Showing posts with label biopic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biopic. Show all posts

Sunday, March 19, 2023

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Sunday, March 19, 2023

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

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

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

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, September 29, 2022

Review: Baz Luhrmann's "ELVIS" Reveals That White People Ruined Presley

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 55 of 2022 (No. 1867) by Leroy Douresseaux

Elvis (2022)
Running time:  159 minutes (2 hours, 39 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking
DIRECTOR:  Baz Luhrmann
WRITERS:  Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner; from a story by Baz Luhrmann and Jeremy Doner
PRODUCERS:  Baz Luhrmann, Gail Berman, Catherine Martin, Patrick McCormick, and Schuyler Weiss
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Mandy Walker (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa
COMPOSER:  Elliot Wheeler


Starring:  Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., David Wenham, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Luke Bracey, Dacre Montgomery, Leon Ford, Gary Clark, Jr., Yola, Natasha Bassett, Xavier Samuel, Adam Dunn, Shonka Dukureh, and Chaydon Jay

Elvis is a 2022 biopic, musical drama, and historical film from director Baz Luhrmann.  The film is an overview and fictional account of the life of Elvis Presley (1935–1977), the singer, songwriter, performer, and actor best known as simply “Elvis” and also as the “King of Rock and Roll.”  Elvis the movie examines his life – from his childhood to his rise to cultural icon status – and his complicated relationship with his notorious manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Elvis opens in 1997 and introduces Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).  After suffering a stroke, he is on his deathbed.  His gambling addiction has left him broke, but once upon a time, he was somebody.  He was both famous and infamous.  He was the manager of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll.

Early in his life, Elvis Aaron Presley (Chaydon Jay) was a just a kid whose family had moved into a housing project in the white section of an African-American neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee (1948).  Elvis' family was poor, and his father was in prison.  Elvis, already familiar with country music, became steeped in the gospel music of the nearby Black churches and also in the rhythm and blues of the Black clubs and music halls on Memphis' Beale Street.

Later (1955), when Colonel Parker meets the now adult Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), he is making waves as a young singer and guitarist.  Parker is already partnered with country singer, Hank Snow (David Wenham), when he hears Elvis, a young white artist who sounds black, especially on the groundbreaking single, “That's All Right.”

Soon, Parker is managing Elvis, and the young man's stage performances are making him very popular with young people, especially young women, who are driven crazy by Elvis' salacious wiggling legs, swinging hips, and thrusting pelvis.  Under Parker's management, Elvis begins a meteoric rise to stardom, but his stage act is drawing the ire of white people who don't want their kids exposed to Black music and culture.  To save Elvis from trouble, Colonel Parker exerts more control over Elvis' music, performances, and life, but what will that do to Parker and Elvis' already complex relationship?

Hard as it is to believe, Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann has only directed six films in his thirty-year career, beginning with his 1992 debut, Strictly Ballroom, which I have never seen.  Other than Elvis, I have only seen Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001), and I have only reviewed the latter.

Elvis is like Moulin Rouge!, a flashy, fast-moving musical drama with excellent production values.  Everything about Elvis is lavish, spectacular, fabulous and beautiful.  The production design, art direction, and sets are the most beautiful that I have seen this year and maybe in a long time.  The costumes, regardless of the characters' wealth and social status, are gorgeous (the only word I can think of).  The cinematography and lighting create a world of fantasy, and the film editing manages to convey the seemingly incalculable number of moods and emotions that Luhrmann wants the audience for Elvis to experience.

The soundtrack is filled with Presley's iconic recordings, including some sung by Austin Butler.  There are a number of famous gospel and blues songs performed by their legendary originators.  There are also modern jams, some reinterpretations of classic songs, including the work of Elvis.

Simply put, Austin Butler makes you believe that he is Elvis Presley.  Butler seems to channel everything that made Elvis an icon and a legend.  Even Elvis' ex-wife, Priscilla, and daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, were awed by Butler's performance.  For anyone to beat Butler to the Oscar this year, they will have to be as amazing as him.

As for the entire film:  Elvis is at its best when it chronicles Elvis' rise before he enters the military service (the U.S. Army 1958-60).  When Elvis is close to his Memphis roots and hanging around Black singers and performers, he is happy and so is the film.  Post-military, the film is still beautiful to look like, but the film takes a darker turn as Elvis is disconnected from his roots and becomes surrounded by white people, most of whom are parasites.  And the ones that are not parasites are manipulators.

Tom Hanks' Colonel Tom Parker is one of the most ridiculously awful and awfully ridiculous film characters that I have ever seen.  Hanks' Parker is like a mix of “Pennywise the Clown” from the It films (based on the Stephen King books) and a mangy elf.  Parker epitomizes the morass that drags at the film for most of its running time.  Hanks' Parker does make one of the film's themes obvious and true.  Maybe, Elvis and Parker snowed themselves as much as they snowed each other.

