Vietnam vets return to their old warzone to unearth the remains of a comrade and a cache of gold.
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, and Chadwick Boseman
Review by Jon Kissel
Spike Lee’s been a professor at NYU for going on three decades and the boundaries between his teaching job and his directing job fully melt down in Da 5 Bloods. Lee treats his 24th film like it’s his first, greedily cramming it with endless references and ideas, both contemporary and historical, at the cost of realistic characters having human conversations. Uneven throughout its entirety and within individual scenes, this is one of my least favorite works from a director with a lot of greatness to his name. I just wish he’d get an apparent case of late-onset ADHD under control.
Into the canon of movies that could only be directed by a black person, we welcome Juice. This film requires a level of lived-in experience, sure, but it also takes such wild and potentially stereotypic swings with its characters, that a white director taking those same swings would generate a lot of controversy. As the directorial debut of Ernest Dickerson, Spike Lee’s former classmate and cinematographer, Juice starts as one movie and becomes something wildly different. Though both halves work independent of each other, the connective thread uniting the two is frayed and weak. Perhaps most notable for serving as the acting debut of Tupac Shakur, Juice contains a lot of promise both in front of and behind the camera, but it needed the most work on the page.
Selma, along with its structural cousin Lincoln, have cracked the biopic code. Take a single event or effort in a historical figure's life and focus only on that. No thematically resonant childhood, no old-age makeup, no single trigger for a lifetime of psychological distress. Just a well-characterized man or woman struggling against entrenched interests for a couple months. Director Ava Duvernay has not only taken Lincoln’s realpolitik approach to the social justice cause, but she’s also sculpted Selma to this end, eschewing clunky scenes in which 6-year-old Martin Luther King is called a racial slur for lived-in scenes of backslapping revelry between MLK and his compatriots over a potluck buffet. Her film makes the great man a recognizable person and not a sainted abstraction, while also constructing a visceral recreation of the march on Selma.
Uncut Gems was one of the more important and notable movies from 2019, and I would usually write an appropriately lengthy review in correlation with all the professional ink that was spilled on it, but I am unfamiliar with the autosave feature on the latest version of MS Office and the 1000+ words I wrote earlier this evening somehow disappeared. I’m too irritated to recreate that review, so this is going to be shorter than usual. That kind of mishap, however, seems appropriate for Uncut Gems, a comedy of errors where things keep going wrong for its nigh-intolerable protagonist, diamond district denizen Howard Ratner. Played by Adam Sandler in one of his groundhog-esque displays of acting ability, poking his head up out of the David Spade/Kevin James dirt to remind everyone of his talent, Howard tests the limits of my empathy. Saddled with a compulsive illness that he would characterize as ‘how he wins,’ Howard is so reckless and dangerous that he devalues every character in the film that chooses to spend time with or around him. Anyone who doesn’t run screaming from this guy is an abysmal judge of character.
A surprisingly appropriate movie for the immediate moment, Blue Chips scratches the surface of an exploitative and racially divided system, but falls into a familiar trap. The great William Friedkin can’t direct a film that contains the backing of the NCAA and fully indict the system it profits from. Blue Chips is plagued by half measures, doubly so because it’s apparent what the film wants to say and pulls its punches anyway. That’s not to say that there isn’t an entertaining film here. Friedkin gets plenty of mileage out of a cast loaded with non-professionals, while also turning Nick Nolte loose for a wild performance in the lead. Blue Chips gets the feel of the thing that it’s about correct, even if it doesn’t analyze it as sharply as it could.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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