Showing posts with label Image Awards nominee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Image Awards nominee. Show all posts

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Review: "CREED II" Stands Strongly on Its Own

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

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

DRAMA/SPORTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 of 10
A
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, March 2, 2023


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

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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Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review: Pixar's "LUCA" is a True Disney Instant Classic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 26 of 2022 (No. 1838) by Leroy Douresseaux

Luca (2021)
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA –  PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence
DIRECTOR:  Enrico Casarosa
WRITERS:  Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones; from a story by Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews, and Simon Stephenson
PRODUCER:  Andrea Warren
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  David Juan Bianchi (D.o.P.) and Kim White (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Catherine Apple and Jason Hudak
COMPOSER: Dan Romer
Academy Award nominee

ANIMATON/FANTASY/ADVENTURE/COMEDY/DRAMA

Starring:  (voices) Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Gino LaMoica, Sandy Martin, and Sacha Baron Cohen

Luca is a 2021 computer-animated, coming-of-age, fantasy film directed by Enrico Casarosa, produced by Pixar Animation Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.  The film focuses on a two sea monster boys disguised as humans and the human girl they befriend.

Luca opens sometime in the 1950s in and around the Italian Riviera.  Below the surface of the waters of the Riviera live a group of sea monsters.  Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), a timid young sea monster, herds goatfish below the coast of the small Italian town of Portorosso.  Luca is curious about the human world, but his parents, Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo Paguro (Jim Gaffigan), fear that the humans might hunt him for food.  Thus, they forbid him from approaching the surface.

One day, Luca meets Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer), a fellow sea monster boy who lives alone above the surface on Isola del Mare.  Alberto encourages Luca to venture out of the ocean, showing him that sea monsters turn into humans when their bodies become dry, but return to their true forms when they become wet.  Alberto invites Luca to his hideout where the boys connect and dream about owning a Vespa (an Italian luxury brand of scooter) so that they can travel the world.

Venturing into Portorosso as humans, the boys discover that a local children's triathlon, the “Portorosso Cup,” is about to take place.  They run afoul of Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), the local bully and five-time champion of the Portorosso Cup.  They also meet a young girl named Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), the daughter of a fisherman, Massimo Marcovaldo (Marco Barricelli).  Giulia has participated in the triathlon, but has never won.  Hoping to win the money they need to buy a Vespa, Luca and Alberto form a team with Giulia.  Through Giulia, Luca learns that there is so much more to the surface world, but his feelings for her threaten everything, including his plans with Alberto.

I could say that Luca is one of Pixar's most beautiful films, and I will, although that is redundant.  Pixar's films always have beautiful visuals, and sometimes they are stunning and a wonder to behold.  The film is drenched in the bright colors of the Italian Riviera and reinterprets them as if they were watercolor paintings.

Dear readers, perhaps you are familiar with the animated films of the Japanese master, Hayao Miyazaki.  His films are a symphony of wondrous colors and stunning locales, and those films clearly have an influence on Luca on a number of levels, especially in terms of visuals and in the tone of the story.  Luca's town of Portorosso may be named in honor of Miyazaki's 1992 animated film, Porco Rosso, which is also set in Italy.

I think the elements that really drive this film, its beauty aside, are the characters and voice performances.  The characters are very well developed:  their personalities, their goals, and fears.  From Alberto's jealousy and fear of loss to Giulia's determination and open-mindedness, the viewer can believe in these characters.  Luca is ostensibly a coming-of-age story focusing on Luca.  His sense of adventure is overcome by his fear of trying new things, whether it is actually going to the surface world or going to school.  In Luca, we see the film's themes of acceptance (accepting others, accepting help, and accepting oneself) and overcoming fear (especially the fear of change).  Luca takes on a beautiful journey as we see the evolution of the title character, and as for the coming-of-age angle, this film feels like only the first chapter of Luca's coming of age.

The voice performances make the characters seem like real people.  If there were an Oscar for voice performances, Jacob Tremblay as Luca would be worthy of being nominated.  Every performance is winning, from major characters to bit players.  I am crazy about the performances here.

Dan Romer's beautiful score highlights and accentuates the journey of change and evolution that is Luca, both the film and the character.  Luca is one of Pixar's most convincing boy characters, which is quite a feat in a filmography full of wonderfully drawn characters.  Speaking of drawn, the character design and art direction and production design are on par with Pixar's best.