My grade reflects how much I like this film's production values, music, and Austin Butler's performance.  Butler is the shining light of Elvis.  I could watch him play Elvis Presley again – in a better film.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, September 29, 2022

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



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Thursday, April 7, 2022

Review: Jessica Chastain in "THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE" - Good Gawd!

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 of 2022 (No. 1831) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)
Running time:  126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sexual content and drug abuse
DIRECTOR:  Michael Showalter
WRITER: Abe Sylvia (based on the documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato)
PRODUCERS:  Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Gioulakis (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Mary Jo Markey and Andrew Weisblum
COMPOSER:  Theodore Shapiro
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Mark Wystrach, Sam Jaeger, Louis Cancelmi, Gabriel Olds, Fredric Lehne, Jay Huguley, Dan Johnson, and Chandler Head

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a 2021 biographical drama film directed by Michael Showalter.  The film is based on the 2000 documentary film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which was directed and produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.  The Eyes of Tammy Faye the movie takes a look at the rise into fame and fall into infamy of evangelist and television personality, Tammy Faye Bakker.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye introduces young Tamara Faye LaValley (Chandler Head) in the year 1952.  Growing up in a religious community in International Falls, Minnesota, Tammy is an outcast because her mother, Rachel Grover (Cherry Jones), divorced Tammy's father.  Although she is now married to Fred Grover (Fredric Lehne), Rachel believes that she is seen by some as a harlot.  She hides Tammy in order to hide her shame.  However, young Tammy Faye ain't having none of that and inserts herself into the church.  The parishioners become attracted to the way she speaks Biblical scripture and the way in which she “speaks in tongues.”

In 1960, while attending North Central Bible College in Minneapolis Minnesota, Tammy (Jessica Chastain) meets and falls in love with fellow college student, Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield).  In 1961, the two marry and drop out of college.  They drive around the United States to preach and inspire Christian communities, with Jim preaching and Tammy singing and playing with puppets for children.  Seeking to create and have control over their own programs, the couple create “The PTL Club,” the flagship show of their PTL Satellite Network.  Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker become increasingly popular over the years, but with fame comes more money and more secrets and lies.  Can Jim and Tammy Faye save themselves with the success in which they save souls?

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is about Tammy Faye LaValley/Bakker/Messner, and as Tammy Faye, Jessica Chastain gives the performance of her career.  That is saying a lot, as Chastain's career is filled with bravura performances, except for her god-awful turn in 2019's (X-Men:) Dark Phoenix.  Chastain, who recently won a “Best Actress” Oscar for this performance, buries herself in the work of this film's make-up and hairstyling artists (who also won and Oscar) and reemerges as an attractive and alluring fictional version of the real life Tammy Faye.  I couldn't stop watching her, believing in her, and seeing Chastain's Tammy Faye as a real person that I wanted to think about for the entire run time of this film.

It is a testament to Andrew Garfield's acting skills that he created space in this film for Jim Bakker.  Garfield makes his Bakker a hollow man who is beset by greed and full of hypocrisy.  He condemns Tammy's minor infidelity while hiding three decades of homosexual dalliances and affairs.  Garfield's Bakker, however, can survive in the vortex that is Chastain's Tammy Faye.

The script presents Tammy as having good intentions, as being loving, and as being naive.  Jim Bakker is in love with himself and with money and fame as much as he loves God.  The story suggests that Jim's faults make the couple vulnerable to opportunists and predators, such as Jerry Faldwell, whom actor Vincent D'Onofrio portrays as some kind of evangelical crime lord.  On the other hand, the film suggests that Tammy Faye's ignorance and unwillingness to speak up at certain times contribute to her unwillingness or inability to pay heed to the warnings of Rachel, her mother.  Rachel is played by Cherry Jones in an excellent performance that would have been noticed more if it weren't in the shadow of Chastain's.

Director Michael Showalter takes the fine performances of his cast and makes a movie that is the epic as character drama.  He gives us the rise and the fall and the (somewhat) redemption of a woman who had a moment in time that ultimately trapped her in the public sphere as a figure worthy of mocking.  To me, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is saying that she did not deserve this, but I remember her as someone who deserved some of the derision pointed her way.  As the guiding force of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jessica Chastain deserves all the praise and awards pointed her way.

