Here’s a story I may or may not have told before. It takes place on February 28, 2001. A few minutes before 11 am there was a 6.8 earthquake epicentered in the southern Puget Sound. I was at work and I saw some shelves wobble and a few things fall down, but nothing serious. Downtown there was some damage – some vehicles got crushed by falling bricks, and I remember a couple clubs where bands used to play in Pioneer Square (OK Hotel and Fenix Underground) were wrecked enough they went out of business. I called my roommate at home to make sure none of my stuff broke, and he made fun of me.
After work I went to Pacific Place to see this movie MONKEYBONE. All the advertising looked cheesy, but I was hoping it might be interesting because it was from Henry Selick, the director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Unfortunately the advertising was pretty accurate. I remember a couple times during the movie something playing on a bordering screen made a loud rumble that vibrated the whole row I was sitting in. I thought about the three escalators I took up through the mall to get to the theater, and the fourth escalator inside the theater that goes up to the floor where this one was showing, and I thought, “That’s an aftershock, and the building is gonna collapse, and I’m gonna die watching fucking MONKEYBONE.” (read the rest of this shit…)
Yes it’s true, comic book super heroes hold too much of a monopoly on movies and television right now. I agree, we get it, but also I enjoy the genre. And of all the ongoing super hero franchises the one I get most excited about is Batman.
Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN was a foundational movie for me, and I believe it kicked off the first real era of comic book movies, since SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE didn’t have many riding its coattails. I don’t think it could’ve happened with another character. There was something about the zeitgeist at that time, that the world was ready to see Batman on screen, and the marketing ingeniously took advantage of that. More importantly, the specific psychological and visual qualities of the “dark” Super Friend and his evil clown nemesis attracted Burton and gave him a weirdly perfect canvas on which to fuse his particular talents with blockbuster filmmaking, and create something that felt simultaneously of our past and completely new.
Because that was the first one, a distinct, stylized look was an expected element of comic book movies throughout the ‘90s, paving the way for the likes of DICK TRACY, THE CROW, TANK GIRL… I’d even throw in gaudier digital age ones like SPAWN and THE MASK for at least having their own looks. And Burton’s followup, BATMAN RETURNS, is still one of the most beautiful looking comic book movies to date. It only makes sense, being adaptations of an illustrated medium, but it’s a tradition somewhat neglected in the era of shared universes and realistic CG. I think THE BATMAN is one of the ones that brings it back. It looks stunning, and completely unlike other movies of the same genre, or even about the same character. (read the rest of this shit…)
It used to be that August was a time for studios to release a bunch of movies they thought were bad or didn’t have high expectations for. You know, they release ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and T2 early in the summer, hoping young people and families will go repeatedly throughout the summer. Once it gets closer to school starting up again there’s less chance for that, so that’s why in the year in question we were seeing weird rooster cartoons and weird dog cartoons and weird dog live action movies and weird Mickey Rourke movies.
Many things in the world of pop culture were shifting that month. While on the Lollapalooza tour, long-time goth fixtures Siouxsie and the Banshees actually actually made it onto the Billboard charts for “Kiss Them For Me.” (By the next summer they’d have a song in a Batman movie.) Pearl Jam released their first album. LaKeith Stanfield was born. But also Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” love theme from ROBIN HOOD was still the #1 song!
This particular August ended with kind of a whimper – CHILD’S PLAY 3 (still the weakest Chucky movie four sequels later) was released on the 30th. But I thought I should end this review series on the August 21, 1991 release that happens to be one of the weirdest but also best regarded movies of the season. If I had to compare it to another ’91 movie I’d have to say it reminds me most of THE DARK BACKWARD, of all things. Well, and I case some fire stunts reminded me of BACKDRAFT. But those are stretches. This one stands alone. (read the rest of this shit…)
JUNGLE FEVER is five films and five years into the career of Spike Lee. You have the financed-on-credit-cards debut SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, the polished studio debut SCHOOL DAZE, the explosion of DO THE RIGHT THING, the follow up MO’ BETTER BLUES, and then this. Like all of his movies it’s interesting and bold and full of greatness but in my opinion, especially in retrospect, it’s his first fumble. That’s fine. He did MALCOLM X next.