I always thought that I would like Luca, and now that I have seen it, I am in love with it.  For me, Luca is one of Pixar's best ever films, and it is one of 2021's very best films  I recommend it without reservation; everyone should see it.

10 of 10

Thursday, April 28, 2022


NOTES:
2022 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Enrico Casarosa and Andrea Warren)

2022 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Enrico Casarosa and Andrea Warren)

2022 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination:  “Best Motion Picture-Animated”

2022 Black Reel Awards:  1 win: “Outstanding Voice Performance” (Maya Rudolph)

2022 Image Awards (NAACP):  1 nomination: “Outstanding Animated Motion Picture”


The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and 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

BIOPIC/DRAMA/HISTORICAL/THRILLER

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
A

Monday, February 15, 2021


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

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

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

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

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Monday, February 15, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: GET ON UP

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

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

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

BIOPIC/MUSIC/DRAMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 of 10
A+

Monday, February 15, 2021


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

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

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

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST

[A landmark film in Black cinema, Daughters of the Dust is what the Library of Congress says about it: “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  I would change the word “or” to “and.”  However, its unconventional form means that it hasn't been on television the way African-American film fare that appeal to conventional tastes have.  Still, Daughters of the Dust remains vibrant, ready to be discovered by new viewers who will pass it on to the next generation.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 7 of 2021 (No. 1745) by Leroy Douresseaux

Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Running time:  112 minutes (1 hour, 52 minutes)
Not rated by the MPAA
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Julie Dash
PRODUCERS:  Julie Dash, Arthur J. Fielder, and Steven Jones
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Arthur Jafa (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Joseph Burton and Amy Carey
COMPOSER:  John Barnes

DRAMA/HISTORY

Starring:  Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara-O, Trula Hoosier, Umar Abdurrahamn, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Tommy Redmond Hicks, Adisa Anderson, Eartha Robinson, Bahni Turpin, Cornell Royal, Kaycee Moore, M. Cochise Anderson, and Kai-Lynn Warren

Daughters of the Dust is a 1991 independent drama and historical film written, directed and produced by Julie Dash.  Daughters of the Dust was the first feature film directed by an African-American woman that was distributed theatrically in the United States.  In 2004, it was inducted into the “National Film Registry.”  Daughters of the Dust, set largely over one day in 1902, focuses on three generations of Gullah Geechee women as their family prepares to migrate off the Sea Islands of the South to the North.

Daughters of the Dust is partly narrated by the “Unborn Child” (Kai-Lynn Warren) and is set among members of the Peazant family.  The film opens on August 18, 1902 near Ibo Landing on Dahtaw Island (St. Simons Island) off the coast of the state of Georgia.  This is the home of the Gullah or Geechee people, who live a relatively isolated life away from the mainland.  This isolation allows the Gullah to develop a creole culture and language that retains much of their African culture and linguistic heritages.

Arriving at Ibo Landing by canoe is Peazant family outcast, Mary Peazant (Barbara-O), also known as “Yellow Mary” and her companion, Trula (Trula Hoosier).  Awaiting Mary is her cousin, Viola Peazant (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), a devout Christian who has already moved away from the island.  With Viola is the man she plans to marry, Mr. Snead (Tommy Hicks), a photographer who has come to document the Peazants' life on Dahtaw before they leave.

The majority of the Peazant family is ready to embark for the mainland and move to the northern United States in order to live a modern way of life.  August 18, 1902 is the day of a grand family get together and feast in which members of the family celebrate their last day on Dahtaw Island before they leave on the morning of August 19, 1902.  The Peazant matriarch, Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day), who practices African spiritual rituals and maintains the history of the family, plans on staying on the island.  She wants those who are leaving to remember and to honor their ancestors as they leave for new homes.  Nana wants them to take a part of her with them, much to the chagrin of some.

Haagar Peazant (Kaycee Moore), who married into the family, is leading the migration north.  She is determined to take her daughters, Iona (Bahni Turpin) and Myown (Eartha Robinson), with her, and she wants to leave the old ways and also the ancestors behind on the island.  However, Haagar does not know that Iona wants to stay on the island and marry her secret lover, St. Julian Last Child (M. Cochise Anderson), a young Cherokee Native American man who lives on the island.

At the top of the family drama is Eula Peazant (Alva Rogers), who is pregnant from being raped (apparently by a white man from the mainland).  Her husband, Eli (Adisa Anderson), is Nana's grandson, and he grieves for the situation in which he finds himself.  Eli is torn between traveling north and staying on the island, and he also believes that his dreams have ended because his wife Eula is carrying the child of the man that raped her.  Meanwhile, the Unborn Child, Eula and Eli's future daughter, finds her voice influenced by the stories of her ancestors.

