If you threw Spike Lee’s filmography into a pot and cooked it down, stirring occasionally such that all of the ingredients are thoroughly intermingled, you’d be left with Da 5 Bloods. Lee’s new Netflix joint is nothing if not ambitious, and at its shakiest it does feel composed of variations on ideas he’s had in previous films. Take the war-never-ends framing device of Miracle at St. Anna, the style-and-substance mentality of BlacKkKlansman, the epic scope of Malcolm X, a pinch of the melancholy soul-searching of 25th Hour, a dash of the motley cast of Get on the Bus, and Spike’s secret sauce, of course, that blunt intrusion of American history into an otherwise routine narrative. The last ingredient is always a tough one to swallow, but in Da 5 Bloods its sourness is even more noticeable. As with the final scene of BlacKkKlansman, the dark American past we’re witnessing is often only a few months old.
Bloods as a melting pot of ideas mostly works in its favor, giving heft to a story in which four black veterans of the Vietnam War return to country to retrieve a cache of gold they’d buried decades ago. The changes brought about in those decades have affected each man differently, particularly Paul (Delroy Lindo) and Otis (Clarke Peters). Paul’s now a MAGA-hat-sporting Republican, and from the jump the group’s return to Vietnam sparks radical thoughts in his volatile soul. Otis is still the picture of collectedness he was in wartime, but he’s obviously wearied by how the American political climate seems to be regressing. Flashbacks to Vietnam center around the fifth Blood, unit leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who unites the crew under the idea that its time for black Americans to collect what they’re owed. With the U.S. government’s eternal refusal to pay out, a few million dollars in gold will do in the meantime.
In 2017 The Last Jedi ignited a culture war between lovers of Star Wars on the one side and…well, lovers of Star Wars on the other side. This war was ostensibly borne of debate over the film, praise versus criticism, and there certainly is a battlefront of this war that does engage in genuine discourse over Jedi. There’s another front, of course, comprised mostly of warriors fighting with a willing blindness to the merits or pitfalls of the film as a film; some people just despise Jedi for puerile personal reasons, some just defend it simply because it’s Star Wars. This is the Ultimate First World Problem, such hatred and ire thrown about over the seventh sequel to a space fantasy from 1977. But intentionally or not, a particular faction of “critics” revealed themselves during this war. We’ll call them the Shitboys, because they’re mostly boys and they mostly shit on everything.
The Shitboys are that splinter cell of Jedi-haters that conspired to sink the Rotten Tomatoes score of the film by flooding the internet with bad reviews. They sent death threats to director Rian Johnson from the safety of their mother’s basements. They made cute little petitions that proposed Disney literally remake the movie they just released. Eventually, they shit the same shit over Black Panther, actually claiming that white males were becoming a marginalized group in Hollywood. Once the rest of us stopped laughing/crying and once Panther walked home with billions of dollars and a few Oscars, the Shitboys regrouped and set to work on Captain Marvel:
Hey — it’s Christmas! Let’s go to the movies. Slug some hot chocolate, throw on your wool hat, follow the colored lights strung from tree to tree on the citywide commons to the movie theater or the cinema or the multiplex or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods. I’ll get the tickets, you get the popcorn. What do you want to see? It’s Christmas, remember, so we need something that will encourage our merriment and warm up our capacity for joy. That disqualifies The Revenant. What about Star Wars for the fifth time? What do you mean you saw it again this morning? Why didn’t you invite me? Whatever, just go get the popcorn.
Here we go: a new Tarantino movie. One would think that a brand spankin’ new flick from Tarantino would, if nothing else, be entertaining. It’s Tarantino. This is the diabolical purveyor of histrionic, action-packed jaunts that bleed style and ooze cool, of movies that have banging soundtracks and automatically generate an Academy Award for Christoph Waltz. This is the director that champions violence in film as fun, responding to the masses that claim violence in film is a potentially toxic influence on viewers with a beautifully composed shot of red blood spewing out of a newly-severed neck. Take that! The violence-is-bad point always reminds me of part of the testimony of famed censorship bogeyman William Gaines during the 1954 hearings on the validity of the violent comic books he produced: “Do we think our children are so evil, so simpleminded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?” I picture Tarantino saying that, only with a lot more gesticulation and overeagerness and a lot of “alright, you know, okay?” and a lot of averted glances.
Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
There are ostensibly only a small handful of things that The Voices and Kingsman: The Secret Service have in common. Both are 2014 releases with a satirical vibe that sometimes plays as downright cartoony. Both are Rated-R violent. Both played on a recent transatlantic flight that I took. They’re both movies, too, and both star actors and actresses and have titles made up of letters. The fact that Voices and Kingsman both exist is their greatest commonality, although it’s not necessarily something you’re particularly happy about once you realize that all of these other really good movies — hey, they exist too.
And therein lies the actual thread linking Voices to Kingsman. The former stars Ryan Reynolds as a meek little manchild with an odd little habit of talking to his pets. He hears their voices in his head, and he and his cat and his dog have some rollicking conversations. Oh, yeah, and he also has a penchant for killing people and chopping them up, too. Kingsman is a spy flick that might be a spy spoof, following a young lad named Eggsy as he’s initiated into a secret service of super-suave sleeper scouts. Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, but the show is stolen by his mentor figure Galahad, played by Colin Firth. In both cases we have pretty solid cast at hand. And in both cases nearly every single one of them is slumming it.
