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Sun09272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Spike Lee follows up BlacKkKlansman, one of his best movies, with another great one, Da 5 Bloods, now out on Netflix. Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman lead a strong cast as Lee examines the lives of five Black veterans before and after Vietnam.

Lee and his co-writers send the five characters back to Vietnam to search for the remains of their former platoon leader (Boseman) and a bunch of gold bars they stashed during battle. Boseman appears via flashback; the older actors appear as the same age (with no de-aging makeup or technology) in both time periods—and it’s a style choice that works amazingly well. There’s something deep and moving about seeing these characters at their present age in the war they fought a half-century ago.

Lindo does career-best work as Paul, a man who is fraying a bit at the edges and is looking for redemption in the jungle. His son, David (Jonathan Majors), provides a twist when he unexpectedly tags along, forcing David to deal with a lot of demons. Lindo has delivered one of the year’s best performances so far.

The movie is shot beautifully—and is perhaps the most violent film Lee has ever made. It’s also one of the more adventurous, and best-timed, films in his repertoire.

Lee has made two stellar films in a row—indicating he is back in full creative force.

Da 5 Bloods is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

On this week's extra-crispy, low-sodium weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at one plausible (?) explanation for Donald Trump's actions; Jen Sorensen examines the new head of Donald Trump's climate-change panel; (Th)ink has some fun with Spike Lee; Apoca Clips checks in with Bernie Sanders; and Red Meat features Earl's new coffee business.

Published in Comics

The great Spike Lee has returned with BlacKkKlansmen, his best film since Malcolm X came out 26 years ago.

Based on a true story—with some significant tweaking—it centers on Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzel), a black police officer in Colorado who, on a whim, decided to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a redneck. It wound up being a two-man sting, with Stallworth pretending to be a white man on the phone while sending in a white partner (depicted here by Adam Driver) to do the face-to-face work.

Stallworth’s investigation eventually leads to him being named the head of a local chapter of the KKK, and direct dealings with David Duke (Topher Grace), Grand Wizard of the KKK and major asshole.

The movie is as crazy as the story was, with Spike perfectly balancing intense drama and humor. Washington is fantastic, and Driver continues to show he’s always a cast MVP.

Lee, shooting on celluloid again, makes a fantastic-looking movie; he’s a master of period pieces, with this one set in the 1970s. The film’s conclusion utilizes current-events news footage (including Charlottesville), showing the unfortunate and all-too-real racism parallels between the events in this film and the current state of America.

The movie is a great watch, but it is also a loud wakeup call.

BlacKkKlansmen is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Spike Lee presents what is easily his most-ambitious film in more than a decade with Chi-Raq, a wild adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata set in modern-day Chicago.

Lee casts old pal Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator (of course) and utilizes a rhyming script and stellar cast to postulate what would happen with gang violence in Chicago if all the women withheld sex. The play was crazy—and the movie is crazy.

While the tone is all over the place, the setup gives Lee a chance to do some of his funniest screen work since the humorous interludes in Do the Right Thing. There’s a scene in which Dave Chappelle (Yes, that Dave Chappelle!) plays a strip club owner that might be the funniest thing Lee has ever done. Chappelle needs to do some more acting, because he smokes his one scene.

Teyonah Parris shines as Lysistrata, leader of the female movement and girlfriend of gangsta-rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon). You’ll also find Wesley Snipes in fine form as rival gang leader Cyclops, Angela Bassett as elder stateswoman Miss Helen, D.B. Sweeney as the crazed mayor, and a revved-up John Cusack as Father Mike Corridan. Everybody does good work in the service of a mostly fun screenplay.

The film is flawed. Some of Lee’s sloppy tendencies sneak in, and not all of the jokes work. Some of those film’s shifts into more-serious happenings are awkward. But when the movie is working, it shows that perhaps the real Spike Lee was just hibernating with some of his mediocre recent efforts. It’s great to see him back in fearless-auteur mode.

Chi-Raq is available on demand and via online sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spike Lee partially funded Da Sweet Blood of Jesus through Kickstarter—and the results are a mixed bag.

While his film about a wealthy researcher (Stephen Tyrone Williams) becoming addicted to blood (thanks to an ancient artifact) contains some of his most startling imagery in years, the film is a bit long in the tooth. Given the artistic freedom of a crowd-funded project, Lee doesn’t seem to check himself when it comes to pacing—resulting in a film that could benefit from 30 minutes being shaved off.

