Friday, August 19, 2011
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Where & When: Arclight Cinema, Hollywood, CA. August 8, 2011 7:40PM
"The Devil's Double" is based on the true story of Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) who had the misfortune of bearing a striking resemblance to Uday Saddam Hussein, (also played by Mr. Cooper) the eldest son of the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. Uday, like his father, used body doubles for protection and and was in search of a new body. He attended school with Latif and recalled that everyone said how much the two men looked alike, so Uday makes him an offer that he can't refuse.
After Latif goes through plastic surgery and fitted with dentures to complete the transformation, the life that he once knew is now over. In exchange, Latif can enjoy all of luxuries and the good life that goes with being the "son of The President" but he is warned to keep his hands off of any of the women that Uday has his eye on.
One of Uday's long-time mistresses, Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), who is wild and free-spirited, notices that the only difference between the two men is Latif's larger penis. She comes on to him aggressively and while Latif tries to resist, he soon gives in to her charms.
Latif struggles to hang on to what is left of his true self as it's not long before he discovers that Uday Huessin is a drug-addled, unstable and sadistic monster who gets immense pleasure from the torture or murder of anyone who displeases him as well as plucking teenage girls off from the street and using them for his depraved desires. After Latif witnesses Uday crashing a wedding, raping the new bride and because of the shame, kills herself immediately afterwards, he knows he has to get out of this nightmare no matter what the cost.
After Mr.Tamahori made his powerful 1994 debut, "Once Were Warriors", a gritty, independent film about a Maori family in New Zealand, Hollywood came calling and while the budgets of his subsequent work went up, the quality went way down as he made such gems as the lackluster James Bond flick, "Die Another Day" and the 2005 sequel to "xXx", a critical and box-office flop. "The Devil's Double" is a positive step in the right direction but still doesn't dig nearly deep enough. There was much effort made to concive the seemingly opulent world of Uday Hussen that was actually dark, disturbing and ultra-violent but not nearly enough was paid in creating an emotional connection with Latif or any of the other victims of the deranged lunatic.
Mr. Cooper is quite impressive in both of his wildly different roles as the mild-mannered, Latif and the psychotic, Uday and I'm sure it was challenging, most especially when he had to be Latif, pretending to be Uday and making it clear that this was, in a way, a third character. He is the best thing in this film however, the casting of Anglo actors in leading roles is part of the biggest issue I have with "The Devil's Double". While British actor, Cooper is good but still somewhat problematic in his part but the idea that Ms Sagnier, who is blonde and French, could simply put on a dark wig and heavy black eyeliner to be believable as a Middle Eastern woman is not only insensitive but insulting as there are still so few roles available for people of color. I realize that Hollywood likes to cast name actors in major parts in films but how will that ever happen for ethnic actors if there are not placed in roles, most especially ones that call for them.
"The Devil's Double" is very stylish with an intriguing and shocking story and while there are moments of great film making but ultimately the film ends up being uneven and it's potential is never fully realized
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Directed by Joe Johnston
Where & When: Emagine Cinemas, Canton, MI August 1, 2011 4:30PM
"Captain America: The First Avenger" seems like it might be at a disadvantage as it is the last of four films ("Thor", "X-Men: First Class" and "Green Lantern", in case you had forgotten) released this summer based on a comic book super-hero. Audiences could possibly be suffering from spandex overload at this point and although this film certainly doesn't offer\anything that makes it stand out from the crowd but it still delivers enough visual thrills and high-octane action to make it entertaining.
During the second World War, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a short and scrawny kid from Brooklyn, desperately wants to join the US Army to help fight against the Nazi Party. The problem is that he has more heart than brawn and Steve is rejected but he is very determined, having tried several previous times using different aliases. Steve's good friend, James "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan) was accepted and about to be sent off to Europe.
Steve decides to give enlisting one more shot and this time he is accepted due to a scientist, Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who overheard Steve's conversation with Bucky on why he wants to get in to the army. The real reason is that the doctor has a secret plan for the unfit recruit, much to the dismay of Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) who thinks a better candidate could be found.
Steve is going to be used in an experiment to turn him in to the perfect fighting machine and if it works, to create an army to defeat the Nazis. With the help of inventor, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Steve Rogers goes from a skeletal reject to a towering, super-solider who now wears his patriotism on his newly, muscle-bound chest.
However, this was not the first attempt to create a powerful human weapon to fight in the war, as Dr. Erskine was forced to use the serum on Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a top commander who runs Hitler's terrorist organization, HYDRA. It worked on him but there were some side effects which lead to Schmidt also being referred to as "The Red Skull".
Schimdt has discovered Dr. Erskine's location in America and has him killed, delaying the possibility of using the secret serum on other soldiers. The army only wants to study Steve in a lab but he wants to get out and fight, so he gets an offer to perform in a stage show to help sell war bonds, earning him the name, "Captain America".
Captain America makes it to Italy to entertain the troops but he is mocked by the soldiers. While there, Steve discovers that Bucky's unit was captured fighting against HYDRA. Steve is determined to rescue the men, so he gets some assistance from Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), a tough but beautiful British solider to help get him behind enemy lines.
Armed with an indestructible shield designed by Stark, Captain America, single-handily, gets inside of the HYDRA fortress and saves the troops. Captain America comes face to face with the Red Skull and the men engage in battle but the Skull manages to escape. However, the Captain discovers the location of other HYDRA headquarters
Captain America rounds up Bucky and a band of multi-ethnic soldiers begin to destroy all of HYDRA's bases but they soon find out that the Red Skull has a large scale plan to wipe out the entire planet but will Captain America be able to stop him in time?
If this plot feels familiar, well, it probably is but the story has always taken a back seat in these comic-book adaptions to deafening action sequences and glossy, computer-generated images. Director, Johnston displays great visual style and keeps things moving at a fast pace, while the script manages to capture some of the spirit of the films of the era with snappy dialogue and grand romantic gestures but "The First Avenger" soon dissolves in to a fairly pedestrian and predictable conclusion.
Mr. Evans, who certainly looks the part of an all-American (super) hero, has had previous experience wearing tights as he played "The Human Torch" in the two "Fantastic Four" movies but he was used to better advantage in those films than in "The First Avenger". The Torch was cocky and arrogant, making that hero interestingly flawed and human while the Captain is just so selfless and idealistic that it makes him bland and not particularly believable, which doesn't leave Evans really much to play. The CGI that was used to make Evans looks skinny in the beginning of the film was not always successful because, at times, it made him look like a bobble-head figure.
Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving were wisely brought on to fill in roles that have become their specialty; Jones can play gruff, no-nonsense men with a soft center with little effort while Weaving delivers his reliable, evil-personified character and both actors add much needed spark and humor to the film. Ms Atwell is sexy and charismatic as Captain America's love interest but her character is just a little too 21st century to fit comfortably in to the world of the 1940's. Derek Luke, Toby Jones and Neal McDonough are also a part of a very classy supporting cast.
Overall, "Captain America" delivers plenty of the fun and adventure you expect from this type of film, no more and no less. Also, be sure to stay until the end of the credits as you get a shameless plug of next summer's expected super-hero blockbuster, "The Avengers" which will bring together Thor, The Hulk, Iron-Man and of course, Captain America, all in one film.