8 of 10

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

2022 Academy Awards, USA:  2 wins: “Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling” (Stephanie Ingram, Linda Dowds, and Justin Raleigh) and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Jessica Chastain)

2022 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Make Up & Hair” (Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram, and Justin Raleigh)

2022 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama” (Jessica Chastain)

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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Thursday, February 25, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "HARRIET" and Cynthia Erivo Are Magnificent

[A powerful historical Black woman deserves to have her story told powerfully.  Harriet Tubman, the face of the Underground Railroad, gets that in director Kasi Lemmons' 2019 film, “Harriet.”]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 21 of 2021 (No. 1759) by Leroy Douresseaux

Harriet (2019)
Running time:  125 minutes (2 hours, 5 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets
DIRECTOR:  Kasi Lemmons
WRITERS:  Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons; based on a story by Gregory Allen Howard
PRODUCERS:  Debra Martin Chase, Gregory Allen Howard, and Daniela Taplin Lundberg
EDITOR:  Wyatt Smith
COMPOSER:  Terence Blanchard
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Jennifer Nettles, Janelle Monáe, Omar Dorsey, Tim Guinee, Zackary Momoh, Henry Hunter Hall, Deborah Olayinka Ayorinde, and Rakeem Laws

Harriet is a 2019 biographical film and historical drama from director Kasi Lemmons.  The film is a fictional depiction of the life and work of Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), a black woman who was an American abolitionist, a suffragette, and the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad.  Harriet the movie tells the story of the runaway slave who transformed herself into one of America's greatest heroes by helping to free other slaves.

Harriet opens in Bucktown, Maryland, the year 1849.  A black female slave named Araminta “Minty” Ross (Cynthia Erivo) is newly married to a freedman, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh).  Minty is a slave on the farm of Edward Brodess, along with her mother, Rit (Vanessa Bell Calloway), and her sister, Rachel (Deborah Olayinka Ayorinde).  Minty's father, a freedman named Ben Ross (Clarke Peters), approaches Edward Brodess about gaining freedom for Rit and the children she bore based on an agreement made by Brodess' father, but Brodess rudely declines.

Shortly afterwards, Brodess dies, and his son, Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn), decides to sell Minty down the river, which mean down into the deep south, the worst place for a slave.  Minty suffers “spells” since being struck in the head as a child, but they are also visions from God.  The spell that Minty suffers after Gideon decides to sell her is the vision that Minty believes is telling her to run away before she is taken to the slave auction.

Fearing that she could endanger her husband and family, she leaves them behind and, after a long journey, makes her way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A year later, Minty has renamed herself Harriet Tubman and makes her first journey back to Maryland.  There, she will either take her first steps to free other slaves, or she will be returned to a cruel fate at the hands of an evil owner.

In Harriet, writers Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons fashioned a story that captures the horrors of slavery in a manner similar to that of the 2013 film, 12 Years a Slave.  However, 12 Years a Slave is the tale of a free black man trapped in hell of chattel slavery who is determined to survive until a miracle arrives.  Harriet is the tale of a black woman born into slavery who takes her fate into her own hands and runs through a hell's gauntlet to find freedom.

To that end, Kasi Lemmons as director creates a film that moves that narrative via action and opportunity.  Characters take action and take advantage of the opportunity to gain freedom.  As Harriet says at one point in the film – “God was watching me but my feet were my own.”  Harriet's lead character is a pistol-packing, action movie heroine every bit as stalwart as Captain America and as ruthless as actor Clint Eastwood's most famous roles in Westerns.

Actress Cynthia Erivo, as Harriet Tubman, is the center of this film's holy trinity.  Erivo's Harriet is a force of nature and the wrath of God against slavery.  In the film's quiet moments, Erivo presents Harriet as thoughtful and contemplative, but she maintains the roiling storm within, the elemental forces that drive her to return to the land of slavery time and again to free other slaves.  Erivo seems to transform Harriet's spells and visions into a living thing that devours fear and cowardice and the evil that is slavery.  One can believe that this Harriet was the star of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses in the United States used by enslaved black people to escape from slave states and into free states and Canada.

Erivo's almighty performance earned her an Oscar nomination for “Best Actress.”  It is a shame that she did not win, and it is a shame that Harriet did not receive more Academy Award nominations than it did.  This film has good supporting performances, an excellent musical score, and costume design that created costumes for the cast that look like the real deal.  However, it is Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons, and Cynthia Erivo that drive Harriet into being what may be the best film of 2019.

10 of 10

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

2020 Academy Awards, USA:  2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Cynthia Erivo) and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Song” (Cynthia Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell for the song “Stand Up”)

2020 Golden Globes, USA:  2 nominations:  “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Cynthia Erivo) and “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Joshuah Brian Campbell music/lyrics and Cynthia Erivo-music/lyrics for the song “Stand Up”)

2020 Black Reel Awards:  6 nominations: “Outstanding Actress, Motion Picture” (Cynthia Erivo), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Kasi Lemmons), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Janelle Monáe), “Outstanding Cinematography” (John Toll), “Outstanding Costume Design” (Paul Tazewell), and “Outstanding Production Design” (Warren Alan Young)

2020 Image Awards (NAACP):  7 nominations:  “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” (Cynthia Erivo), “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (Leslie Odom Jr.), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Janelle Monáe), “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in a Motion Picture: (Cynthia Erivo), “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture-Film” (Kasi Lemmons), and “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture-Film” (Kasi Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard)

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, February 16, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: Heroes Abound in "MARSHALL"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 of 10

Monday, February 15, 2021

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

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

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

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


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Monday, 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


