Showing posts with label Drama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Drama. Show all posts

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Review: "WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES" Gets Personal

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 22 of 2024 (No. 1966) by Leroy Douresseaux

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Running time:  140 minutes (2 hours, 20 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images
DIRECTOR:  Matt Reeves
WRITERS:  Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback (based upon characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver)
PRODUCERS:  Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Michael Seresin (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  William Hoy and Stan Salfas
COMPOSER:  Michael Giacchino
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Devyn Dalton, Max Lloyd-Jones, and Amiah Miller

War for the Planet of the Apes is a 2017 American science fiction film and military drama directed by Matt Reeves.  It is a direct sequel to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and is also the third installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot film series.

It is the ninth entry in the overall Planet of the Apes film series, which began as an adaptation of the 1963 French science fiction novel, La planète des singes, by Pierre Boulle.  In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar goes on a quest for revenge as a mentally unstable military leader escalates the war between apes and humans.

Fifteen years earlier, the birth of “The Simian Flu” pandemic (as seen in 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes) proved deadly to humans.  The flu reduced the worldwide human population, and only 1 in 500 humans (.20 percent) are genetically immune to it.  Human civilization has been destroyed after societal collapse.  Five years earlier, the apes of the Muir Woods National Monument colony, led by the chimpanzee, Caesar (Andy Serkis), clashed with the humans living in the ruins of San Francisco (as seen in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).  The humans contacted the last remaining U.S. Army unit.

As War for the Planet of the Apes opens, “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson), a ruthless leader of a paramilitary faction, has been hunting Caesar, whom he calls “Kong,” and his ape colony in the two years following the battle in the ruins of San Francisco.  The colony is betrayed by turncoat apes that the humans call “donkeys,” and tragedy strikes close to Caesar.  He sets his colony on a journey to reach a recently discovered oasis, while he begins his mythic quest for revenge.

Caesar's lieutenants:  Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), Maurice (Karin Konoval), and Rocket (Terry Notary) insist on accompanying him.  Along the way, they meet a mute human girl (Amiah Miller) and a lonely chimpanzee who can speak and calls himself “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn).  Will Caesar's quest, however, endanger all his people instead of saving them?  And is he dangerously ignorant of the true nature of the conflicts within the remaining groups of humans?

I have been a fan of the Planet of the Apes film ever since I saw the original film, Planet of the Apes (1968), back in the day when CBS broadcast it on a regular basis.  Its sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), thrilled and chilled me.  I also enjoyed Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes, a remake and re-imagining of the original film

In preparation for the new film in the franchise, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024), I decided to review the two films in the reboot franchise that I had not seen, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes.  I have previously seen and reviewed Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

I found Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be a really entertaining film, with its director Matt Reeves spearheading a pulpy, post-apocalyptic drama that thrives on inter-tribal conflict.  However, I didn't find Dawn's drama to be quite as substantive as its predecessor, mainly because this film focuses so much on the apes that the film glosses over the human characters that have the most potential.

In War for the Planet of the Apes, it is much the same, but this film is the pinnacle of the first three films in ape acting via motion-capture and voice performances.  Here, Reeves wrings much more emotion from the characters, story, and settings.  Andy Serkis hits the heights as Caesar, his best performance of the first three films.  There are also numerous other fine supporting ape performances.  Through these characters, Reeves presents a film in which the emotion is raw and real and drives the drama to be more powerful than even this film's best action scenes.

On the other hand, there is only one exceptional human character, that would be the mute orphan girl, and Amiah Miller gives an exceptional physical performance as the child.  Using facial expressions and hand movements, she gives the girl such personality that the audience will come to buy her as a legitimate member of Caesar's tribe rather than as a random human.  Woody Harrelson has played so many kooky characters, and The Colonel is not one of the better ones.  It is as if Harrelson has done the crazy dude thing so much that he didn't know where to take that kind of character for this film.

War for the Planet of the Apes improves on the plots, characters, elements and ideas introduced in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  It is a fine end to what we might call “the Caesar trilogy.”  Dear readers, you can't go forward in the Planet of the Apes franchise without seeing War for the Planet of the Apes.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, May 9, 2024

2018 Academy Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, and Joel Whist)

2015 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination:  “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Erik Winquist, and Joel Whist)

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



Amazon wants me to inform/remind you that any affiliate links found on this page are PAID ADS, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on affiliate links like this, MOVIES PAGE, and BUY something(s).

Sunday, May 5, 2024


TRASH IN MY EYE No. 21 of 2024 (No. 1965) by Leroy Douresseaux

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Running time:  130 minutes (2 hours, 10 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language
DIRECTOR:  Matt Reeves
WRITERS:  Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (based upon characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver)
PRODUCERS:  Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Michael Seresin (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  William Hoy and Stan Salfas
COMPOSER:  Michael Giacchino
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, and Judy Greer

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a 2014 American science fiction-thriller, action, and drama film directed by Matt Reeves.  It is a direct sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and is also the second installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot film series.