After decades of putting it off, I finally watched Daughters of the Dust in its entirety, on my own.  I previously watched much of it in a college class, which isn't necessarily conducive to gaining an understanding of the film.  Watching Daughters of the Dust is an intimate experience, something to be done by oneself, giving total focus to the film.

Daughters of the Dust feels like a living thing, a story that lives even when no one is watching it.  I think that is because of one of the film's dominant themes – the importance of the past and the future.  That is exemplified when Nana Peazant says that the two most important things are the old souls (the past) and the children (the future).  Whatever the Peazant family may have now, they must take the ancestors and their history with them to their new home – the future.

Nana emphasizes keeping the family together; celebrating the old ways, and carrying memories with us.  We exist in the present because of the past (our parents, grandparents, ancestors, etc.), and we will be lost in the future if we don't know from where we came.  I think Daughters of the Dust feels so alive to me because I understand the idea of the present as being a vehicle by which we travel from the past to the future.  Time flows in the film, which has a non-linear narrative, sprinkled with stories of Peazants past and with stories of slaves and Africans.  In a way, writer-director Julie Dash makes August 18 her film narrative, a fluid and living and expanding thing, like a story with a beginning far in the past and continuing into the future.  August 18th is not chopped off and frozen, which fits in with two of the film's other themes – reunion and connection.

Daughters of the Dust, with its lush visuals and Arthur Jafa inquisitive cinematography, is one of the most beautifully photographed films that I have ever seen.  The performances are outstanding, and it is difficult for me to pick out particular ones for praise.  However, I am drawn to Cora Lee Day as Nana, Aval Rogers as Eula, and Barbara-O as Yellow Mary.

Released to film festivals and theaters mostly in 1991, Daughters of the Dust is as much a work of cinematic high art as the most honored films of that year and of 1992, including such films as Silence of the Lambs, Bugsy, Unforgiven, and Howard's End, to name a few.  Julie Dash's film, however, goes beyond its subject matter.  The viewer does not need to be Gullah or a descendant of African slaves to feel Daughters of the Dust's pull.  If you have ancestors and a future, then, you are alive and Daughters of the Dust is telling you a familiar and universal story.

10 of 10

Wednesday, February 3, 2021


NOTES:
1993 Image Awards (NAACP):  1 nomination: “Outstanding Motion Picture”

2004 National Film Preservation Board:  National Film Registry


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

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Review: "Middle of Nowhere" Signaled an Important Arrival

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 (of 2020) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Middle of Nowhere (2012)
Running time:  142 minutes (2 hours, 22 minutes)
MPAA – R for some language
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Ava DuVernay
PRODUCERS:  Howard Barish, Ava DuVernay, and Paul Garnes
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Bradford Young
EDITOR:  Spencer Averick
COMPOSER:  Kathryn Bostic
Black Reel Award winner

DRAMA

Starring:  Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Toussaint, Edwina Findley, Nehemiah Sutton, Sharon Lawrence, Maya Gilbert, and Troy Curvey III

Middle of Nowhere is a 2012 drama from writer-director Ava DuVernay.  The film centers on a medical student who supports her husband while he is in prison, but who also finds herself facing unforeseen pressures that threaten their relationship.

Roberta “Ruby” M. Murray (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is a young medical student,  Her husband, Derek J. Murray (Omari Hardwick), was sentenced to several years in prison.  Ruby dropped out of medical school in order to focus on her husband while he is incarcerated.  He can be released on parole after about five years, and as that time approaches, Ruby focuses all her energy on working as a nurse and on monitoring Derek's legal situation.  After unexpected complications involving Derek arise, Ruby finds herself curious about Brian (David Oyelowo), a bus driver who is interested in her.

Middle of Nowhere is a calm and measured drama.  People rarely yell at one another; instead, they occasionally speak strongly and firmly.  It depicts people with family members in prison without the theatrics, melodrama, and Christian themes that one would get in, say, Madea Goes to Jail.  This is not a slight against Tyler Perry, as the aforementioned Madea film is one of my favorites.

