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Tag: Spike Lee

Reviews

Review: Da 5 Bloods

June 27, 2020

The latest “Spike Lee Joint” could not have come at a more apt time. With the Black Lives Matter movement calling for justice and diversity, and a global pandemic meaning most people are stuck watching Netflix.

“We fought in an immoral war that wasn’t ours for rights we didn’t have”

Da 5 Bloods tells the story of ageing Vietnam veterans, Paul, Otis, Eddie and Melvin, as they return to modern-day Vietnam. They arrive to bring back the remains of their fallen leader, Norman, as well as the gold they buried. While the Bloods are the central characters, most of the focus is put on Paul and Otis. Paul, suffering from severe PTSD and wearing a MAGA hat, has had the hardest time adjusting to civilian life. While Otis has an old flame he reconnects with in Vietnam. Melvin and Eddie get less development, but the camaraderie of the four is excellent, as they do elaborate handshakes and have in-jokes. Norman, the fifth member is presented as an almost mythical figure, described as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Although he only appears in flashbacks, the loss they feel without him is clear.

Chadwick Boseman's "Stormin' Norman"
Chadwick Boseman’s “Stormin’ Norman” has a huge presence, despite being dead for decades (Netlix, 2020)

 The group are first reunited in modern-day Vietnam, a stark contrast to the usual depiction and how they remember it. The culture clash is even more jarring after the opening, which uses real-world footage about the war and black people’s struggles at the time (many of which are still present today). Just as things are settled, there is a grim reminder that, while time has passed, the war hasn’t ended for everyone. The film does a great job at exploring this theme, despite the aspect ratio and grainy footage, the characters remain the same age in flashbacks. No recasting or de-ageing ala The Irishman. It shows how they feel they haven’t changed since the war, as well as highlighting the tragedy of Norman being killed as a young man.

“After you’ve been in a war, you understand it never really ends”

Delroy Lindo
Delroy Lindo’s performance as Paul is one of the films biggest strengths (Netflix 2020)

The film is at it’s best during these moments, a simple interaction at a marketplace causing Paul to have a panic attack. Or a prankster setting off firecrackers meaning all four of them dive to the floor. It’s clear that despite the passage of time, they’ve never really forgotten. Paul’s support of Trump is implied to be a direct cause of the war, having spent so long being told people who look different are the enemy. This distrust extends to Vinh, the Vietnamese guide taking them to the jungle, whose family thought for the Viet-Cong. Like BlacKkKlansmen it makes use of real-world footage, here flashing footage of the horrors and figures of the Vietnam war. While these are quite jarring and distract from the film, they are incredibly effective. It’s one thing to hear about something but another to actually see it.

Unfortunately, the film does start to lose steam around the hour mark as it switches gears. Having found the gold, the veterans have to survive long enough to keep it. Becoming more of an Indiana Jones-style adventure film than, the Vietnam character study it was before. The film doesn’t totally abandon the themes, with Delroy Lindo delivering some exceptional monologues to the camera as Paul wanders the jungle alone, unable to trust anyone. While the action scenes are well done, they grow stale towards the end and are far less interesting than the psychological battles being fought. The film is also a touch too long, coming in at two and a half hours.

Final Verdict

An effective and important tale that tackles it’s themes head on. Although things become unfocused in the later half, it is still a worthy watch, with a powerful perfomance from Delroy Lindo and some execellent uses of Marvin Gaye. It’s a shame the second act doesn’t hit as hard as it should, but it sticks the landing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Also Read: BlackKklansman (Review)

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Reviews

Review: BlacKkKlansman

September 7, 2018

I went into BlacKkKlansman not quite knowing what to expect.

It’s hard to judge from the movie poster exactly what type of movie you’re going to see. Is it some sort of bizarre, slightly-misguided comedy? Could anyone really try making a movie about a black man joining the Ku Klux Klan and produce something with any shred of solemnity?

Turns out, Spike Lee can.

The premise

BlacKkKlansman conveys the real-life (yes, this ACTUALLY happened) account of Ron Stallworth who, in the late 1970s, became the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth starts off in the records room before transferring to undercover at his own request after being racially abused by another officer (and likely others). During his first assignment, he attends a rally featuring civil rights leader Kyame Ture and meets Patrice Dumas, president of the black student union at Colorado College, in whom he immediately develops a romantic interest.

After the rally, Stallworth switches to the intelligence division, where he notices an advertisement in the local paper offering the chance to join the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth calls the number listed in the ad and pretends to be a racist, anti-Semitic white man, convincing the chapter leader Walter Breachway to meet him. In order to infiltrate the Klan, Stallworth recruits Flip Zimmerman, his Jewish co-worker, to act as him when meeting Klan members face-to-face. Together, Stallworth and Zimmerman begin a dangerous undercover investigation into the Klan that becomes increasingly menacing with each passing minute in the film.

Expert craftsmanship

The acting in this film is superb. Stallworth is played by David John Washington (son of Denzel) who strikes a delicate and mesmerising balance between humour and stony seriousness. He’s an excellent, believable protagonist with a realistic agenda.

Adam Driver (I still can’t not see him as Kylo Ren) plays Flip Zimmerman and gives a typically brooding performance that draws you in from the get-go. Every scene in which he’s playing the Ron Stallworth character in the presence of the KKK members is horrendously tense and impossible to look away from. I found myself quite literally on the edge of my seat in the cinema, which doesn’t happen often.

Supporting players in the film include Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas (and a strong female lead), Ryan Eggold as Walter Beachway, Jasper Pääkkönen as the I’m-going-to-kill-you-at-any-moment Felix Kendrickson, the wonderful, casually sinister Topher Grace as David Duke, and Alec Baldwin in a brief but hilarious cameo role. No-one in this film feels underused or two-dimensional, and the chemistry between the actors is palpable.

Spike Lee, of course, does an impeccable job turning this almost-implausible story into the viewing experience that is BlacKkKlansman. Jordan Peele (Get Out) brought the story to his attention and he evidently ran full-tilt with it, forging a slow-burning atmosphere with long takes, pinpoint mise en scène and costume design, and carefully-executed depth in every shot (kudos to cinematographer Chayse Irvin) to transport you convincingly back into the late 70s.

The final scenes of this movie, however, will jolt you back into 2018 and provide a shocking reminder of the current state of our world, especially the US. I won’t say any more than that, but be prepared.

The Bottom Line

This is a movie you have to see. It’s not always comfortable viewing (not that it ever pretends to be) but it’s wildly entertaining from start to finish. Spike Lee has produced a masterpiece that’s expertly laced with themes of racism, violence and injustice that are all too relevant in modern-day America.

And it’s my first five-star review.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)