It is the eighth entry in the overall Planet of the Apes film series, which began as an adaptation of the 1963 French science fiction novel, La planète des singes, by Pierre Boulle.  In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, apes and humans are thrown together for the first time in years, and a fragile peace is threatened by mistrust and betrayal.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens ten years after the birth of “The Simian Flu” pandemic (as seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes).  Deadly to humans, the flu has reduced the worldwide human population, and only 1 in 500 humans (.20 percent) are genetically immune to it.  Human civilization has been destroyed after societal collapse.

There was a large group of apes that were all bestowed with genetically enhanced intelligence by the virus.  They established a colony in the Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco.  Their leader is the chimpanzee, Caesar (Andy Serkis), who protects the colony with his lieutenants.  Among them is the sinister and treacherous bonobo, Koba (Toby Kebbell).

One day, for the first time in years, apes and humans meet.  A group of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), unknowingly enters the apes' territory in search of a hydroelectric dam that could restore power to a rag tag human community living in the ruins of San Francisco.  As level-headed as Malcolm is, there are hotheads among the humans, like their leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), an ex-police officer.  Among the apes, Koba is the hothead, but a fragile peace develops between the two tribes.  However, mistrust and betrayal threaten to plunge both humans and apes in a terrible war for control of the San Francisco area and ultimately, for dominance over the Earth.

I have been a fan of the Planet of the Apes film ever since I saw the original film, Planet of the Apes (1968), back in the day when CBS broadcast it on a regular basis.  Its sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), thrilled and chilled me.  I also enjoyed Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes, a remake and re-imagining of the original film.

I was skeptical of Rise of the Planet of the Apes when it was first release, but I thoroughly enjoyed it when I first saw it.  I could not believe how exceptionally well made it was.  As we all prepare for the impending release of the franchise's latest film, 2024's Kingdom of the Planets of the Apes, I am going back to watch and review, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017).

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a really entertaining film.  Director Matt Reeves has spearheaded a pulpy, post-apocalyptic drama that thrives on inter-tribal conflict.  However, I don't think Dawn's drama is quite as substantive as its predecessor, mainly because this film focuses so much on the apes that, except for Malcolm, the film glosses over the human characters that have the most potential.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a true Planet of the Apes film.  The apes are more important, and the humans exist mainly to cause conflict among the apes.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes's drama was more grounded in reality, and its subplots mattered beyond being fuel to light the flames of conflict.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is very well made and is fun to watch.  Still, I feel like I'm waiting for a bigger and more important film.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Sunday, May 5, 2024

2015 Academy Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, and Erik Winquist)

2015 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination:  “Best Special Visual Effects” (Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Erik Winquist, and Daniel Barrett)

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



Amazon wants me to inform/remind you that any affiliate links found on this page are PAID ADS, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on affiliate links like this, MOVIES PAGE, and BUY something(s).

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Review: "RESERVOIR DOGS" is Still Running These Mean Streets

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 20 of 2024 (No. 1964) by Leroy Douresseaux

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Running time:  99 minutes (1 hour, 39 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence and language
DIRECTOR:  Quentin Tarantino
WRITER:  Quentin Tarantino
PRODUCER:  Lawrence Bender
EDITOR:  Sally Menke


Starring:  Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Randy Brooks, Kirk Baltz, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino, and (voice) Steven Wright

Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 drama and crime film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.  It is Tarantino's debut film and is the film that brought him to the attention of movie audiences, film critics, and movie studios.  Reservoir Dogs focuses on the aftermath of jewelry heist gone wrong as each surviving criminal tries to find out which of his cohorts is a police informant.

Reservoir Dogs opens in a diner and introduces eight gangsters.  The boss is Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), and he and his son, “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot (Chris Penn), are plotting the heist of jewelry store that has obtained some pricey, fine-cut diamonds.  Joe has put together a crew to pull off what seems like a routine robbery, and he has given them nicknames or aliases so that they don't know each other's “Christian names.”

Larry Dimmick (Harvey Keitel) is “Mr. White.”  Freddy Newendyke (Tim Roth) is “Mr. Orange.”  “Toothpick” Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) is “Mr. Blonde.”  The other three are “Mr. Pink” (Steve Buscemi), “Mr. Blue” (Edward Bunker), and “Mr. Brown” (Quentin Tarantino).

However, the heist turns out not to be routine because it was like the cops were waiting for them.  Now, two of the six robbers are dead.  Four of them are hold-up in a warehouse.  One of them is grievously wounded, and one of them has shown up with a young police officer, Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz), he kidnapped.  If they are going to make it out of their current predicament, however, they are going to have to discover which of them ratted the rest out to the police.

This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the original theatrical release of Quentin Tarantino's most famous film, Pulp Fiction.  It's also the 30th anniversary of the film's debut at the 47th Cannes Film Festival.  Before I take a look at that film in its entirety for the first time in thirty years, I decided to go back and watch Reservoir Dogs in its entirety for the first time in over thirty years.