I think writer-director Ava DuVernay tells her audience that there are no easy answers, absolutely none, and every decision and direction that seems straightforward is not really.  Neither a prayer nor a good cry will resolve complex difficulties.  I like that Middle of Nowhere suggests that some people are unhappy and/or ashamed of the lives they lead.  They think that there is another way they should be living – even when they are not sure exactly what that better way should be.  Where do you go when you don't know where to go?  What do you do when you don't know what to do?

I think that so many people expect so much from DuVernay as a filmmaker because her two feature films, Middle of Nowhere and 2014's Selma, are radically different from just about all other current films.  Her film narratives do not offer idealism, and she forces her characters to deal with existential realities and the truth, even if those are just about impossible to discern.

Middle of Nowhere is not perfect.  DuVernay is vague or at least distant about the history and complications between Ruby and her mother, Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint), to say nothing of what is going on with Ruby's sister, Rosie (Edwina Findley).  It is as if there is an entire side or chunk of this story left out of the film narrative.

Middle of Nowhere is important because it signals the arrival of a different filmmaking voice and of a new cinematic vision.  The truth is that mainstream American film and Hollywood need that more than most people, inside and out of film, realize.

7 of 10
B+

Saturday, April 16, 2016


NOTES:
2013 Black Reel Awards:  2 wins:  “Best Director” (Ava DuVernay) and “Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted” (Ava DuVernay); 7 nominations: “Best Film” (Ava DuVernay, Paul Garnes, and Howard Barish); “Best Actress” (Emayatzy Corinealdi), “Best Supporting Actor” (David Oyelowo); “Best Supporting Actress” (Lorraine Toussaint), “Best Breakthrough Performance” (Emayatzy Corinealdi), “Best Original Score” (Kathryn Bostic), and “Best Ensemble” (Aisha Coley-Casting Director)

2013 Image Awards:  2 nominations: “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (David Oyelowo)

The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this 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

HISTORY/DRAMA/BIOGRAPHY

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 Chik√© 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
A+

Friday, January 5, 2018


NOTES:
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.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: "Dear White People" Suddenly Relevant... Again

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 14 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

Dear White People (2014)
Running time:  108 minutes (1 hour, 48 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, sexual content and drug use
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Justin Simien
PRODUCERS:  Effie Brown, Ann Le, Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Justin Simien, and Lena Waithe
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Topher Osborn
EDITOR:  Phillip J. Bartell
COMPOSER:  Kathryn Bostic
Black Reel Award winner

COMEDY/DRAMA

Starring:  Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Teyonah Parris, Brand P. Bell, Brittany Curran, Justin Dobies, Marque Richardson, Dennis Haysbert, and Peter Syvertsen

Dear White People is 2014 comedy-drama and satirical film from writer-director, Justin Simien.  The film is set at an Ivy League-like university that is facing racial discord, and the story focuses on four particular African-American students.

Dear White People is set at Winchester University, a prestigious and predominantly white school with an Ivy League pedigree.  A recent decision by the school's administration has caused a stir among the African-American student body.  Samantha “Sam” White (Tessa Thompson) has used the controversy, via her radio show, “Dear White People,” to spur fellow black students to action.

Sam's former boyfriend, Troy Fairbanks (Brand P. Bell), is trying to hold onto his position as “head of house” of Armstrong/Parker, an all-black dormitory.  Troy really wants to be a comedy writer, but his father, Dr. Walter Fairbanks (Dennis Haysbert), is Dean of Students.  Dean Fairbanks does not want his son doing anything that might give white people a chance to profile the young man who has a promising future.

Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) is a freshman who is trying to find his place on campus, but he is gay and a blerd (black nerd or fanboy), which makes him an odd-man-out.  His housemates harass him, and the chief tormentor is Kurt (Kyle Gallner), the son of Winchester's President Hutchinson (Peter Syvertsen).  Meanwhile, black student Colandrea "Coco" Conners (Teyonah Parris) is determined not to pegged as being 'hood or from the ghetto.

While watching Dear White People, I often thought of Spike Lee's 1988 film, School Daze, which was the first Spike Lee film I saw and which remains a personal favorite.  Both films are driven not so much by plot as they focus on characters and settings.  Lee's film is set at a HBCU (historically black college or university) and focuses on class strife among black students and also delves into how African-Americans often discriminate against each other based on how light-complected or dark-skinned he or she is.

Dear White People is set at a predominantly white school, but focuses on mostly black students.  The film's writer-director Justin Simien seems to make several pointed statement:  Back people don't exist to entertain white folks.  Black people are not here to provide fodder for white people's curiosity and prejudice.  Black people's culture, pathologies, and the way we live are not to be exploited so that white people can mock us at their leisure.