It is the story of possibly the most only-Spike-Lee-would-ever-name-a-character-this character of all time, Flipper Purify, played by Wesley Snipes, who had been in Lee’s MO’ BETTER BLUES and was coming off of the success of NEW JACK CITY. He’s an upper class architect, living in Harlem with his wife Drew (Lonette McKee, BREWSTER’S MILLIONS, ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT), and things seem to be going well from the hot morning sex that opens the movie (the sounds of which greatly amuse their daughter Ming [Veronica Timbers]). (read the rest of this shit…)
I remember thinking of HE GOT GAME as a slightly under-the-radar Spike Lee joint, but I think it’s become pretty well known over the years. It’s just that it’s in that middle period where he still seemed to have clout but the cultural excitement around him was on a slow, inevitable decline after touching the sun in 1992 with MALCOLM X.
With CLOCKERS and GET ON THE BUS he got increasingly experimental with his style, switching between different film stocks and handheld cameras in energetic ways that I always thought were influenced by Homicide: Life on the Street. HE GOT GAME is a uniquely stylish film that seems more inspired by slick commercials and sports show intros. The story is about the ugly, exploitative side of college athletics, but the style is all about worshiping basketball as the great American sport.
Two credits give you an idea of Lee’s lofty approach: “Music: Aaron Copland. Songs: Public Enemy.” The musical score is built from the sweeping 1940s “populist” style orchestral pieces by, as Lee puts it on the commentary track, “the great American composer from Brooklyn, New York.” Pieces used include “Our Town,” “Lincoln Portrait” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The latter has been used in sports broadcasts and Navy ads, it has played on Space Shuttles and inspired the scores for both SUPERMAN and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. It was originally composed upon America’s entry into WWII. Copland considered the titles “Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony” and “Fanfare for Four Freedoms” before using a term he heard in a speech by Vice President Henry A. Wallace. These are reverent Americana anthems for the pursuit of happiness and amber waves of grain and all that. (read the rest of this shit…)
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…)
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…)
After their disagreement over DOMINO, my eyeballs and Tony Scott’s movies weren’t speaking to each other for years. But UNSTOPPABLE was okay and then the poor guy died and my eyeballs started to feel kinda bad and got nostalgic for all the good times of TRUE ROMANCE and CRIMSON TIDE and all that, and they finally saw REVENGE and they liked that quite a bit. You know, maybe if they had known what was coming they could’ve patched things up like N.W.A. did when Eazy E was dying. But that just wasn’t the way it worked out. It’s too bad.
Anyway I got caught in the middle of that beef and that’s why I skipped PELHAM 123 until now. Plus I really like the original and thought (well, knew) it could only suffer from updating. (read the rest of this shit…)
Finally the truth can be told. Because you know what? We have the right to know.
Not to brag or anything, but I always thought the official story behind this Nutcracker business was a bunch of bullshit. I mean, how naive can you be? And I knew the truth had to get out eventually. It was only a matter of time. Thank you, Freedom of Information Act.
Here, at last, is Tchaikovsky’s music and the associated Mouse King story (no credit for E.T.A. Hoffman) adapted into non-ballet, special-effects-laden movie form. This unexplainable Christmas fantasy mess was released theatrically in 2010 as THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D. It was directed and co-written by Andrey Konchalovskiy (RUNAWAY TRAIN, THE LION IN WINTER). I read that it was a dream project he’d tried to make for over 20 years, which would mean he started dreaming about it around the time he did TANGO & CASH. But on the making-of extra he said he’d been working on it since 1969. I wonder in which decade he lost track of why the hell he was doing it?
note: this review is excessively long and convoluted and takes forever to get to the point, but only as a clever form-is-an-extension-of-content type reference to the movie it describes, in my opinion. Unfortunately I could never match the feel of the movie no matter how hard I tried. It’s like when some asshole reviews a Dr. Seuss movie in rhymes or some shit like that.
My friends, we have lost. Michael Bay has defeated us. First he invaded the shores of the genre we hold most dear. He brought us gifts of explosions, while behind our backs he robbed us of the very language of geography and context we use to communicate what is exploding and who or what is endangered by said explosion. Then he confiscated our property, buying up our favorite low budget horror classics to rebuild as slick, soul-less product – just to crush our spirits. And now he has completely subjugated us. (read the rest of this shit…)
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