Over the last few decades, I have seen many films referred to as “neo-noir,” because they are modern versions of “Film-Noir.”  This term refers to the stylized Hollywood dramas – especially crime dramas – of the 1930s to the 1960s.  The 1940s and 1950s are seen as the classic period of Film-Noir.  I believe that Reservoir Dogs is legitimately neo-noir because it recalls two of my favorite Film-Noir classics, John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956), especially the latter of which Reservoir Dogs borrows several ideas and elements.  Early on, it is also clear that the nonlinear narrative that Tarantino uses in Reservoir Dogs is similar to that of Akira Kurosawa's classic period drama, Rashomon (1950).

Reservoir Dogs introduces audiences to what would become Tarantino narrative hallmarks:  pop culture references; gory violence, hard-hitting action, nonlinear storytelling, and a heady mixture of songs from the 1960s and 1970s.  In this case, the music is introduced by an unseen radio DJ, K-Billy, voiced by comedian and actor, Steven Wright.  At the time, however, those didn't feel like hallmarks.  They were new, and over thirty years later, they still feel new, not like things that are now director trademarks which in many ways define Tarantino's career and process.  Even watching the film now, I see them as clever flourishes from a young director with a lot of potential.

Yes, the dialogue does not always sparkle, but every moment of this film bursts with potential even.  That is true even when the nonlinear storytelling reveals that the entire process of the jewelry store heist seems like a thing inadvertently built on a house of holes.

Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Steve Buscemi provide the strong performances that often keep Reservoir Dogs from seeming like a shallow work of plagiarisms.  The bring depth, weight, and substance to ideas that might falter in the hands of lesser talents.  Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney make for a believable father-son duo, and the film's lone Black actor, Randy Brooks, as the police official, Holdaway, dominates every scene in which he appears.

Thirty-two years later, I am now wondering why I haven't watched Reservoir Dogs more often.  It, along with Tarantino's next two feature films, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown (1997), form Tarantino's purest filmmaking period.  Without the big budgets he would get in his twenty-first century films, he had to be clever about the places he flexed himself, whereas now he can indulge his every whim.  His characters were vulnerable and living on the margins as regular people, low-level criminals, and cheap hoods.  In his films of the last two decades, the characters are flashy anti-heroes and rebels played by some of Hollywood biggest stars.  Reservoir Dogs has not aged well simply because it has not aged.  It still feels like a star recently born.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, May 2, 2024

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



Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Review: Stanley Kubrick's "THE KILLING" is Still Killer Noir

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 85 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Killing (1956) – B&W
Running time:  85 minutes (1 hour, 25 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Stanley Kubrick
WRITERS:  Stanley Kubrick with Jim Thompson for additional dialogue (based upon the novel by Lionel White)
PRODUCER:  James B. Harris
EDITOR:  Betty Steinberg
COMPOSER:  Gerald Fried


Starring:  Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor, Ted DeCorsia, Joe Sawyer, James Edwards, Timothy Carey, Joseph Turkel, Jay Adler, Kola Kwariani, and Art Gilmore (narrator)

The Killing is a 1956 American Film-Noir thriller and crime drama from director Stanley Kubrick.  The film is based upon the 1955 novel, Clean Break, from author Lionel White.  The film follows a veteran criminal who assembles a five-man team to help him pull off a daring racetrack robbery.

Mention Stanley Kubrick’s name and most film fans will immediately think of his films such as Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, or later Kubrick films like The Shining and Full Metal Jacket.  Not many will remember the film that first earned him the notice of Hollywood heavyweights like Kirk Douglas and Marlon Brando, a terrific little film-noir gem called, The Killing.

After spending five years in Alcatraz, ex-convict Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) decides that if he’s going to commit crimes, the reward should be worth the risk, and he’s found one that’s very worth the risk – a million dollar heist of a racetrack.  Clay masterminds a brilliant and complicated scheme to steal $2,000,000, and recruits several conspirators including track employees and a crooked cop.  The only flaw in Johnny’s near-perfect plan is that one of his gang members, George Peatty (Elisha Cook), tells his shrewish wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor), about the planned robbery, and she shares it with her boyfriend.  Add a little dog and things get complicated very quickly.

The Killing is one of the best heist films I’ve ever seen.  A superb cast of character actors, most used to playing tough guys, policeman, and shady types, gives this film a solid Film-Noir atmosphere and creates a edgy, taunt little thriller that you can’t stop watching until its concluded.  Sterling Hayden plays Johnny Clay as a firm, no-nonsense guy that any hood would follow, and in a quiet, subtle fashion, he gives this film added edge.

Stanley Kubrick shaped The Killing using a non-linear structure, in which the narrative moves backwards and forwards in time.  Many viewers will recognize non-linear structure as a Quentin Tarantino signature style in such films as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.  In fact, Tarantino credits The Killing with influencing his decision to shape his film narratives in a non-linear structure.