With a great many characters comes a great many motivations and conflicts, and that causes the story in Dear White People to lose focus.  There is so much going on in this movie that it is practically a pitch for an original cable television series, because only a serial comedy-drama could do Justin Simien's ideas and angles justice.

Still, the movie is especially interesting.  It was almost as if I could not stop watching it.  Plus, Tyler James Williams as Lionel Higgins and Teyonah Parris as “Coco” Conners give star-making turns.  Their performances make their characters the most interesting in this film, by far.  If Ms. Parris were a white actress, this role would have earn her roles in several high-profile films for at least the next two years, some as the female lead.

The sky is the limit for Williams.  I think so after watching him make Lionel force Tessa Thompson's Sam to share the spotlight as Dear White People's signature character.  There is a moment in the film when Lionel tells Dean Fairbanks that in high school, he had more trouble from his Black classmates.  It takes guts and talent to pull off a moment like that, and Williams has both.  And Dear White People is better for his performance.

Also, a video of members of the University of Oklahoma chapter of the fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, performing a racist chant/song was recently made public.  In the wake of that incident and the subsequent fallout and controversy, Dear White People is now more relevant than ever.

7 of 10
B+

Thursday, March 12, 2015


NOTES:
2015 Black Reel Awards:  2 wins: “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male” (Tyler James Williams) and “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female” (Teyonah Parris); 8 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture” (Justin Simien, Angel Lopez, Lena Waithe, Ann Le, Effie Brown, and Julia Lebedev), “Outstanding Actress, Motion Picture” (Tessa Thompson), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Teyonah Parris), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Justin Simien), “Outstanding Screenplay-Original or Adapted, Motion Picture” (Justin Simien), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Kim Coleman), and “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male” (Brandon P Bell), and “Outstanding Score” (Kathryn Bostic)

2015 Image Awards:  4 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” (Tessa Thompson), “Outstanding Independent Motion Picture,” and “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture” (Justin Simien)


The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Review: "Tsotsi" a Familiar Tale from Another Place

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 168 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Tsotsi (2005)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  South Africa and the U.K.; Languages:  Zulu, Afrikaans, and others
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and some violent content
DIRECTOR:  Gavin Hood
WRITER:  Gavin Hood (based upon the novel by Athol Fugard)
PRODUCER:  Peter Fudakowski
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Lance Gewer
EDITOR:  Megan Gill
COMPOSERS:  Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian
Academy Award winner

DRAMA

Starring:  Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Kenneth Nkosi, Mothusi Magano, Zenzo Ngqobe, Zola, Rapulana Seiphemo, Nambitha Mpumlwana, Jerry Mofokeng, Ian Roberts, Percy Matsemela, and Thembi Nyandeni

The subject of this movie review is Tsotsi, a 2005 South African drama adapted for the screen and directed by Gavin Hood.  The film is based on the 1980 novel, Tsotsi, from author Athol Fugard.  “Tsotsi” is apparently a slang word in Johannesburg, South Africa that can be translated to mean “thug.”  Tsotsi the film follows six days in the violent life of a young Johannesburg gang leader.

Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) is a ruthless hood living in an impoverished township in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he leads the trio of miscreants that make up his gang.  One night he shoots a woman (Nambitha Mpumlwana) in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood and drives off in her car, but he discovers that he isn’t alone.  The woman’s infant son is in the backseat, so he grudgingly takes the infant to his humble abode.  Through his efforts to care for the baby, Tsotsi (his nickname is urban slang that loosely translates to “thug”) rediscovers compassion, self-respect, and the capacity to love, but he still struggles with his old ways.

Tsotsi won the 2006 Oscar for “Best Foreign Language Film of the Year” as a representative of South Africa. The film is sturdy and earnest, and maybe a little too melodramatic in its too obvious determination to spend a yarn of moral redemption.  Still, the film is powerful and the emotions run deep and are raw, primarily because of the lead character’s hardened criminal life.  It’s kind of hard to be sympathetic towards Tsotsi because his decisions lead to the murder of an innocent man and the wounding of several others.

What makes Tsotsi rise above preachy, well-meaning social drama is that this is basically a familiar tale, but set in an unfamiliar place with strange and exotic characters.  In that way, Tsotsi engages the viewer to discover a new way of looking at a familiar premise.  The performances are good, though not great.  Presley Chweneyagae, however, is a solid actor and carries the film like a veteran movie star.