What’s your favorite shot from Goodfellas? I know, I know. It’s like asking which of your children you love the most. The sheer rewatchability of the seminal mafia film is largely due to the intimate composition of each shot, the flow of one into the next, the exhilarating pace of it all. Goodfellas arguably has more flashy camerawork than any other Martin Scorsese film, but it never feels out of place or discordant with the story. It helped that the Director of Photography was the legendary Michael Ballhaus, a cinematographer who worked frequently with Scorsese. In fact, it helped that pretty much everyone on the production was at the top of their game.
So the time has come: the pick of the litter, the crème de la crème, the nonpareil of Goodfellas shots. There’s the slow-mo Tommy Gun shot, the red-lit trunk shot, the explosion as Young Henry dashes into the foreground. There’s The One Where Samuel L. Jackson’s Stacks Gets Shot Out of Nowhere. Guns are pointed directly at the camera twice, and either time could qualify for short odds in this cinematography round robin.
There’s the Vertigo shot, one of the more drawn-out examples of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous camera trick:
Matt: Remember the Titans director Boaz Yakin got his start with Fresh, a 1994 film about a 12-year-old drug dealer caught in a bad cycle with bad people. Young Fresh is a quiet kid living in a loud world. The housing project where his family lives is packed with people, and out on the street it seems sex and violence won’t leave him alone either. There’s a realness to Fresh that you don’t often see in coming-of-age tales, an earnestness that makes the movie seem less like the idealistic Titans and more like a David Gordon Green film. Fresh’s escape from the prostitutes, dealers and gangster-wannabes comes in the form of his estranged father (Samuel L. Jackson), who plays chess with Fresh every week. Sean Nelson, the 13-year-old kid who plays Fresh, turns in some amazing scenes with the veteran Jackson; their relationship is the core of the film, though the rest of that noise keeps encroaching on their meditative matches. As a whole, the blend of real-world urgency and sincere emotion makes Fresh compelling, distinctive and — sorry — refreshing.
Maybe the lasting symbols of the 1990s are different for everyone, but as far as movies go there’s an uncomplicated formula: we either remember a movie because it’s great or we remember a movie because it absolutely sucks. The vast majority fall in the middle, films that might have been passable at the time but are ultimately forgettable because, hey, look, Dunkaroos. Did you see that movie? No, I was too busy trading six Warheads for a gel pen and beating the hell out of my siblings with Sock’em Boppers with a sweatshirt tied around my waist. But what a time the mid-’90s was for movies that were just straight-up fun — like Space Jam, Home Alone, Men in Black, Independence Day, Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Flubber, every other Robin Williams movie. And what a time it was for movies that were just straight-up awful — like Kiss of Death.
Admittedly, this is not a movie I remember from childhood as being spectacularly bad. It came and went and I never watched it or even heard of it until recently, engrossed at the time in Goosebumps books and Outkast (Say Cheese and Die! was my jam, Outkast still is). But the first ten minutes of Kiss of Death brought ’90s nostalgia rushing back — the good kind, not the O.J. Simpson kind — in such a way that it felt like this just might be one of those terrible, laughably overacted ’90s action flicks that, were I a few years older, I might have remembered as one of those terrible, laughably overacted ’90s action flicks. In lieu of entering the abyss of nitpicking that would result from a look at the entire movie, let’s just take those first ten minutes.
Nothing says “happy holidays” like an incredibly violent, utterly vulgar, yet strangely comedic look at slavery and racism in the Antebellum South. Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort has garnered exceptional critical support, seeming to morph together styles and tones from three of his previous cinematic achievements: Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds. The scope of the film is quite epic, occurring over months in various Southern states, yet it in no way takes itself too seriously. Instead, Django is extremely humorous and several of its minute details, when given closer examination, actually seem rather bizarre, almost finding itself belonging to the Wes Anderson genre of film. While dealing with a very serious topic and maintaining an ethically appropriate opinion of said topic, Djano truly reels in its audience with its Oscar-winning dialogue and impeccable acting. The film may seem controversial to some, but anyone really paying attention will easily be able to understand the stance the film is taking.
The film has a subtle but significant Reservoir vibe to it. The plot is intricate and well thought-out; dramatic irony (when one or more characters are aware of something that others are not privy to) is abundant; and there is even a particular scene in Django that is a directorial parallel to a different scene in Dogs. Let’s discuss the similarity in complexity of the plot. These movies are no rivals to Inception when it comes to complex storytelling, nor are they trying to be, but they do certainly contain these types of elements. Dogs places a police officer undercover in the mafia, thus tricking the mafiosos into believing that he is one of them. Django places an African American in the fourth largest slave plantation in Mississippi, posing as an expert in the well-regarded field of Mandingo fighting; in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, no less. This similarity simultaneously explains both the intricacy of the plot and the abundance of dramatic irony. And then there are the scenes using the slow-motion walk. If you do not recall what I am talking about, you now have an excuse to go rewatch these fantastic films.