The film has a few problems that keep it from being a truly great film.  Art Gilmore’s narration is poor, delivered in that stereotypical monotone used for crime films.  Some of the dialogue is a bit too stiff, and the film drags much of the first half hour.  However, The Killing pays off the viewers’ patience quite handsomely in the form of an excellent crime film about small time hoods masterminding the perfectly plotted heist.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Original Post:  Sunday, June 03, 2007

EDITED: Wednesday, May 1, 2024

1957 BAFTA Film Award:  1 nomination: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

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


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
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


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

--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
★★★ 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.



Amazon wants me to inform/remind you that any affiliate links found on this page are PAID ADS, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on affiliate links like this, MOVIES PAGE, and BUY something(s).

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: DreamWorks' "ORION AND THE DARK" Takes on Childhood Fears

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 12 of 2024 (No. 1956) by Leroy Douresseaux

Orion and the Dark (2024)
Running time:  93 minutes (1 hour, 33 minutes)
MPA – not rated
DIRECTOR:  Sean Charmatz
WRITERS:  Charlie Kaufman (based on the book by Emma Yarlett)
PRODUCER:  Peter McCown
EDITOR:  Kevin Sukho Lee
COMPOSERS:  Kevin Lax and Robert Lydecker


Starring:  (voices): Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Colin Hanks, Mia Akemi Brown, Ike Barinholtz, Nat Faxon, Golda Rosheuvel, Natasia Demetriou, Aparna Nancherla, Carla Gugino, Matt Dellapina, Nick Kishiyama, Shino Nakamichi, Werner Herzog, and Angela Bassett


Orion and the Dark is a unique animated film that is about a child learning to accept fear as a part of life without letting it control him.

Orion and the Dark has an eclectic cast full of surprising characters, but Orion and Dark are this film's winning pair.

Orion and the Dark is a good family film, especially for parents and for children who are of middle grade age and younger.  I find it to be too deep in its feelies, but it will tug on the heartstrings of its intended audience.

Orion and the Dark is a 2024 animated fantasy-adventure and comedy-drama film directed by Sean Charmatz and produced by DreamWorks Animation.  The film is animated by French production company, Mikros Animation, and is also a “Netflix Original” that began streaming on Netflix February 2, 2024.

Orion and the Dark is based on the 2015 children's book, Orion and the Dark, from author Emma Yarlett.  Orion and the Dark the movie focuses on a boy whose active imagination causes him to be scared of everything and on the entity that takes him on an incredible journey.

Orion and the Dark introduces 11-year-old Orion Mendelson (Jacob Tremblay).  He is a severely anxious child with a long list of irrational fears.  He is a schoolboy with a fear of speaking in front of class, being bullied, ending up in a toilet, and a fear of speaking to Sally (Shino Nakamichi), the girl of his dreams, of course.  Outside of school, he also has a bunch of fears, including the fear of getting eaten by a shark, but at home its is worse.

Orion is afraid of the night, especially of the dark and of all the dark places in his bedroom.  Orion's father (Matt Dellapina) and mother (Carla Gugino) have a difficult time getting him to bed.  One night a giant, smiling creature slithers into his room.  He introduces himself as “Dark,” the embodiment of Orion's worst fear, the dark.  Tired of hearing Orion's constant complaints about him (the dark), Dark takes the 11-year-old on an adventure to help him overcome his fears and to appreciate the benefits of nighttime and of the dark.  But there are plenty of dangers along the way, including Dark's rival, “Light” (Ike Barinholtz), and Orion's own deep-seated fears.

Orion and the Dark is a beautifully animated film with simple, but evocative character and concept design.  It took me awhile to remember that Orion and the Dark reminds me of the 2014 DreamWorks Animation film, Mr. Peabody & Sherman.  Both films share a visual aesthetic, possibly because artist and designer, Timothy Lamb, served as the production designer on the two films.  Both films also convey their fantastical settings and surreal environments via eye-appealing art and design that have a children's picture book quality.  

I do have one gripe about Orion and the Dark.  The film does have a heart – a center – which is that both Orion and Dark have to learn something about themselves and to overcome self-doubt.  The film, however, also has sentiment, and it is, at times, exceedingly sentimental, which can be both heartwarming and saccharine.  Orion and the Dark is sometimes too much in its emotions and feelies, so much so that by the end, I thought the film was trying to give me an insulin attack.  Orion and the Dark pounds on its parent-child themes and dynamics with schmaltzy consistency.

I want to avoid spoilers.  Still, I will say that Orion and the Dark does have a time-travel subplot courtesy of screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind), who is known for creating elaborate, twisty, meta screenplays.  Orion and the Dark has several interesting supporting characters, especially Dark's fellow “Night Entities,” so many so that I could see it becoming an animated television series.  Orion and the Dark is unique and quite well made, and many may find its heartwarming insistence just what we need in these dark times.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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


Amazon wants me to inform/remind you that any affiliate links found on this page are PAID ADS, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on affiliate links like this, MOVIES PAGE, and BUY something(s).

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


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



--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.


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.

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.