7 of 10
B+

NOTES:
2006 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Foreign Language Film of the Year” (South Africa)

2006 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations:  “Best Film not in the English Language” (Gavin Hood and Peter Fudakowski) and the “Carl Foreman Award for Most Promising Newcomer” (Peter Fudakowski-producer)

2006 Golden Globes:  1 nomination for “Best Foreign Language Film” (South Africa)

2007 Image Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Independent or Foreign Film”

Monday, August 07, 2006

Updated:  Thursday, March 06, 2014

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

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: "House of Flying Daggers" is a Martial Arts Spectacle (Happy B'day, Ziyi Zhang)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 71 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shi mian mai fu (2004)
International English title: House of Flying Daggers
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  China/Hong Kong; Language: Mandarin
Running time:  119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of stylized martial arts violence and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Zhang Yimou
WRITERS:  Feng Li, Bin Wang, and Zhang Yimou
PRODUCERS:  William Kong and Zhang Yimou
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Xiaoding Zhao
EDITOR:  Long Cheng
COMPOSER:  Shigeru Umebayashi
Academy Award nominee

MARTIAL ARTS/DRAMA/ROMANCE/FANTASY

Starring:  Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Ziyi Zhang, and Dandan Song

The subject of this movie review is Shi mian mai fu, a 2004 Chinese and Hong Kong wuxia film that is known in English as House of Flying Daggers.  A romantic drama and martial arts-fantasy, the film is directed by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern).  House of Flying Daggers follows a police captain and the beautiful member of a rebel group he breaks out of prison.

China, 859 A.D. – it is near the end of the Tang Dynasty, and corrupt leaders rule over the country.  However, a revolutionary faction known as the Flying Daggers challenges authority, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.  Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau), two police detectives, believe Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a blind dancer, is a member of the group.  They hatch a plan for Jin to pretend to be a rebel-of-sorts who rescues Mei from jail.  He then accompanies her to the north country in the hopes that she will take him to the House of Flying Daggers.  However, Mei’s beauty bowls over Jin, and he finds himself determined to protect her on their perilous journey; on the other hand, it seems as if no one is who he or she says he or she is.

As a follow up to his internationally acclaimed film known as Hero (2002, but released wide theatrically to U.S. audiences in 2004), director Zhang Yimou once again delves into China’s legendary martial past in Shi mian mai fu or House of Flying Daggers.  House of Flying Daggers is similar to the 2002 film except that House is more like a musical poem with romantic trappings, with romance having both the modern connotations and its 19-century literary and artistic meanings.  Hero was an epic tale of espionage, romance and revenge that looked at China’s mythical past as a celebration of Chinese nationalism.  Flying Daggers is more emotional; the stunning cinematography (by far the best of 2004), the luxuriant costumes, the abundantly colorful back drops are meant to evoke feelings more than to get the viewer to think about the film’s surprising plot twists and turns.

Action choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung, who worked with Yimou on Hero, once again turns in some delicious fight scenes that are different from his work in Hero and meant to fit the mood and impressionistic flavor of Flying Daggers.  The cast is also quite good, and it’s a shame that Ziyi Zhang was once again ignored by Oscar, as she was for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  She has a wonderful talent for playing dualities:  coy to aggressive, innocent to beguiling, weak to strong, and helpless to fully capable.  Her face is a small mask, capable of a seemingly endless array of subtle shifts that embellish both the character and the story.  Takeshi Kaneshiro, who almost gets lost next to Ziyi Zhang, plays Jin with his heart on his sleeve and his soul open for the audience to see the conflicting emotions within him, a performance that really drives this film’s tricky plot.

House of Flying Daggers is a visually arresting film (frame after frame of breathtaking, mind-bending beauty), maybe more so than Hero.  However, the film does seem to dry up on several occasions, and the script is careless with some of the character motivation.  Still, the film’s intense and overwhelming visual beauty makes it a must see for lovers of cinema, and fans of Asian cinema and hot martial arts will also certainly like this.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Updated: Sunday, February 09, 2014


NOTES:
2005 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao)

2005 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Foreign Language Film (Hong Kong)

