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Posts Tagged ‘Spike Lee’

Get On the Bus

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Well, I’m skipping ahead in the Spike Lee chronology I’ve been ever-so-slowly crawling my way through, but I thought a movie about a march on Washington would be a good thing to revisit on the Martin Luther King Day starting the week that, as far as we know, will end with the inauguration of the first American president to be 2 degrees of separation from Steven Seagal (they have a mutual friend, a Russian guy named Vladimir something) and subsequent protest march.

GET ON THE BUS is a road trip movie, but it could almost be a play, because the vast majority of it is about conversations taking place inside a charter bus. Around fifteen African American men, most of them meeting for the first time, are headed from a church parking lot in South Central Los Angeles to the Million Man March in Washington DC. If you’re too young to remember, that was the October 16, 1995 gathering of black men organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

(read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Mo’ Better Blues

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

After DO THE RIGHT THING made Spike Lee into a major cultural force, he set his sights on a few subjects he thought were important. Before he made his MALCOLM X movie with Denzel, and before he didn’t make his Jackie Robinson movie with Denzel, he tackled a broader topic: a jazz movie with Denzel.

It was a subject near and dear to Lee’s heart. His father Bill Lee was a jazz bassist and composer for his first four films (this being the last), and he’d befriended Branford Marsalis on DO THE RIGHT THING, so The Branford Marsalis Quartet (plus Terence Blanchard on trumpet) plays the music here. I seem to remember Lee being publicly hostile toward Bertrand Tavernier’s ROUND MIDNIGHT and Clint Eastwood’s BIRD for focusing too much on drug addiction, a complaint possibly aggravated by his annoyance at reporters asking him why DO THE RIGHT THING didn’t deal with drug addiction.

Can you imagine? “Wes Anderson, don’t you have a responsibility to your community to show that rich people use coke?” “Makers of SWEET HOME ALABAMA, where is the meth?” Fuck you. Just for the sake of my blood pressure I’m gonna assume every reporter who asked that has since sent Spike flowers and a card with a long, heartfelt, handwritten letter of apology.

Surprisingly, Lee’s jazz movie just replaces heroin with other vices. Washington’s quintet-leading trumpeter Bleek Gilliam is some kind of womanizer who tries to have two girlfriends at the same time, med student Indigo Downes (Joie Lee) and aspiring singer Clarke Betancourt (Cynda Williams in her first role). His childhood friend/terrible manager Giant (Spike himself) has a dangerous addiction to sports gambling and is in debt to his bookie (Ruben Blades, SECUESTRO EXPRESS, COLOR OF NIGHT). But these troubles are kind of woven into a casual and down to earth story about Bleek’s fairly minor struggles doing shows at the Beneath the Underdog jazz club, during a slow-brewing musical and love rivalry with his saxophone player Shadow Henderson (Wesley God Damn Snipes, BLADE). (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Tales From the Hood

Monday, November 7th, 2016

tn_tales“This ain’t a funeral home. It ain’t the Terrordome neither!”

Here’s a movie that’s very much of the ’90s. After BOYZ N THE HOOD, STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN, NEW JACK CITY, SOUTH CENTRAL, JUICE and MENACE II SOCIETY established the genre of the “hood movie,” FEAR OF A BLACK HAT director Rusty Cundieff decided to mix it with the format of the anthology horror movie. Like those other movies it’s a low budget indie movie trying to get across messages about issues facing the black community, but with Twilight Zone type ironic morals and some crazy special effects and stuff. Spike Lee (whose CLOCKERS came out the same year) acted as executive producer to help get it made.

The wraparound story takes place in Simms Funeral Parlor, where three young drug dealers meet with the crazy-eyed, puffy-haired, organ-playing weirdo (Clarence Williams III, PURPLE RAIN) who runs the place. He claims to have found a bunch of drugs in an alley, but before they can make a transaction he starts opening up coffins and telling them the stories of the occupants’ deaths. As you do. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Chi-Raq

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

tn_chiraqCHI-RAQ (Chicago + Iraq, pronounced shy-rack) is the Spikiest Spike Lee Joint achieved so far. It seems like whatever itch Lee was trying to scratch with those musical numbers in SCHOOL DAZE has been building up for all these years until it exploded onto the screen like that inflating dude in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Lee must’ve woke up one morning and said fuck it, I’m gonna make a movie that’s so Spike Lee it turns into Baz Luhrmann.

Let me tell you a few things about how heightened and crazy this is. It has musical numbers. It has dance numbers. It has a rap number that breaks into a gun fight precipitated by an argument depicted in onscreen text messages. It has an army of women in chastity belts performing a sexy choreographed group lip-synch to “Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites (maybe my favorite scene). The two rival gangs wear purple and orange, and are called the Trojans and the Cyclops Spartans, whose leader is Cyclops (Wesley Snipes wearing a red-sequined eyepatch). There’s an explicit reference to THE WARRIORS so you know Spike knows what this reminds us of. (Also Luther himself, David Patrick Kelly, is in it.) All of this is presided over by a fourth-wall-breaking narrator played by Samuel L. Jackson wearing fly suits, spinning a cane and reciting toasts and dirty jokes like Dolemite. That’s not just me reading into it, because he’s called Dolmedes and he references Shine and the Signifying Monkey.

Oh, by the way: all of the other characters speak in rhyme also. So that’s pretty different from most movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

School Daze

Monday, June 29th, 2015

tn_schooldazeSCHOOL DAZE is Spike Lee’s sophomore jointational work, and was never one of my favorites from him. But man, looking back at it now I love its youthful exuberance. Here’s 30 year old Spike having access to the studio’s resources for the first time – he goes from a few actors in apartments in black and white to a huge cast on a college campus. He even has a full-on song and dance number. It’s the first example of what I think is one of his weaknesses: his overreach in tackling too many things at once, creating an unfocused and overstuffed narrative. But in this context that’s kinda charming. He’s really goin for it.

Since DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X were Lee’s most culturally recognized movies, certain white people pigeonholed him as a guy who only makes movies about white people being racist. Of course that’s not even a complete description of the content of those two movies, let alone applicable to most of his filmography. And joint #2, just like joint #1, I’m pretty sure doesn’t show a single white person in it. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

She’s Gotta Have It

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

tn_shesgottahaveitrookies-indie“A nice lady doesn’t go humping from bed to bed.”

I think the last time I saw SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT might’ve been in a theater in 1989. I remember when DO THE RIGHT THING came out one of the theaters here did a double feature of this and SCHOOL DAZE. So I was just learning who Spike Lee was and what he was all about.

All this time later it’s kinda crazy to go back to his DIY jointational debut. It’s the work of a young man trying to prove himself, show his style and stretch his budget while also saying something about relationships between men and women. As much as you can anyway when you’re 28 years old.

It’s in black and white. He plays one of the main characters. His sister Joie is in it (which is her doing him a favor, because she gives the most natural performance in the movie). His dad Bill did the score. It’s not about race, and I don’t think there are even any white people in it. And though you could say it started the black film movement that ended up being mostly about gangs and crime (BOYZ N THE HOOD, MENACE II SOCIETY, STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN) it has no guns or fights in it. (The end credits also boast that there were no drugs or jheri curls in the movie.) (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

When We Were Kings

Monday, January 19th, 2015

tn_wwwkIf you were going to build the prototype for the ultimate man, wouldn’t it pretty much be 1974 Muhammad Ali? He’s a badass, a fighter with style. I don’t even really like boxing that much but I love to watch him dance around, swinging his fists so fast. Even Bruce Lee liked to watch him.

He’s handsome in a manly way. He’s charming, eloquent, and funny as hell. His humor is mostly based around making preposterous boasts… but it’s not some Danny McBride overconfidence thing, because he usually delivers. In this movie there’s an interview where he goes into detail about high speed photography and how one of his punches was proven to take only four one hundredths of a second, like a blink or a camera flash, and all this is setup for him to claim “Now, the minute I hit Sonny Liston, all of those people blinked at that moment, that’s why they didn’t see the punch.” A tall tale, but based on a true, provable incident.

Of equal importance, Ali has integrity of the Stickin It To The Man variety. He didn’t believe in the war so he refused to sign up for selective service, knowing it would endanger his career, reputation and freedom, and he held his head high the whole time. And he was outspoken about racism too. And he was right. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

A Huey P. Newton Story

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

tn_hueypnewtonPANTHER reminded me of one of the few Spike Lee movies I hadn’t seen, the 2001 made-for-cable A HUEY P. NEWTON STORY. When it comes to the Spike Lee Jointography there are three categories. There’s the main ones you think about – DO THE RIGHT THING, MALCOLM X, all the way through his recent OLDBOY remake. And sprinkled in between are the documentaries, often made for cable. They’re less widely seen, of course, but really good, movies like FOUR LITTLE GIRLS and WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE. But even rarer than that there’s the performance films. I gotta admit I haven’t gotten to most of these. PASSING STRANGE was one, that’s a Broadway musical. I did see ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY. That was pretty good.

A HUEY P. NEWTON STORY, A SPIKE LEE JOINT is a filmed version of a one-man show that Roger Guenveur Smith did starting in 1996 at the New York theater where Hair started.

I don’t know if you know who Smith is. He’s gotta be best known for playing Smiley in DO THE RIGHT THING, so I’m sure people walk up to him on the street every day and say “M-M-M-Martin. M-M-M-Malcolm.” He’s actually been in several Spike Lee movies, he was on Oz I guess, he was one of the stars of Steven Soderbergh’s improvised lobbyist drama K-Street on HBO. But also he was the bad guy in Seagal’s MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE.

He’s an actor I’ve always liked, but I could understand if you didn’t. He has a very theatrical style. He’s a character actor but he likes to show off. He always carries around a little stick of scenery in his pocket to chew on. MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE is an example of him getting a little loosey goosey with the accents. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Do the Right Thing

Monday, June 30th, 2014

tn_dotherightthingThoughts on DO THE RIGHT THING, 25 years later.

This is still my favorite Spike Lee movie. And I’m a big Spike Lee fan. I mean, I can’t say as big as they get, ’cause I still haven’t seen SHE HATE ME and a couple of the documentaries. I’ve seen everything else though, and I like most of them. I mean – MALCOLM X, CROOKLYN, CLOCKERS, GET ON THE BUS… so many good ones. I know some of you guys are gonna say 25TH HOUR. White people like that one. Including me. I even kinda like GIRL 6. BAMBOOZLED is too much for me though. Or at least at the time it was. Haven’t revisited it. Maybe some day.

I say this because I feel that Spike Lee doesn’t get enough credit as a pioneering and original voice in American cinema. You only see him in the news when he says something stupid, getting mad at Clint for not having enough brothers in his WWII movie or something. I think The Ain’t It Cool News has a social responsibility to mention his name every once in a while just to create the talkback that can remind us how many mush brained racist idiots still exist in the modern world. But there’s not enough discussion of his body of work, his unique style, his influence, his ahead-of-his-timeness. So what if he has a big mouth, if he has a vision to match? (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Oldboy (2013 remake)

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

tn_oldboyBefore I talk about the remake of OLDBOY it’s important that I say I liked the original but only saw it one time 8 years ago. Here’s what I wrote about it then.

In the remake directed by Spike Lee and written by Mark Protosevich (THE CELL, I AM LEGEND), Josh Brolin (THRASHIN’) plays a Nick Nolte character named Joe Doucett. He’s an alcoholic, sexually harassing deadbeat dad and advertising asshole who after a long night of drinking, puking and crying in 1993 meets a woman who takes him to a hotel and when he wakes up he realizes she’s not there and there are no windows or doorknobs. One of those hotel conundrums, you know. And this was before Yelp and shit like that so he couldn’t even give them a bad review. Turns out this is not a normal hotel in that you can’t leave. Someone, for some reason, has locked him in this weird prison. Every day they stick a plate of dumplings and a bottle of vodka through a hatch in the door, but they don’t tell him why he’s here.
(read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.