Sunday, February 11, 2024

Review: Pixar's "TURNING RED" is Universal and Unique

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 of 2024 (No. 1952) by Leroy Douresseaux

Turning Red (2022)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPA –  PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language
DIRECTOR:  Domee Shi
WRITERS:  Domee Shi and Julie Cho; from a story by Domee Shi, Julie Cho, and Sarah Streicher
PRODUCER:  Lindsey Collins
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Mahyar Abousaeedi and Jonathan Pytko
EDITORS:  Nicholas C. Smith with Steve Bloom
COMPOSER: Ludwig Goransson
SONGS: Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  (voices) Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, Jordan Fisher, Finneas O'Connell, and James Hong

Turning Red is a 2022 animated fantasy and comedy-drama film directed by Domee Shi and produced by Pixar Animation Studios.  It is Pixar's 25th full-length animated feature film, and it is the first to be solely directed by a woman.  Turning Red focuses on a teen girl who is dealing with her demanding mother and the changes of adolescence when she suddenly discovers that becoming really excited causes her to turn into a giant red panda.

Turning Red opens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2002.  It introduces a Chinese-Canadian girl, 13-year-old Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chiang).  She lives with her parents, mother Ming (Sandra Oh) and father Jin (Orion Lee).  Mei is a dutiful daughter to her mother who calls her “Mei-Mei,” and she helps take care of the family's temple, “the Lee Family Temple,” one of the the oldest temples in Toronto.  The temple honors the Lee family ancestors instead of gods, and it is dedicated to Mei's maternal ancestor Sun Yee.

Mei is also dedicated to a trio of girl friends:  Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and Abby (Hyein Park), and all three of them are dedicated fans of the boy band, “4*Town.”  Life is busy, but it's about to get complicated.  The morning after a night of humiliation, Mei wakes up to discover that she has been transformed into a giant red panda.  This is a condition that happens when Mei is overly excited, but it can be cured.  But what does Mei really want?

In the early days of the Disney+ streaming service and in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Walt Disney Company released three Pixar feature films as direct-to-streaming releases:  Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red, declining wide theatrical releases for the films.  These were and still are three of Pixar's greatest films, but they are finally getting belated theatrical releases in early 2024.  [Soul in January 2024; Turning Red in February 2024; and Luca in March 2024.]

Turning Red is an incredible coming-of-age story, and like Pixar's Oscar-winning Brave (2012), it is a story of transformations and of mother-daughter relationships and all the love and support and trials and tribulations that come with it.  Its beautiful, terracotta-like colors amplify the film's sense of magic and magical realism.  The variety of faces, body types, skin colors, hair styles, and clothes and costumes are a testament of how culturally expansive Pixar's films set in the human world are.  Everything about Turning Red invites the entire world of moviegoers to come along on this timeless, universal tale of a child coming into her own and learning to love herself as she is becoming and to love her parents for what they were, are, and can be.

Domee Shi and her co-writers, Julie Cho and Sarah Streicher, have created a character, a world, and a scenario of which I believe I can be a part.  I am an old-ass Black man, a million miles away from a 13-year-old Canadian girl of Chinese descent, but Turning Red makes me understand that what the girl experiences are in some ways similar to what I've experienced.  In a way, I am jealous of Turning Red and of Meilin Lee because I could never embrace the messy strangeness in me to the extent that she does.  I definitely did not want my freak flag fluttering in the wind too much.

There is so much to like in this film.  As usual, the animation is up to Pixar's astronomical standards, and Ludwig Goransson's score infuses itself into the film so much that it seems as if the animation is performing a concert.  Speaking of music, I'm embarrassed to admit that I like 4*Town, the band, and its three songs performed in the movie, which are written by the sister-brother team of Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell.  And I couldn't love the movie if I wasn't crazy about actress Rosalie Chiang's multi-layered and energetic voice performance as Mei.  Chiang makes Mei feel like a real girl, genuine child in the throes of change and transformation.

Some have said that Turning Red's setting and its lead character, Mei, make the film not timeless and universal like Pixar's other films.  They can go screw themselves.  Turning Red is universal like other Pixar films and also unlike other Pixar films.  Turning Red is Pixar high art and Disney magic, and it is a truly great film that I plan on watching again and again.

10 of 10

Sunday, February 11, 2024

2023 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins)

2023 BAFTA Film Awards:  1 nominee: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins)

2023 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nominee:  “Best Motion Picture – Animated”

2023 Image Awards (NAACP):  1 nominee: “Outstanding Animated Motion Picture”

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



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
PRODUCERS:  Will Areu and Mark E. Swinton
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Taylor Randall (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Larry Sexton
COMPOSER:  Philip White


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
★★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.



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
PRODUCERS:  Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), James Lassiter, Tendo Nagenda, and Jeymes Samuel
EDITOR:  Tom Eagles
COMPOSER:  Jeymes Samuel


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
★★★★ 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.



Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Review: Phoenix is the Man in Woody Allen's "IRRATIONAL MAN"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 51 of 2023 (No. 1940) by Leroy Douresseaux

Irrational Man (2015)
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA –  R for some language and sexual content
PRODUCERS:  Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, and Edward Walson
EDITOR:  Alisa Lepselter


Starring:  Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Joe Stapleton, Nancy Carroll, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Jamie Blackley, Nancy Giles, and Tom Kemp

Irrational Man is a 2015 comedy-drama, romance, and mystery film written and directed by Woody Allen.  The film focuses on a college professor who finds the will to live after committing the act of murder and the young student who falls deeply in love with him.

Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives in Newport, Rhode Island with some acclaim.  He joins the faculty of (fictional) Braylin College where he will teach “ethical strategies.”  Abe is depressed, is experiencing an existential crisis, and sees no meaning in his life.  He drinks excessively and considers suicide.

Despite his tormented state, Abe catches the attention of two women.  The first is chemistry professor, Rita Richards (Parker Posey), and the second is Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), one of his students.  Each is crazy about him in her own way.  Abe's relationship with the two really goes nowhere … at first.

Abe hatches the idea of murdering Judge Thomas Augustus Spangler (Tom Kemp), an unethical family court judge who is plotting to take the custody of her children away from a woman.  Plotting and committing murder has given Abe's life a sense of purpose that he has not felt in ages.  For various reasons, however, both Rita and Jill suspect Abe of Judge Spangler's murder.

Coup de chance, the film Woody Allen says will likely be his final directorial effort, was released in France in September (2023).  Because of the controversies surrounding Allen the last few decades, especially the last five years, the film may not get a U.S. theatrical release.  In anticipation of seeing Coup de chance, I have decided to watch the recent Woody Allen films that I missed, beginning with the most recent that I had not seen, Irrational Man.

Some of Woody Allen's films have previously focused on a lead character who is involved in murder or commits murder.  Examples include Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Match Point (2005).  Having murder as subplot gives Allen's films an edge they don't normally have.  Irrational Man seems to drift with no purpose until Abe Lucas actually commits murder, and suddenly this film seems like a totally different movie from what it was during its first half.  Frankly, Irrational Man seems to be asleep for at least half its runtime.

I find myself entirely sympathetic with Phoenix's Abe Lucas.  Of course, I would feel differently if this were a real murder victim that was friends or family to me.  As it is, I find myself really liking the post-crime Abe Lucas, and I found his later, darker turn to be a bit alluring.

Phoenix gives life to a character that Allen does not develop very well.  As the narrative moves towards its conclusion, Phoenix makes Abe feel richer, and the character might have improved even more with a longer runtime, more because of what Phoenix would do rather than what Allen would not.  Emma Stone is whiny and unlikable as Jill Pollard, but Parker Posey makes the best of horny Rita Richards.  I wish Rita had more screen time.

Irrational Man is strictly for Woody Allen fans, although Phoenix is the one who saves this film and uplifts it.  So Joaquin Phoenix fans may find something in Irrational Man to like, also.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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



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

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Review: "THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF" is Crazy (Literally), Sexy, Cool

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 6 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Pacte des loups, Le (2001)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  France; Language: French, German, Italian
The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002) – USA title
Running time:  142 minutes (2 hours, and 22 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence, gore, and sexuality/nudity
DIRECTOR:  Christophe Gans
WRITERS:  Stephane Cabel and Christophe Gans
PRODUCERS:  Richard Grandpierre and Samuel Hadida
EDITORS:  Xavier Loutreuil, Sébastien Prangère, and David Wu
COMPOSER:  Joseph LoDuca


Starring:  Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos, Jean Yanne, Jean-Francois Stévenin, and Jacques Perrin

Le Pacte des loups is a 2001 French period film, action and horror movie directed by Christophe Gans.  The film was released in the United States in early 2002 by Universal Pictures under the title, The Brotherhood of the Wolf (the title by which I will refer to this film in this review).  The film's plot is loosely based on the legend of the “beast of Gévaudan” and a real-life series of killings that took place in France in the 18th century.  The Brotherhood of the Wolf focuses on a French knight and his Native American companion who are sent to investigate the mysterious slaughter of hundreds of people by an unknown creature in the county of Gévaudan.

At the beginning of The Brotherhood of the Wolf, Old Thomas d'Apcher (Jacques Perrin) recounts a fantastic fable/story of his youth.  It is France of 1765, and the King sends two envoys to the Gevaudan province (which no longer exists) to investigate a series of brutal murders of which the locals believe is committed by a mysterious beast.  The envoys are the Chevalier Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), a naturalist, and his companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos), a Mohawk Iroquois shaman of New France (Canada).  They arrive in Gevandan to find the provincials bigoted and superstitious, even in the midst of the death all around them.

