about how people get drawn into the darker side of the law and remain there despite their misgivings. It’s about the ends justifying the means and about doing whatever you want to do or believe you have to do regardless of the cost to others.

More than anything, Dark Blue reveals how a select group of men treat the LAPD like their own personal boy’s club where they can live the most selfish and hedonistic lifestyle they want to live and the public pays the their club dues. Dark Blue makes it quite plain and matter of fact that quite a few cops look the other way when it comes to corruption and that some “officers of the law” are as bad or worse then the criminals they supposedly fight. Even the good guys are tainted. In fact, after seeing this, I have my doubts that bad cops actually only make up a very small percentage of police departments. Corruption is the cancer, but material gain is the alluring scent that draws them to the sickness. Of course, a lot of policemen look the other way because they know how easy it is to cross the line.

It takes a good cast to carry off a film like this, one that deals with difficult and angry subject matter in such a frank manner. Kurt Russell continues to affirm his status as a great male star in the tradition of the great tough guys, and he can act. I could read the drama in his face and see the character’s turmoil and conflict; Russell didn’t have to say a word. He only had to act. Scott Speedman plays the youthful and slowly corrupted Bobby with a charm that engages us to him especially when he’s trying to be a bad boy. Ving Rhames and Brendan Gleeson are fine character actors; they always bring something of themselves, their own personal style, to their characters, which gives those characters flavor.

Dark Blue may be an L.A. story, but its elements and themes are universal. The same issues that plagued the men and the bureaucracy of law enforcement in 1992 before the riots still bother them today. It’s good that Ellroy, Ayers, and Shelton can turn this disease into a big messy film full of ugliness, making us confront the mean streets and the even meaner men who play on it.

Dark Blue isn’t slick entertainment, and it does drag at times. Like Michael Mann’s Heat, it takes its time building up steam before it blows up in our faces. Good. Some things about “the law” need to gut punch America if the country’s going to pay attention. Shelton builds the tension slowly, but the audience needs the set up to get the payoff. If the ending seems confused, it’s the only appropriate one for a movie so deeply involved in the drama of life. I like having an important movie be this rough, crime drama (heck, I just like a good crime drama) that craps on the gloss of Hollywood. The art of drama doesn’t have to be pretty.

7 of 10

2004 Black Reel Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Supporting Actor” (Ving Rhames) and “Best Supporting Actress” (Michael Michele)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: "Bruce Almighty" Not So Mighty

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 20 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Bruce Almighty (2003)
Running time: 101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for language, sexual content and some crude humor
DIRECTOR: Tom Shadyac
WRITERS: Steve Koren & Mark O’Keefe and Steve Oedekerk; from a story by Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe
PRODUCERS: Michael Bostick, James D. Brubaker, Jim Carrey, Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, and Tom Shadyac
EDITOR: Scott Hill
COMPOSER: John Debney


Starring: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Baker, Lisa Ann Walter, Steven Carell, Nora Dunn, Eddie Jemison, Paul Satterfield, Mark Kiely, Sally Kirkland, and Tony Bennett

The subject of this movie review is Bruce Almighty, a 2003 comedy and fantasy film from director Tom Shadyac and starring Jim Carrey. The film was a worldwide box office hit and yielded a spin-off film, Evan Almighty, in 2007.

Bruce Almighty isn’t Jim Carrey’s best film, although it was one of his biggest ever at the box office. I wanted to see it for a long time, but never got around to it, and after having finally seen it, I now realize that it would have been perfectly fine, if in my life as a moviegoer, I had never seen it. It’s not bad; it’s just not good Jim Carrey.

Bruce Almighty focuses on Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) an unhappy television reporter who complains about how unfair God is to him. When he doesn’t get the promotion after which he lusted and gets himself fired as a result, he condemns God as a do-nothing. God (Morgan Freeman) decides to make an appearance and see if Bruce can do better a job ruling existence. He gives Bruce his almighty powers just to teach him how difficult the job of being God can be.