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

Monday, February 15, 2021

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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Friday, August 7, 2020

Review: Her Performance in "Nina" Means Zoe Saldana Has No Reason to Cry

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 16 (of 2020) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Nina (2016)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  United Kingdom
Running minutes:  90 minutes (1 hour, 30 minutes)

PRODUCERS:  Ben Latham-Jones, Stuart Parr, and Barnaby Thompson
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Mihai Malaimare Jr.
EDITORS:  Mark Helfrich, Susan Littenberg, and Josh Rifkin
COMPOSER:  Ruy Folguera


Starring:  Zoe Saldana, David Oyelowo, Ronald Guttman, Mike Epps, Keith David, Ella Joyce, Stevens Gaston, Jessica Oyelowo, Kevin Mambo, and Yasmine Golchan

Nina is a 2016 biographical dramatic film written and directed by Cynthia Mort.  The film offers a fictional account of Nina Simone, the Black woman who was an American singer-songwriter, jazz musician, classical pianist, and Civil Rights activist and whose career began in the late 1950s.  Nina takes place over a decade late in her life and examines her relationship with the young man who is suddenly thrust into the position of being her manager.

Nina opens in 1988 and finds beloved singer Nina Simone (Zoe Saldana) alcoholic, mentally unstable, and financially shaky.  After an incident involving a gun, Nina is committed to a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital.  There, she befriends a young nurse, Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), who is also a fan of hers.  When she leaves the hospital, Nina hires Clifton as her personal assistant, and he accompanies her back to her home in Bouc-Bel-Air, France.

Once there, Clifton discovers that Nina is not only difficult and confrontational, but that she also refuses to take her medication and prefers drinking alcoholic beverages over eating.  Clifton attempts to salvage Nina's career, but her decades of ill will and a bad reputation among music business players and heavy hitters may derail Clifton's plans for a Nina Simone comeback.

Simply put, Nina is a poorly written movie.  Ostensibly, it is one of those stories about a great, famous, or important person who salvages the wreckage of her life to rekindle an famous public career.  What we get is mostly Nina Simone being stubborn and self-destructive with Clifton Henderson standing by her side, looking sad, angry, or exasperated.

I think Zoe Saldana gives a great performance as this film's Nina Simone.  I say “this film's Nina Simone” because there was a lot of controversy about her casting – especially concerning Saldana's skin tone and physical appearance compared to the real-life Nina Simone's physical characteristics.  Saldana seems to bury her true self in the make-up in order to become a dark-skinned Black woman and emerges as a character who is a fighter fiercely protecting what she believes she has left of herself.  Whatever one might say of this film, I think that there is no doubt that Saldana proves that she is an actress capable of playing the “great roles.”

The problem is that this role is not great, mainly because the writing and directing can only deliver what is barely an average film.  Writer-director Cynthia Mort even finds a way to waste the highly-skilled actor, David Oyelowo.  The passion, artistry, and professionalism he brings to his performances are absent here mainly because Clifton literally just waits around for Nina to throw an over-the-top tantrum.  The screenplay gives Saldana enough material to really be showy with Nina, but that same script gives Oyelowo very little he can use to show off.

I am not a Nina Simone expert, but I know enough about her to know that she is hugely respected and much beloved among music fans, historians, and critics.  In no way does this film come close to doing this kind of woman justice.  Watching this film, I have to wonder what the filmmakers of Nina were thinking.  Luckily, the passion that Saldana obviously brings to this project results in a performance that makes Nina worth watching.

5 of 10

Sunday, November 13, 2016

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


Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: Wahlberg and Berg Drive "Lone Survivor"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 (of 2017) by Leroy Douresseaux

Lone Survivor (2013)
Running time:  121 minutes (2 hours, 1 minute)
MPAA – R for strong bloody war violence and pervasive language
DIRECTOR:  Peter Berg
WRITER:  Peter Berg (based on the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson)
PRODUCERS:  Sarah Aubrey, Peter Berg, Randall Emmett, Akiva Goldsman, Vitaly Grigoriants, Norton Herrick, Stephen Levinson, Barry Spikings, and Mark Wahlberg
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Tobias Schliessler (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Colby Parker Jr.
COMPOSERS:  Explosions in the Sky and Steve Jablonsky
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, Jerry Ferrar, and Rohan Chand

Lone Survivor is a 2013 war film written and directed by Peter Berg.  The film is an adaptation of the 2007 nonfiction book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, written  Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson.  The film is a dramatization of a failed 2005 mission to kill a Taliban leader in Afghanistan and also of Luttrell and his teammates fight to survive after the mission goes bad.

Lone Survivor opens in Afghanistan at the Bagram Air Base.  There is an Afghan Taliban leader named Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami), who is responsible for killing over twenty United States Marines, as well as villagers and refugees who were aiding American forces.  The Navy SEALs are ordered to capture or kill Shah, and as part of the mission, a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team gets the task of tracking down Shah and killing him.