Among the colorful cast of characters include a mysterious and powerful priest, Henri Sardis (Jean-Francois Stevenin), and a sly and dangerous one-armed hunter, Jean Francois de Morangias (Vincent Cassel).  The young Thomas d’Apcher (Jeremie Renier) becomes a hunting companion of Fronsac and Mani.  Two strong female characters compete for the attentions of the virile and intelligent Fronsac: Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Dequenne), Jean Francois’s beautiful younger sister, and the nubile and hypnotic courtesan Sylvia (Monica Bellucci).  As Fronsac and Mani pierce the veil of mystery and terror that covers the province, intrigue and deceit surround them, and the beast continues to kill.

Directed by Christophe Gans, The Brotherhood of the Wolf bends genres as easily as the film’s beast tears through its victims.  Horror, thriller, western, martial arts, and mystery, the film is filled with suspense, terror, romance, eroticism, and political intrigue.  It is at times intoxicating and mind bending and at other times, languid and thoughtful.  It is difficult to categorize, but the movie is largely fantasy and action, but different from most of the movies that both genres recall.

Fronsac is a man of reason who sees a human conspiracy behind the killings that is darker and more insidious than any beast of Hell.  Still, this man of science also understands the mystic worldview and belief system of his friend and blood brother, Mani.  Fronsac is enlightenment’s soldier against the backward and ignorant peasants and nobles of Gevaudan.  The provincials fear the ways of a city like Paris, and Sardis and Jean Francois resent the capital’s intrusion into their world.  They disdain the confidence and intelligence of the King’s envoys.  The beast is a physical manifestation of the provincials superstitions, isolationism, hatred, and evil that feeds upon the populace, and the creature resists the authority of the government.

The movie’s creature is a computer-generated image (CGI); at its best is fearsome.  At its worst, the creature, especially during some daylight scenes, is hokey.  However, Gans wisely holds revealing the beast in scenes that go by so quickly that we rarely get a good look at it.  Sometimes, just the unseen beast’s roars, growls, and footsteps are enough to set the heart racing.

Le Bihan as Fronsac is strong and strongly confident.  He is the romantic lead upon which the audience hitches its wagon.  When he and Mani arrive early in the movie, after the film’s opening murder, they appear in a driving rainstorm, masked minutemen with the presence of demigods.  Mani’s assault upon the villagers recalls fight scenes from The Matrix, but his are down to earth and more physical, more visceral; the threat of danger to him from the attackers is much greater.  Decascos is mostly very good on the screen as Mani, though a few bits of his screen time are a little flat.  When Gans unleashes him late in the movie, Decascos is a beautiful force a nature, a small storm in human guise tearing through his antagonists.

Vincent Cassel’s Jean Francois is the serpentine equal to Fronsac.  He dominates all of his screen time, except for his scenes with Fronsac, in which both must share the screen.  The movie nearly bursts from having to contain both their magnetic presences.  They alone are worth the price of admission, but the rest of the cast, both veterans and newcomers, make the most of their roles.

Although a little long, The Brotherhood of the Wolf is wonderful; a dark horse, it is one of the best films of the year 2001.  Gans and his screenwriting partner, Stephane Cabel, created a script that melds raw action with social intrigue, and the result is quite an accomplishment.  The Brotherhood of the Wolf is plainly good entertainment.  Not quite high art, it is eye candy that is very smart and very fun.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Edited:  Wednesday, October 4, 2023

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



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

Monday, September 4, 2023

Review: "THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS" is a Masterpiece

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 125 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Les Invasion Barbares (2003)
The Barbarian Invasions (2003) – U.S. title
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  Canada/France; Language:  French/English
Running time:  99 minutes (1 hour, 33 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, sexual dialogue, and content
PRODUCERS: Daniel Louis and Denise Robert
EDITOR: Isabelle Dedieu
COMPOSER: Pierre Aviat
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Dorothée Berryman, Louise Portal, Dominique Michel, Yves Jacques, Pierre Curzi, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Toni Cecchinato, and Mitsou Gélinas

Les Invasions barbares is a 2003 comedy and drama written and directed by Denys Arcand.  A Canadian and French co-production, the film was released in the U.S. under the title, The Barbarian Invasions, the title I will used for this review.  The Barbarian Invasions focuses on a dying man, who during his final days, is reunited with old friends, former lovers, his ex-wife, and his estranged son.

Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasion won the Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 76th Academy Awards in 2004.  A sequel to Arcand's 1986 film, The Decline of the American Empire, The Barbarian Invasions received only one other Oscar nomination, which was for best original screenplay (written by Arcand), and that was and still is ridiculous.  Considering the performances and Arcand’s direction, the film should have received at least a few more.

The Barbarian Invasions is the story of 50-ish Rémy (Rémy Girard) and his family.  He is dying of cancer and is laid up in a Montreal hospital.  His ex-wife, Louise (Dorothée Berryman), summons home their son, Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau), who is estranged from his father and is living in London.  Sébastien, a rich oil trader for a huge British firm, is, in a sense, a disappointment to his father.  The son is a wealthy capitalist and the father was an arm chair, leftist, radical type.

Soon after he arrives, Sébastien uses his money and connections to fight the entrenched Canadian nationalized health system, and he gets Rémy a private room and other amenities.  But the most difficult part of the prodigal son’s return home is the reconciliation between father and son.