First of all the concept is a piece of shit. Granted that the job of watching the universe is, to say the absolute least, difficult, can’t God do the job? He is, after all, God…

Secondly, the script is very smart, for at least half the film. Bruce acts just as you’d think he would – selfishly and carelessly doing whatever it takes to make things easy for him. It turns out he was always a self-obsessed bastard. Even after he gets his way via his newly gained almighty powers, he doesn’t think to make things better not only for himself, but also for his girlfriend, Grace Connelly (Jennifer Anniston). When Bruce does finally at least pay attention to the (presumed) basic duty of God, answering prayers, he takes the easy route and creates a disaster. All this stuff is smart and probably pretty accurate when it comes to describing how someone would handle the situation.

After that, Bruce Almighty becomes a feel good fest of fixing things and doing the right thing. That makes for a pleasant movie, and the story resolves in the way it probably should: life lessons learned, good will towards men, respecting God (but, according to the film, respecting God in a bland and non-evangelical way). However, that’s the problem. Bruce Almighty plays it too safe; it would have really been a funnier film if it had actually went against the grain – maybe be radical.

And as silly and crazy as Jim Carrey has been, he’s rarely done anything dangerous in his career. As a stage comedian, he was a gagman, the Prince of Ass Jokes, really. He does great impersonations and he’s a human sound effects machine, but we’re not talking Lenny Bruce or even Carrey’s idol, Andy Kaufman. His film career has pretty much been the same act, but he’s been so damn good at it. The Ace Ventura films and Dumb and Dumber are priceless.

Since the mid to late 90’s, Jim has been trying to prove to everyone that he’s not a comedian turned actor or just a comic actor, but an actor – one capable doing serious dramatic roles. I think several years of trying to prove that he’s a great actor has dulled the talent that justifies his popularity and humongous paychecks – his talent as the Prince of Ass Jokes, the Duke of Juvenile Humor, and Lord of Rubbery Faces.

You can see it in Bruce Almighty. His silliness, childishness, and zaniness lack the zip they once had. He’s does some really hilarious clowning around in this film, but a lot of it is soft and too much of it strained.

So see Bruce Almighty, if you like Jim Carrey. Sadly, it’s the closest we’ll get to the early to mid-90’s pet detective.

5 of 10

2004 Black Reel Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Supporting Actor” (Morgan Freeman)

2004 Image Awards: 1 win: “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (Morgan Freeman)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: "Celeste and Jesse Forever" for Reals

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)
Running time: 92 minutes (1 hour, 32 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, sexual content and drug use
DIRECTOR: Lee Toland Krieger
WRITERS: Rashida Jones and Will McCormack
PRODUCERS: Lee Nelson, Jennifer Todd, and Suzanne Todd
EDITOR: Yana Gorskaya
COMPOSERS: Zach Cowie and Sunny Levine (for Biggest Crush)
Black Reel Award nominee


Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Emma Roberts, Chris Messina, Rich Sommer, Rebecca Dayan, Will McCormack, Rafi Gavron, Chris Pine, and Elijah Wood

Celeste & Jesse Forever is a 2012 comedy-drama and romance film, starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg. Jones co-wrote the screenplay with Will McCormack, who also has a small acting role in the film. Jones and Samberg play a divorcing couple trying to maintain friendship while both pursuing relationships with other people.

Celeste Martin (Rashida Jones) and Jesse Abrams (Andy Samberg) were best friends and high school sweethearts. Now, they are a married couple, separated and headed for divorce. They remain best friends, but their new status irritates their friends, especially Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) and Beth (Ari Graynor), who think that Celeste and Jesse are being weird. When Jesse gets some shocking news from a former acquaintance, Celeste starts having serious doubts about what her relationship with Jesse should be.

Celeste & Jesse Forever is more a romantic drama than it is a romantic comedy. It is also a straight character drama, as introspective as it is surprisingly funny. Celeste & Jesse Forever is one of the best (if not the best) romance films of 2012, and it has a number of high qualities. The performances are good, and the directing is lively and captures the film’s off-beat sensibilities. The cinematography seems vaguely futuristic, and the soundtrack is filled with songs that are either perfect for the moment or are delightful in the way that they are inappropriate for a scene.