2005 BAFTA Awards:  9 nominations: “Best Film not in the English Language” (William Kong and Yimou Zhang), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Ziyi Zhang), “Best Cinematography” (Xiaoding Zhao), “Best Editing” (Long Cheng), “Best Production Design” (Tingxiao Huo), “Best Costume Design” (Emi Wada), “Best Sound” (Jing Tao and Roger Savage), “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Angie Lam, Andy Brown, Kirsty Millar, and Luke Hetherington), and “Best Make Up/Hair” (Lee-na Kwan, Xiaohai Yang, and Siu-Mui Chau)

2005 Image Awards: “Outstanding Independent or Foreign Film”

The text is copyright © 2014 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 CNN.com, 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
A

NOTES:
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

http://rustin.org/

For the time being, LZ Granderson’s CNN.com column, “The man black history erased,” can be read (as long as the article remains posted) here or http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/21/opinion/granderson-rustin-erased

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



Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: "The Original Kings of Comedy" - Remembering Bernie Mac

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 3 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
Running time:  115 minutes (1 hour, 55 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and sex related humor
DIRECTOR:  Spike Lee
PRODUCERS:  David Gale, Walter Latham, and Spike Lee
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Malik Sayeed
EDITOR:  Barry Alexander Brown
Image Award nominee

CONCERT/DOCUMENTARY

Starring:  Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac

The subject of this movie review is The Original Kings of Comedy, a 2000 concert film and documentary from director Spike Lee.  This stand-up comedy film featured Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac, who at the time, were probably the four major African-American stand-up comedians.

First, I must note that I liked half this movie – the half with Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer.  I like D.L. Hughley as a political and social commentator, but not so much as a stand-up comic.  I have mixed feelings about Steve Harvey, and I’ll leave it at that.

For two years in the late 90’s into early 2000, comedians Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac toured the United States in a comedy show called “The Original Kings of Comedy.”  Director Spike Lee (Malcolm X) captured a two-night performance by the “Kings” in Charlotte, North Carolina on digital film, which became the documentary/concert film, The Original Kings of Comedy.

All four of the performances have film and television backgrounds in addition to their stage work, but they are best known to and most liked by urban i.e. African-American audiences.  In fact, the huge success of the concert tour so surprised mainstream i.e. white news media that the tour was the subject of numerous stories.  Those writers expressed shock at how the Kings played to packed houses, but there wasn’t really a secret to their success.  Tickets prices were cheap (usually around 10 bucks), and tours of King’s were kind of geared toward the so-called urban audience are rare.  Some concert venues consider large gatherings of African-Americans a security risk and demand exorbitant insurance coverage from tour promoters.

I can only hope that the Charlotte shows were not indicative of the tour as a whole.  Much of the performances were thoroughly dry and not funny.  It’s hard to chose between who was worse - tour “host” Steve Harvey (of TV’s “The Steve Harvey Show”) or D.L. Hughley (of TV’s “The Hughleys”).  The audience seemed to like them.  Maybe it was a black thing, or perhaps a certain “class” of black thing – not so monolithic, after all, eh?

Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac were hilarious, especially Mac.  They are gifted both as comedians and storytellers, something that is important for all the Richard Pryor wannabees to remember.  Pryor just didn’t tell jokes; he told hilarious, often uproarious, stories.  Many of the profanity junkies that currently pass for comedians would do best to understand what made Pryor so funny and why he enormously crossed over to white audiences.  Cedric and Mac are funny storytellers, and their humor, laced with tales about black folks, actually reaches to a larger segment of the black population.  In fact, a lot of people from different backgrounds can relate to Bernie’s tales, which is why he has the most diverse work history as an entertainer of all the “Kings.”

Much of the comedy here deals with black culture, black folks, black people’s habits, black people who grew up in the 70’s versus young blacks of the 90’s, old school versus hip hop, and, of course white people.  And they deal with white people rather stiffly.  It’s telling that many of the white faces in the audience were not smiling.  Some of the barbs against white folks were mean, and mostly not funny.  When Redd Foxx, Pryor, and Eddie Murphy joked about whites, it was funny and dead on true.  Mac approaches their touch.  The rest of these guys act as if they’d never met a white person.

Lee covers the stage, the audience, and to a lesser extent, the backstage very well – just enough directing not to take away from the main show.  The performances don’t live up to the hype.  I will recommend this to people who want to see the work of a fine entertainer, and that’s Bernie Mac.