Still, Williams is good as the secluded rich man who, after an associate (Elvis Nolasco) tries to kill him, finds himself resurrected and thirsting for blood. He preys upon prostitutes, and eventually takes a wife (a strong Zaraah Abrahams) who soon joins him in blood lust.

This is not a traditional vampire movie, although it is quite bloody, featuring scenes of Williams and Abrahams’ characters lapping up victim blood on the floor like dogs. Bruce Hornsby provides a solid score, with the help of many unsigned artists Lee selected for the project.

Shot in just 16 days, this truly is Lee’s best work in years—even if it is still a bit of a failure.

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is available via online sources including iTunes, Amazon.com and Vimeo On Demand.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It was an asinine, ridiculous, energy-wasting, moronic idea to remake Chan-wook Park’s certifiably insane 2003 revenge-film classic.

I’m fairly open-minded about the idea of remakes, but some films should never be touched again. Heck, it’s amazing that the original Oldboy—a shocking tale of captivity, octopus-eating and incest—actually made it to the big screen in the first place.

Spike Lee landed the job of Americanizing Park’s film (after Steven Spielberg flirted with the idea), and he actually does a decent job in the first half. Josh Brolin plays a drunken louse who gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a strange hotel room for 20 years while somebody frames him for the murder of his wife. He is then released—whereupon he starts seeking revenge.

The captivity scenes are the best parts of this movie, with Brolin doing a good job of losing his mind. However, the movie falls apart when he gets out, even though Lee’s attempt to re-create the infamous hallway hammer scene is admirable.

Rumor has it Lee’s original cut was an hour longer. I’d like to see that, because what made it to the screen feels both unnecessary and incomplete.

Special Features: You don’t get the extended cut, alas, but you do get an extended version of the infamous fight scene, and a making-of doc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It was a dumb, stupid, asinine, ridiculous, idiotic, energy-wasting, sucky, loser, moronic idea to remake Oldboy, Chan-wook Park’s insane 2003 revenge classic. While I’m fairly open-minded about the idea of remakes, some films should never be touched again.

It’s amazing that the original Oldboy—a tale of captivity, octopus-eating and incest—ever made it to the big screen. Then Spike Lee somehow landed the job of Americanizing Park’s film (after Steven Spielberg flirted with the idea)—and he actually does a decent job in the first half. Josh Brolin plays a drunken louse who gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a strange hotel room for 20 years while somebody frames him for the murder of his wife. He is then released, whereupon he starts seeking revenge. The captivity scenes are the best things in the movie, with Brolin doing a good job of losing his mind.

The movie falls apart when he gets out, although Lee’s attempt to re-create the infamous hallway-hammer scene is admirable.

Rumor has it that Lee’s original cut was an hour longer. I’d like to see that cut, because what made it to the screen feels both unnecessary and incomplete.

Oldboy is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615) and Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

Spike Lee tried for many years to get a movie about American sports hero Jackie Robinson, starring Denzel Washington, off the ground. However, he couldn’t make it happen. That’s too bad; I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special.

Instead, we got 42, from director Brian Helgeland (Payback). While it’s really good at times, it gets awfully hokey at other times, and as a result, the film is just OK.

Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black to play Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford also delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors. Christopher Meloni leaves the movie too soon as Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended the year Robinson made his debut.)

Boseman, who looks a lot like Robinson, shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this different. However, I just can’t buy some of the fictional moments created for this movie, including an all-too-sweet moment between Robinson and Rickey just beyond the dugout stairs. (I am pretty sure that Rickey never put his head on Robinson’s shoulder.)

Also: Robinson went through major hell, and the movie only scratches the surface. A movie that really showed what he went through would have trouble getting a box-office-friendly a PG-13 rating, and wouldn’t offer fake moments of relief. Still, this film offers a decent representation of the sport, so perhaps it’s good that kids can go see this movie and get an idea of what Robinson did for civil rights.

Special Features: The Blu-ray package offers a few looks behind the making of the movie and Robinson’s legacy.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spike Lee tried to get a movie with Denzel Washington playing Jackie Robinson off the ground for many years, but couldn’t make it happen. I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special with this story.

Meanwhile, this effort from director Brian Helgeland (Payback) is OK, and even really good at times, but gets awfully hokey.

Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors, and Christopher Meloni leaves the movie all too soon as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended in 1947, the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this craggy and different.

This film is good, but it should’ve been great. 

42 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews