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…)
CUT THROAT CITY may be the capital of CUTTHROAT ISLAND, I’m not sure, but the one I’m here to write about is the crime film set in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and it’s the latest directorial effort of The RZA.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this to you guys before, but I think Wesley Snipes is really good as the character of “Blade” in the movie BLADE and also the movie BLADE II and even the movie BLADE’S TRINITY. On the occasion of the character’s impending arrival in the MCU (Marvel’s Cinematical Universe), but now played by a different guy, the websight Polygon recruited me to put into words why Wesley’s version will be hard to match.
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a dream come true – topnotch director, writers and cast making a beautiful, warm, well produced triumph-of-the-underdog epic about Rudy Ray Moore, the small time club singer who reinvented himself by selling dirty comedy records out of the trunk of his car and then strutting his way into independent filmmaking. The script is by kings of the oddball biopic Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski (THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, MAN ON THE MOON, The People vs. O.J. Simpson) and it’s got a whole lot in common with their best film, ED WOOD. It’s another story about an L.A. misfit perceived as a failure who, through tenacity and lack of self consciousness, puts together a family of people to will their silly, awesome dreams into reality.
ED WOOD glorifies people whose work was and continues to be made fun of, arguing that the passion and personality behind these works imbues them with an artistic purity and value that they hadn’t previously been given credit for. Moore and friends work with a similar scrappily amateurish zeal, but they in fact made a hit movie that, at least in some parts, was intended to be laughed at. So the happy ending in this one is real! (read the rest of this shit…)
Ever since the unlikely series of events that turned UNDISPUTED into one of today’s greatest action franchises, I’ve tried to better appreciate Walter Hill’s 2002 prison boxing drama that started it all. In my review from fifteen years ago I called it “asinine” and generally had a bad attitude toward it without really giving a strong argument for why. Over the years I’ve rewatched it a few times and though I always think it’s decent, it never quite clicks for me. I can’t say that’s entirely changed on this viewing, but I definitely liked it more than on previous viewings.
So I did it! I better appreciated it!
The story is about a humble toothpick-model-builder and convicted murderer named Monroe Hutchen (Wesley Snipes, MONEY TRAIN) who’s just minding his own business being the undefeated champion of a secret prison boxing league when suddenly the actual heavyweight champion of professional boxing, George “The Iceman” Chambers (Ving Rhames, THE TOURNAMENT) gets locked up there. And it’s like having both a Jason and a Freddy out there in the universe – eventually, one way or another, these two are gonna have to end up pitting their skills against each other so we can see who wins. After all, the legendary mobster Mendy Ripstein (Peter Falk, PRONTO) is in there too and he’s a passionate connoisseur of the sweet science, he’s not gonna let it not happen. (read the rest of this shit…)
“You obviously do not know who you are fucking with!”
On one hand, it’s hard to believe that BLADE II was fifteen damn years ago. I mean – I reviewed it when it came out. And I’d already been around for a few years. Am I really that old? On the other hand, an awful lot has changed since the movie came out.
Let’s start with Wesley Snipes (“Blade”). He made a part 3, had a falling out with the writer, they made a Blade TV show without him, he got relegated to DTV, got busted for tax evasion, did time, got out, now is sort of back and still the Man and hopefully will achieve more greatness. Guillermo del Toro (director) became better known and beloved for his specific visual style and obsessions, was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for PAN’S LABYRINTH, continued to alternate between Spanish language art films and Hollywood productions, but never did a for-hire gig again, unless you count THE HOBBIT, which he toiled on for a few years before quitting. David S. Goyer (writer) directed part 3, co-wrote Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy and went on to mastermind the DC movie universe, as if trying to earn the extreme hatred many comic fans had long held for him for some reason. Donnie Yen (martial arts choreographer, “Snowman”) had a huge career resurgence at home in Hong Kong, particularly with the IP MAN series, and recently finally had success in English language movies playing the best characters in ROGUE ONE and xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Norman Reedus (“Scud”) also became a geek icon by playing Daryl on The Walking Dead, as did Ron Perlman (“Reinhardt”) by reteaming with del Toro to play Hellboy in two live action films and two animated (plus starring in many seasons of Sons of Anarchy). Luke Goss (“Jared Nomak”) was a former pop star from the boy band Bros who had been in a few movies. This breakthrough role led to playing the elf equivalent of Nomak in del Toro’s HELLBOY 2 and eventually being a frequent face of DTV, including starring as Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2 and 3. Matt Schulze (“Chupa”) – okay, he didn’t become a big thing, but to me he’s an icon because he’s the villain in Seagal’s OUT OF REACH and Vince in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and FAST FIVE.
Maybe more notably than any of this, the techniques del Toro pioneered to combine live action stunts with animated doubles for super-powered fights and camera moves evolved into the modern style of comic book action (and blockbusters in general). His smart ways of adding digital effects to practical ones have also been influential. Getting a genuine visionary to do the sequel to a movie like BLADE is one of those things you always wish for as a movie fan but shouldn’t hold your breath for. This time you could’ve, though. It happened. (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…)
Before there was such a thing as Marvel Comics movies, there was BLADE.
Technically it wasn’t the first Marvel movie. It was the fourth. But nobody would’ve expected Marvel Comics to take over the movie business the way they have now. There had been the infamous flop HOWARD THE DUCK in 1986, and a few low rent b-action movies: THE PUNISHER starring Dolph Lundgren in 1989, then Albert Pyun’s DTV movie of CAPTAIN AMERICA in 1990. A Roger Corman production of FANTASTIC FOUR had been made in 1994 merely to extend the movie rights to the characters; it was never released, and the negatives have since been destroyed. I still kinda like THE PUNISHER, but until BLADE came along in 1998 none of these really connected with audiences, and there was no reason to think they would. James Cameron and Golan & Globus had an equal amount of success in trying to make a Spider-man movie, and Marvel had gone bankrupt.
Let’s be honest, most of us never heard of a Blade before the movie. He came from the ’70s series Tomb of Dracula, part of a team of Dracula-hunters made up of descendants of Mina Harker, Abraham Van Helsing and Dracula himself. He wore a red leather jacket and green pants and spoke what creator Marv Wolfman later admitted was “cliche ‘Marvel Black’ dialogue.” But screenwriter David S. Goyer was a fan of the character when New Line Cinema, inspired by the success of FRIDAY, wanted to do a black super hero movie.
At the time it was easier to compare to other vampire movies. Anne Rice style romantic bloodsuckers had dominated the image of the subgenre since at least the movie version of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE in 1994, and BLADE was part of a pushback that included FROM DUSK TILL DAWN two years before and John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES two months after, all reminding audiences how much fun these creatures could be as vicious monsters that need to be exterminated. Each has their own version of the rules and their own leather-clad hunters with weapons made from silver, garlic, holy water or wood, but only BLADE (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then two seasons in) treated it as an opportunity for martial arts. (read the rest of this shit…)
CHI-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.
In MONEY TRAIN that legendary comedy duo of Wesley and Woody play John and Charlie, brothers who are both New York City transit cops who play by their own rules. They get into fist fights with other cops (for example over the fatal shooting of a guy who only snatched a chain), Woody has a gambling addiction, and when they chase a suspect onto the tracks it slows down the train that delivers the apparently millions of dollars of subway fare, getting them on the shit list of Captain Patterson (Robert Blake, Our Gang).
Then they get assigned a new partner. Somebody who’s uptight and doesn’t like their methods, right? No, actually she’s really cool, works well with them and even hangs out with them at the bar after work. The trouble is she’s Jennifer Lopez, so they fight over her.