That SEAL team:  leader Michael P. “Murph” Murphy (Taylor Kitsch); snipers Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and Matthew "Axe" Axelson (Ben Foster); and communications specialist, Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), are inserted into a mountainous region near Shah's base of operations.  The team finds Shah, but the mission inadvertently goes awry.  The SEALs attempt to leave the area, but are forced to battle Taliban forces.  Injured, outnumbered, and at a tactical disadvantage, the SEALs begin a valiant struggle to survive.

Lone Survivor has visceral power, which it reveals in the way it brings the Navy SEALs mission to kill Shah to life.  Director Peter Berg and film editor Colby Parker Jr. bring the viewers deep into the action, so much so that I started to believe that the Taliban was also hunting me.

However, the film's first 34 minutes are largely about military jargon and also about forcing heavy-handed jingoism about the United States' military mission and presence in Afghanistan on the viewer.  Truthfully, Lone Survivor avoids any examination about the U.S. presence in that country.  The movie is strictly about  (1) the mission, (2) military courage, (3) the band-of-brothers ethos in the U.S. military, (4) how great the SEALs are, and (5) survival.  Lone Survivor is not so much a story as it is the depiction of a moment or perhaps, of a particularly memorable sequence of events in the history of the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan.

I think that writer/director Peter Berg attempts to dazzle his audience with muscular, physical film making and with a story of a grueling struggle to survive.  I think this makes the film light on characterization, but heavy on stereotypes and assumptions.  By the time the film presented friendly natives, it was hard for me to believe they were friendly because, except for a child character, everyone seemed like a dangerous brown person.

Still, I am impressed by Mark Wahlberg's performance.  Unable to show a deeper side of Marcus Luttrell, Wahlberg turns himself into a battered-and-bruised wounded warrior in order to make us like Luttrell.  It's like Wahlberg is channeling Mel Gibson in Braveheart (1995).  Peter Berg slyly sets us up for cathartic release when the cavalry shows up to rescue the lone survivor.  It's a cheat, but I guess you do what you have to in order to make a shallow script into a good movie.  And Lone Survivor, in its own way, is indeed a good movie.

7 of 10

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2014 Academy Awards, USA:  2 nominations:  “Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, and David Brownlow) and “Best Achievement in Sound Editing” (Wylie Stateman)

The text is copyright © 2017 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Review: Halle Berry Stellar in "Frankie & Alice"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 7 (of 2016) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Frankie & Alice (2010)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA –  R for some sexual content, language and drug use
DIRECTOR:  Geoffrey Sax
WRITERS: Cheryl Edwards, Marko King, Mary King, Jonathan Watters, Joe Shrapnel, and Anna Waterhouse; from a story by Oscar Janiger, Philip Goldberg, and Cheryl Edwards
PRODUCERS:  Halle Berry, Vincent Cirrincione, Simon DeKaric, and Hassain Zaidi
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Newton Thomas Sigel (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  David M. Richardson
COMPOSER:  Andrew Lockington
Golden Globe nominee


Starring:  Halle Berry, Stellan Skarsgard, Phylicia Rashad, Chandra Wilson, Alex Diakun, Joanne Baron, Brian Markison, Matt Frewer, and Scott Lyster

Frankie & Alice is a 2010 Canadian drama from director Geoffrey Sax and starring Halle Berry.  The film received a limited theatrical release in 2010 in order to qualify for the 2010-2011 movie awards season.  It did receive a wider theatrical release in August 2014.  Frankie & Alice follows a go-go dancer with multiple personality disorder and the psychotherapist who tries to help her.

Frankie & Alice opens in Los Angeles in 1973 where we meet Francine “Frankie” Lucinda Murdoch (Halle Berry), an African-American female go-go dancer.  During an attempted sexual encounter, Frankie experiences a personality change that throws her life into chaos.  Eventually her manic episodes land her in a mental care facility.  Frankie meets Dr. Joseph “Joe” Oswald (Stellan Skarsgard), a.k.a. “Dr. Oz.”

Dr. Oswald believes that Frankie suffers from multiple personality disorder (now known as “dissociative identity disorder”).  He identifies that Frankie has two other personalities:  “Genius,” a seven-year-old child; and “Alice,” a Southern racist White woman.  “Genius” and “Alice” are aware of each other, but Alice wants control of Frankie.  In order to discover a way to help Frankie, Dr. Oswald must uncover a terrible trauma in Frankie's past that is either forgotten or kept secret.

Halle Berry had apparently been trying to get Frankie & Alice produced since the 1990s.  Serious movement began on the film around 2004, apparently, but it was another six years before the film saw even a limited theatrical release.  That was reportedly almost two years after the film had finished production.  That is a shame really, because Frankie & Alice is a good movie.  In this film, Berry gives one of the best performances of her career, one that I think is on par with her Oscar-winning turn in 2001's Monster's Ball.