5 of 10
C+

NOTES:
2001 Image Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Motion Picture”

Updated:  Friday, August 09, 2013



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

ACTION/CRIME/DRAMA

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
B-

NOTES:
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

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: "Rise of the Guardians" Rises with Jack Frost

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 20 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux


Rise of the Guardians (2012)
Running time: 97 minutes (1 hour, 37 minutes)
MPAA – PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action
DIRECTOR: Peter Ramsey
WRITER: David Lindsay-Abaire (based on the book The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce)
PRODUCERS: Nancy Bernstein and Christina Steinberg
EDITOR: Joyce Arrastia
COMPOSER: Alexandre Desplat
Golden Globe nominee

ANIMATION/FANTASY/ACTION/COMEDY/FAMILY

Starring: (voice) Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Khamani Griffin, Kamil McFadden, and Georgie Grieve

Rise of the Guardians is a 2012 3D computer-animated, fantasy film from DreamWorks Animation. The film is based on The Guardians of Childhood books series by William Joyce and is also inspired by Joyce’s animated short film, The Man in the Moon. Joyce and Guillermo del Toro are among the film’s executive producers. Rise of the Guardians is also the first big-budget, computer-animated (CG-animated) film to be directed by an African-American, Peter Ramsey.

Rise of the Guardians is apparently set 300 years after the book series. The movie focuses on a newcomer caught in a battle between immortals that protect the innocence of children and an evil spirit that launches an assault on Earth.

Tooth Fairy or Tooth (Isla Fisher) is the mythical tooth collector and Guardian of Memories. E. Aster Bunnymund or Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is the fabled keeper of Easter eggs and Guardian of Hope. Sandy or Sandman (who does not speak) is the Guardian of Dreams and the oldest of the Guardians. Nicholas St. North or Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin) is the Guardian of Wonder and the leader of the Guardians. The Guardians watch over the children of the world and keep them safe; the Guardians also bring wonder, hope, and dreams.

Pitch Black (Jude Law) is The Boogeyman, the essence of fear known as the Nightmare King. Pitch announces to the Guardians that he is going to destroy children’s faith in them as an act of revenge because children no longer believe in him. The Man in the Moon tells the Guardians to induct a new member, Jack Frost (Chris Pine), in time for their struggle with Pitch Black. Jack declines the offer, as he has spent centuries in isolation because children do not believe in him. However, as Pitch’s threat looms, Jack finds himself dragged into the conflict and forced to find himself and his place.

Rise of the Guardians reminds me of DreamWorks Animation’s 2010 surprise CG-animated hit, How to Train Your Dragon. Dragon had two great characters, the Viking teenager, Hiccup, and his partner, the Night Fury dragon, “Toothless.” When Dragon focuses on Hiccup and Toothless, the film soars, but everything else about the movie, from characters to plot, is inconsistent in quality.

Rise of the Guardians is similar in that aspect. Jack Frost is a truly spectacular animated character. The rest of the film, from characters to action, ranges from good to mediocre to tolerable. Pitch Black, the villain, is merely a jumped-up stage villain full of typical grudges and complaints, and Jude Law’s voice performance does little to lift the character. And what the hell was Alec Baldwin doing as Santa Claus? This film’s concept, plot, and screenplay are an exercise in ups-and-downs and hits and misses. Attempts to give the story heart and meaning sometimes seem contrived, and when the story does have depth, it occasionally comes across as sugary or even fake.

On the other hand, Jack Frost is a treasure. This is his movie and his story – the journey of a hero, and Jack’s internal dilemmas and outward struggles ring with authenticity. He is the star, and the other Guardians are his supporting cast. Chris Pine delivers his finest performance as actor… in a voiceover role, but he brings Jack Frost to life with verve and depth. Pine left me wanting more.

Director Peter Ramsey does a good job of making the action in Rise of the Guardians rise above the defects in plot and narrative. Rise of the Guardians moves like an action movie, but it is imbued with something classic Walt Disney animated films, like Cinderella and Snow White, have. That is the sense of a fantasy movie that is really like a fairy tale, filled with magic and enchantment. CG-animated films don’t really have that sense of the supernatural because, as art created largely by computers, they feel more like technological marvels, but Rise of the Guardians has that old animation magic.

It is both this sense of magic and the magical Jack Frost that help Rise of the Guardians rise high above its shortcomings.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2013 Golden Globes, USA: 1 nomination: “Best Animated Film”

2013 Black Reel Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Director” (Peter Ramsey)

2013 Image Awards: 1 nomination: “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture-Theatrical or Television” (Peter Ramsey)

Sunday, March 17, 2013