The most amazing thing about this thoroughly beautiful film is that Arcand is able to tell the story of a father trying to redeem himself, of a son trying to put aside his anger at this father, and of a man trying to find meaning in a life he believes that he lazily kept so modest and have still more sub-plots, philosophies, and ideas.  The film also deals with mother/daughter relationships, the drug war, drug addiction, personal and professional failure, the Canadian health system, socialism, infidelity, friendship, politics, religion, genocide, and barbarian invasions of civilization.  Arcand does all of this without losing the central, human focus of his lovely movie.  Filled with rich performances, subtle humor, and endearing characters, The Barbarian Invasions is the best film of the year.

10 of 10

Re-edited:  Saturday, September 2, 2023

2004 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Foreign Language Film” (Canada); 1 nomination: “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” (Denys Arcand)

2004 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations: “Best Screenplay-Original” (Denys Arcand) and “Best Film not in the English Language” (Denise Robert, Daniel Louis, and Denys Arcand)

2004 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Foreign Language Film” (Canada)

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


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

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Review: "GRAVEYARD OF THE FIREFLIES" is as Powerful as Any Live-Action Wartime Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 35 of 2023 (No. 1924) by Leroy Douresseaux

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Hotaru no Haka – original Japanese title
Running time:  89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – not rated
DIRECTOR:  Isao Takahata
WRITER:  Isao Takahata (based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka)
PRODUCER:  Toru Hara
EDITOR: Takeshi Seyama
COMPOSER:  Michio Mamiya


Starring:  (voices) Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Akemi Yamaguchi, and Yoshiko Shinohara

Hotaru no Haka or Grave of the Fireflies is a 1988 Japanese animated World War II drama and historical film directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Studio Ghibli.  The film is based on the 1967 short story, “Grave of the Fireflies,” by Akiyuki Nosaka.  This was the fourth animated film produced by Studio Ghibli and the first one directed by studio co-founder, Isao Takahata.  Grave of the Fireflies focuses on a young boy and his little sister as they struggle to survive in World War II Japan.

Grave of the Fireflies introduces a boy, Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi), and his little sister, Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi).  They find themselves on their own as a result of one of the American raids that was part of “the Bombing of Kobe” campaign during World War II.

One day, a group of American Boeing bombers firebombs Kobe.  Though Seita and Setsuko survive the bombing, their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara) is severely injured and later dies.  Seita conceals their mother's death from Setsuko in an attempt to keep her happy.  Seita does not know the status of their father who is an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The children move in with an aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi), but although Seita tries to accommodate his aunt's demands, she becomes resentful of the children being in her home.

After leaving their aunt's house, Seita and Setsuko move into an abandoned bomb shelter located near a pond.  The place is swarming with fireflies, which delights Setsuko.  For a time, Seita and Setsuko are happy, but like the life of an adult firefly, the children's happiness is short-lived.

Previously, I have only reviewed two Studio Ghilbi films that were not directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  They are Tales from Earthsea (2006), which was directed by Miyazaki's son Gorō Miyazaki, and The Secret World of Arrietty (2010).  As Netflix is shutting down its DVD-by-mail division (in September 2023), I am hoping to get to more Studio Ghibli films that I have not previously watched.

I think Grave of the Fireflies has received much praise because it is not only a powerful war film, but it is also a truly unique war film.  Grave of the Fireflies is not an anti-war film, although it depicts the suffering that wartime can bring, mainly through Seita and Setsuko, but also via background characters.  The film is haunting and achingly sad, but at the same time, life goes on, even in wartime.  Seita and Setsuko make the best of life, a nearly inseparable pair enjoying life the best that they can.  The film portrays how Seita watches over Setsuko so that she can still live the life of a small girl, frockling, having adventures, and using her imagination.  Her smiles and happiness permeate this film even in its darker moments.  One might question the choices that Seita makes, but he did not make them out of concern of his own pride.  He made them so that his little sister could live in dignity.

Grave of the Fireflies proves that animated films can tackle the most achingly human conditions, including the heartbreaking experiences that afflicted many Japanese during World War II.  The animation's glorious colors might suggest a vivid pastoral fantasy, but the story is a depiction of the human pastoral.  Thematically, the film's fireflies can represent many things, from birth and decay to the flight of planes that attack Japan.  However, I usually thought of the spirits of children in flight when I saw a scene of fireflies gently moving upwards.

Grave of the Fireflies is a film that no fan of animated feature films should miss.  It has a timeless quality, and I found it hard to believe that this year (2023) is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the film's original Japanese theatrical release.  The story that it depicts may be from a long-gone time, but like Seita and Setsuko, the spirit of Grave of the Fireflies still stirs.

9 of 10
★★★★+ out of 4 stars

Thursday, August 3, 2023

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



Amazon wants me to inform/remind you that any affiliate links found on this page are PAID ADS, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on affiliate links like this, MOVIES PAGE, and BUY something(s).