As a film, Frankie & Alice is not a fancy, big, prestige biographical drama in the tradition of such films as A Beautiful Mind and The King's Speech.  However, it is not quite one of those infamous disease-of-the-week made-for-television movies.  In some ways, the film is similar to a two-actor stage drama, focusing on the characters that Berry and Stellan Skarsgard portray.  Although he delivers a nice performance, Dr. Oswald is not close to Skarsgard's best work, and that is mainly because the character is not that well developed.  The movie gives us glimpses into him, but that is as far as that goes.

Watching the film and trying to follow its story, it is easy to see that eight different writers worked on it over the course of many years.  Frankie & Alice does have a patchwork feel to it.  There are so many other good characters with small roles, like Frankie's mother, Edna (Phylicia Rashad), and sister, Maxine (Chandra Wilson).  These two characters could have enriched both their stories and Frankie's.

Still, Halle Berry, of whom I am a huge fan, is so good here.  She carries this movie in a way that engages the audience with Frankie, but also with the characters, “Genius” and “Alice.”  Quite frankly, Berry should get credit for giving three excellent performances.  Her turn as the troubled and brittle “Alice” is superb; she sells that character as genuine, but she makes you believe that “Alice” could be a menace to Frankie.  Her turn as the sweet, but fearful “Genius” is heartbreaking and borders on brilliant.

Berry does not give one of those showy performances that cries out for an Oscar nomination, which she deserved, but did not get for this film.  She honestly plies her craft as an actor, and delivers a brilliant performance as an artist.  In fact, whatever faults it has, Frankie & Alice is still a quality drama because Berry is at its center delivering stellar work.

7 of 10

Saturday, December 19, 2015

2011 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Halle Berry)

2011 Image Awards:  2 wins: “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” (Halle Berry) and “Outstanding Independent Motion Picture;”  2 nominations: “Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture-Theatrical or Television” (Mary King, Jonathan Watters, Cheryl Edwards, Joe Shrapnel, Marko King, and Anna Waterhouse), and “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture-Theatrical or Television” (Geoffrey Sax)

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Review: Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz Shine in "Big Eyes"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 25 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

Big Eyes (2014)
Running time:  106 minutes (1 hour, 46 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
DIRECTOR:  Tim Burton
WRITERS:  Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
PRODUCERS:  Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Tim Burton, and Lynette Howell
COMPOSER:  Danny Elfman
Golden Globe winner


Starring:  Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Jon Polito, Delaney Raye, Madeleine Arthur, and James Saito

Big Eyes is a 2014 biographical drama from director Tim Burton.  The film is a dramatization of the complicated relationship between American pop-art painter, Margaret Keane, and her husband, Walter Keane.  Brothers Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein are executive producers on the film.

Margaret Keane is famous for her “big eyes” paintings, which are paintings featuring children as waifs with big doe eyes.  For a decade, Margaret's second husband, Walter Keane, took credit for the paintings because, as he told Margaret, people would take her paintings seriously if they were credited to a man.  Margaret's paintings became hugely popular in the 1960s and earned the couple a large fortune, but Walter became more domineering the more prominence “big eyes” art attained.

Big Eyes opens in 1958 in Northern California.  Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams), a painter, leaves her husband and takes her young daughter, Jane (Delaney Raye), with her.  Mother and child arrive in North Beach, San Francisco where Margaret's friend, DeAnn (Krysten Ritter), lives.  One day, Margaret in selling drawings in a local park when she catches the attention of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a painter who is also selling his art in the park.

Margaret and Walter marry, and Walter begins to try to sell both their paintings.  People ignore Walter's paintings, but the “big eyes” paintings of his new wife, Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), soon become a sensation.  Walter lies when people ask him and claims to be the creator of the “big eyes” art, and Margaret goes along with him.  The “big eyes” become a sensation, but Margaret cannot truly find peace of mind.  Can she ever break away from Walter and take credit for her work?

When director Tim Burton's 2003 film, Big Fish, debuted, some critics said that Burton had finally made an adult film instead of his usual, a fantasy film.  Big Fish actually had its share of surrealism and eccentricity, like practically all Burton's work.  I think Burton's first adult film was the fanciful biopic, Ed Wood, which was more humorous than dramatic.

One might call Big Fish an adult film, but I found it dull and stiff.  Burton's 2014 movie, Big Eyes, is a drama, and it is similar to Ed Wood in that both movies focus on an outside or cult artist.  Big Eyes simply plays the biographical matter in a straighter fashion than Ed Wood.  In that movie, Ed Wood and his band of merry filmmakers were weirdos (and I'm not saying this in a pejorative manner).  Margaret Keane's art may be weird, but the screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and even director Tim Burton take her life seriously.  Their movie is a fictional account of Keane's life that details the path she took to independence and to an awakening.