The film’s strength is its screenplay. Rashida Jones and Will McCormack earned a 2013 Independent Spirit Award nomination for “Best First Screenplay” and a best screenplay nomination from the 2013 Black Reel Awards. Jones and McCormack tread on familiar ground with this story, but twist and contort it in interesting ways. Every time I thought that this movie was looking too much like a cookie-cutter romance, the story struck an odd note or peculiar pose.

And Rashida Jones flows through this film with her lovely performance. If you write an interesting part for yourself, the smart thing to do is turn in a performance that captures what is different and exciting about your screenplay, and Jones does just that. Andy Samberg is good, but this story does not require him to be adventurous as an actor. There are also a number of good supporting performances. Will McCormack is funny as the odd weed dealer, Skillz, and Emma Roberts is a delightful scene-stealer as pop music princess, Riley Banks.

Celeste & Jesse Forever is always turning on the charm, but this movie works because it manages both to feel real and to be uncommon and distinctive. It’s sweet and melancholy and pungent and joyous.

8 of 10

2013 Black Reel Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Actress” (Rashida Jones) and “Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted” (Rashida Jones and Will McCormack)

Friday, March 08, 2013

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: "Kill Bill: Volume 2" Gets Better with Age

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 53 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
Running time: 136 minutes; MPAA – R for violence, language and brief drug use
DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
WRITER: Quentin Tarantino (The Bride character by Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino)
PRODUCER: Lawrence Bender
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Sally Menke
COMPOSER: Robert Rodriguez
Golden Globe nominee

CRIME/DRAMA with elements of Action, Martial Arts, and Thriller

Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu, Michael Parks, Jeannie Epper, Perla Haney-Jardine, Caitlin Keats, Chris Nelson, Gordon Liu, LaTanya Richardson, and Bo Svenson

The subject of this movie review is Kill Bill: Volume 2, a 2004 crime drama and martial arts film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino. It is the second of two films that were released within several months of each other. The film follows a character called “The Bride,” who is seeking revenge against her former colleagues.

In Kill Bill: Vol. 2, the sequel or second half of Quentin Tarantino’s film, Kill Bill: Volume 1, The Bride (Uma Thurman) continues her mission of revenge against her former colleagues for killing her husband-to-be and the wedding party and for shooting and leaving her for dead. Most of all, she want her old boss, Bill (David Carradine); he fired the shot in her head that was supposed to kill her. But Bill has a secret named B.B. (Perla Haney-Jardine), so will The Bride be able to handle the shock of meeting B.B.?

Where Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was a stylish martial arts movie done in lively colors with the relentlessness of a revenge movie cum video game, Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is slick, crime drama – part Western and part hard-boiled novella. There’s a movie poster for a film by the late actor, Charles Bronson, used a set piece in the film, and Vol. 2 indeed has the gall of Bronson bullet ballad. Some viewers may be put off by the jarring change of pace from the first film to the second. There are very few fight scenes in 2, and they’re quite short. Only the battle between Elle Driver/California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah) and The Bride has the hard-edged intensity of anything near the fisticuffs of the first film.

Still, Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is an example of virtuoso filmmaking and an expert homage to many well known American film genres. Vol. 2 isn’t anywhere near as fun to watch as the first, but for those viewers who have varied tastes in films and movies and who are familiar with many film styles and techniques, Vol. 2 will be exciting to watch. As all his films have been, Kill Bill: Vol. 2 is ultimately worth watching because director Quentin Tarantino simply does so many interesting things. He’s that know-it-all film nerd who can actually make the great film he might say no one else can make, although Kill Bill Volume 2 isn’t that exactly the great film either.

8 of 10

2005 Golden Globes, USA: 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (David Carradine) and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Uma Thurman)

2005 Black Reel Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Original Score” (RZA)


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