Since her coming-out-party in the indie film, Junebug, Amy Adams has been one of the best American actresses of the last decade.  As Margaret Keane, she gives one of her best performances, if not her best.  She embodies in herself and shows the struggle of a woman who is trying to break free of everything that holds her back – including herself.  In her face and in her emotions, Adams conveys the trials of the artist trying to claim her own work and of a woman living in an era when the wife must be “the little wifey” and little more.

It is a testament to Christoph Waltz's skill as an actor and a performer that he keeps Walter Keane from being burned in the radiance of Adams' performance.  Waltz makes it impossible to believe much of what Walter says, but he also keeps the fraudulent painter from becoming a caricature.  In his hands, Walter is a fully realized character, which I realized when I noticed that I was sympathetic to him (just a little) by the end of the film.

Big Eyes, which is essentially a low-budget independent film, is Tim Burton's first good movie in a few years.  With Ed Wood 20 years ago and with Big Eyes now, he shows that he sympathizes and identifies with artists who are off the beaten path, but who take their art as seriously as the “elite” artists.  Burton does indeed know how to let the best dramatic actors do some of their best work.  While I like a “serious” film (or Burton's version of it) such as Big Eyes, I do want more Tim Burton movies like Beetlejuice and Sleepy Hollow, which are both Oscar-winners, by the way.

8 of 10

Thursday, June 11, 2015

2015 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical: (Amy Adams); 2 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” (Christoph Waltz) and “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Lana Del Rey and Daniel Heath for "Big Eyes")

2015 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations: “Best Leading Actress” (Amy Adams) and “Best Production Design” (Rick Heinrichs and Shane Vieau)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: McConaughey Super Sells "Dallas Buyers Club"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 36 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Running time:  117 minutes (1 hour, 57 minutes)
MPAA – R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use
DIRECTOR:  Jean-Marc Vallée
WRITERS:  Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
PRODUCERS:  Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Yves Bélanger (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Martin Pensa and John Mac McMurphy (Jean-Marc Vallée)
Academy Award winner

DRAMA/BIOPIC with elements of a historical

Starring:  Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O’Neill, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Rankin, Donna Duplantier, Deneen D. Tyler, J.D. Evermore, and Bradford Cox

Dallas Buyers Club is a 2013 biographical drama from director Jean-Marc Vallée.  The film is a dramatization about real-life AIDS patient, Ron Woodroof.  He discovered unapproved pharmaceutical drugs that would help his disease symptoms and then, later smuggled those drugs into Texas to help fellow AIDS patients.  The film was critically acclaimed and won three Oscars, including a best actor win for Matthew McConaughey and a best supporting actor win for Jared Leto.

Dallas Buyers Club opens in 1985 in Dallas.  Electrician, hustler, and rodeo cowboy, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) falls ill and is diagnosed with HIV.  He is given 30 days to live.  Ron initially refuses to accept the diagnosis, but quickly finds himself ostracized by friends and coworkers.  Ron learns from the kindly Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) about the experimental drug AZT, which is supposed to help with symptoms of AIDS.  Ron is able to obtain some without having a prescription.  However, he not only abuses AZT, but he also continues to abuse illegal narcotics.

Ron develops full-blown AIDS.  As he fights to live, he begins to study and research AIDS and learns that outside the United States there are pharmaceutical drugs used to fight the symptoms of AIDS.  However, they are unapproved for use in the U.S. by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  Ron begins to smuggle large quantities of these drugs into Dallas.  With the help of Rayon (Jared Leto), a sassy cross-dressing man/transgender, Ron opens the “Dallas Buyers Club” to sell these unapproved drugs to HIV-positive and AIDS patients, but Ron’s efforts draw the attention of people who want to shut him down.

I have seen many films that are elevated by a great performance.  Raging Bull is memorable for Robert De Niro’s legendary turn as boxer Jake La Motta.  Russell Crowe gives the most nuanced performance of his career in A Beautiful Mind.  Helen Mirren rules The Queen.  In fact, all three of these movies would be little more than made-for-television films without the celebrated performances given by their respective lead actors.

Dallas Buyers Club tells a story that needed to be told and needs to be remembered, but without Matthew McConaughey’s performance, this film would be a well-meaning TV movie or an indie film that would have been lost in the art film ghetto.  McConaughey risked his health in order to lose weight to play the emaciated Ron Woodroof, but what really makes his performance so distinguished is that McConaughey takes on Woodruff’s cause and suffering as if his own life depended upon it.

McConaughey is a good actor and has given some excellent performance.  However, in recent years, he has finally showcased his talent and skill in character study films that require putting out the effort to create fully-realized fictional characters.  Anyone who is a fan of McConaughey or has seen some of his films must see Dallas Buyers Club.

Both Jared Leto’s transformation into Rayon and his performance are impressive.  Leto was indeed Oscar worthy, but Rayon is mostly unnecessary to this story.  Although Rayon was not a real-life figure and was created specifically for this movie, he could have been replaced with just about any other character.  Leto is magnificent in a film in which the filmmakers didn’t seem to know what to do with his character other than to play him as a stereotype – the tragic mulatto version of drag queen.  Jennifer Garner’s Dr. Saks is also wasted, although not nearly as badly as Rayon is.

However, Matthew McConaughey is so good that he makes you overlook Dallas Buyers Club’s warts.  His character, Ron Woodroof, is a charming rogue with electrifying swagger.  It is as if McConaughey and Woodroof are two separate beings occupying the same space, and they are why Dallas Buyers Club earned a best picture Oscar nomination.  And that best picture Oscar nod made what would have been just an AIDS movie into something special.

8 of 10

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014 Academy Awards, USA:  3 wins: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Matthew McConaughey), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Jared Leto), “Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling” (Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews); 3 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Jean-Marc Vallée and Martin Pensa), “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack)

2014 Golden Globes, USA:  2 wins: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Matthew McConaughey) and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Jared Leto)

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: "Fruitvale Station" Heartbreakingly Beautiful and Beautifully Heartbreaking

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 of 10

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

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

Thursday, July 03, 2014

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: Emma Thompson Saves "Saving Mr. Banks"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 21 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Running time:  125 minutes (2 hours, 5 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images
DIRECTOR:  John Lee Hancock
WRITERS:  Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith
PRODUCERS:  Ian Collie, Alison Owen, and Philip Steuer
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  John Schwartzman (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Mark Livolsi
COMPOSER:  Thomas Newman
Academy Award nominee

DRAMA/HISTORICAL with elements of a biopic and comedy

Starring:  Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Bigham, Melanie Paxson, Ronan Vibert, Rachel Griffiths, and Kathy Baker

Saving Mr. Banks is a 2013 drama from director John Lee Hancock and is an American, British, and Australian co-production.  The film is a fictional account of author P.L. Travers’ trip to America, as she considers selling the film rights to her Mary Poppins books to Walt Disney.

Walt Disney is really a supporting character in Saving Mr. Banks, as the movie focuses on Travers as she reflects on her childhood and on her relationship with her troubled father.  The parts of the film that focus on Travers’ childhood are melancholy.  The parts of the film that take place in the film’s present (1961) are lively and colorful, and I wish all of the movie were set at Walt Disney Studios.

The film opens in the year 1961 in London, where it finds author, Pamela “P.L.” Travers (Emma Thompson), experiencing financial troubles.  Travers does have a way out of her money woes.  She can sell the film rights to her Mary Poppins books to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who has been pursuing Travers for the rights to the books for 20 years.  Travers travels to Los Angeles, where she is whisked to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

In America, Travers meets a kind limo driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti). She meets Mr. Disney.  She meets the creative team assigned to adapt Mary Poppins to the screen:  screenwriter, Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford); and musical composing brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, respectively).  For two weeks, Travers plans on working with the team to get Mary right – at she sees it.

However, everything about her Mary Poppins book may be too personal for her to accept anyone else’s vision of Mary Poppins, especially Walt Disney’s version of Mary Poppins.  As she works on the film, Travers’ mind goes back to her life in Australia as a girl (Annie Rose Buckley) and she recollects her relationship with her troubled father (Colin Farrell).

I have to admit that I like Saving Mr. Banks because of its fanciful and real-life complication-free look at Walt Disney, his employees, and life at Walt Disney Studios.

I will grant that Emma Thompson gives a fantastic performance, one that is worthy of the Oscar nomination Thompson did not receive.  I will also grant that the story of Travers’ past is heartbreaking and fairly well-executed by director John Lee Hancock and his collaborators.  I will finally admit that I don’t think Hanks deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance as Walt Disney, especially not as a lead actor.  His Disney is clearly a supporting character in this story… and this is not close to being one of Hanks’ better or memorable performances.

Mostly, I think Saving Mr. Banks is a soapy television movie with big name actors trying to be a prestige motion picture.  I think the film sometimes portrays P.L. Travers as a contrary old kook and also glosses over her legitimate concerns about how her characters will be translated to film.  After all, she clearly knew that more people would see a Mary Poppins movie than would ever read her Mary Poppins books.  Because of that, many people would know Mary Poppins only through the film, so she had right to be concerned that the screen Mary Poppins be as close as possible to her Mary Poppins.

After all that granting, I am back to what I like about this movie. Saving Mr. Banks presents a… well… Disney-fied version of some of the events surrounding the production of the 1964 Mary Poppins film.  That is okay by me, but I realize that there is much more to the real story than is in Saving Mr. Banks.

6 of 10

Monday, May 05, 2014

2014 Academy Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Thomas Newman)

2010 Golden Globe:  1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Emma Thompson)

2014 BAFTA Awards:  5 nominations:  “Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film” (John Lee Hancock, Alison Owen, Ian Collie, Philip Steuer, Kelly Marcel, and Sue Smith), “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Thomas Newman), “Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer” (Kelly Marcel), “Best Leading Actress” (Emma Thompson), and “Best Costume Design” (Daniel Orlandi)

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