Tag Archives: Spike Lee

Oscar Bait – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom / Da 5 Bloods

Title: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Director: George C. Wolfe
Year: 2020
Country: USA

I’m going to be honest – going into this film I didn’t have the highest hopes. I didn’t rate Chadwick Boseman’s acting in Black Panther (the only film of his I’ve seen) and I really did not like FencesIn the first twenty minutes, which was mostly made up of the posturing of the band members and proving their masc, I had real fears about this movie – then it began to sing.

By the end, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom managed to completely turn my opinions. Boseman was mesmerizing and deserves all the nominations he is getting. Sure, the film is pretty much shot like a carbon copy of a play in places – to the point where I am not entirely sure how much ‘adapting’ there has been to the screenplay – but in many places it really does work.

This was never going to be a film to win it on direction and screenplay, but as a production piece with great music, costuming and stunning performances by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis (then again, when has she turned out anything other than star quality) keep you going right until the end. As much as I love Davis, this film belongs to Boseman – whose monologues and mercurial words are nothing short than masterful.

Title: Da 5 Bloods
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 2020
Country: USA

It only made sense to put the two films together that have been pushing for posthumous nominations for Chadwick Boseman. Where I am totally on board with his powerhouse performance in Ma Rainey, I really do not see why he is in contention in Da 5 Bloods other than it being a posthumous nomination. True, his character hangs over the whole film as this is the story of four Vietnam veterans returning to find their lost friend’s remains and the gold they buried long ago, but unlike Amanda Seyfried in Mank or Mahershala Ali in Moonlight – it’s not like you are itching to see them back on screen.

That aside, big props have to be made to Delroy Lindo who is the best leading performance I have seen in a 2020 film so far. Sure, he is unlikable and does awful things like desert his son who has just been shot in the leg – but my word this is how you do a portrayal of a man still dealing with PTSD and who has gone for years without getting help and has ended up as a Trump supporter.

In some ways I see some degree of kinship between Da 5 Bloods and the classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in terms of the treasure hunt and the inherent futility of such a venture. Of course, with this being a Spike Lee film, there is a more current political message – specifically about black empowerment and ending on Black Lives Matters. I only hope that this message becomes tired and out of date as soon as possible.

XL Popcorn – She’s Gotta Have It

This is the first film post I’ve written since the 1001 book was updated in early October 2019. Usually I luck out and end up with being able to been the numbers in my progress bar the same, but this time that didn’t happen. So that’s why the number has jumped between this post and the last one I did for the 1001 list.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 781/1007Title: She’s Gotta Have It
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 1986
Country: USA

I was going to watch this on my tablet on the plane ride back from Seoul, but I got distracted by some actual Korean movies so I ended up just catching it on regular Netflix at home as I tucked into a KFC bucket for one. Makes for a bit of a pathetic image, but this is what happens when a cinephile is home alone for the first time in a few months.

This is the third Spike Lee that I’ve seen and, since the last one I saw was his most recent, it makes it all the more interesting that I am now watching his feature debut when he was very much part of the independent film scene. The by-product of this is that She’s Gotta Have It lacks polish and, for some of people involved, decent acting. It made for a bit of a wild start of the movie for me where I instantly regretted pressing play.

The film managed to win me over though, and in the end it was kinda nice to have a film that felt a bit more informal. Sure, there were times where it started disappearing up itself, but on the whole this was interesting to see Spike Lee’s origins and him poking a bit of fun at himself in the role that he gave himself.

In the end, this film is all about choices and their consequences be it for good or for ill. The central character’s big choice being whether to stay true to herself and continue her journey exploring her female sexuality or to settle down with one of the three men she is currently seeing. The fact that one of them rapes her and she then chooses him is incredibly problematic, but at least she ousts him in the end in order to continue her journey. Given the light-hearted nature of the film up to the rape scene I had a really bad feeling at the message that Lee was going to leave us with – thankfully it’s ultimately one of being true to yourself but that was still rough to see.

She’s Gotta Have It made for the first in a rather strange double bill this evening. What film did I end up pairing this with just because I had it to hand? Well, that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Oscar Bait – Bohemian Rhapsody / BlacKkKlansman

Title: Bohemian Rhapsody
Director: Bryan Singer
Year: 2018
Country: USA

The Academy are a mysterious beast. Scratch that, awards season is a mysterious beast. Acclaimed films like First Man, If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? get scraps and then there’s Bohemian Rhapsody with it’s middling-to-negative reviews and a more-than-problematic director… that somehow gets a nomination.

I’ve mentioned before about my complicated feelings about Queen, which means that I am most definitely not their target demographic. However, it does have the benefit of my being able to watch this purely as a movie and not be won over by the frequent clips of the Queen discography. Stripped of that, this movie is very much a paint-by-numbers biopic that takes timeline liberties and sanitizes a subject for mass appeal.

In the end, this gets by on Rami Malik acting his socks off (although, at times, it feels like something more out of Saturday Night Live than an award-winning film). Divorced of this performance and a liking for the music of Queen, then Bohemian Rhapsody is a bad film plain and simple. However, so many people love Queen which would go a long way to explain the massive divide in critical and public opinion. Will it win? No, but Malik might pick up Best Actor if Singer’s recent child sex allegations don’t damage his chances.

Title: BlacKkKlansman
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 2018
Country: USA

It’s unusual for there to be multiple films in the running for Best Picture that are already playing on the movie channels or have already been released on DVD. This year’s nominees have been a treasure trove for this and have allowed me to watch three of the films from the comfort of my own sofa in the company of a stuffed walrus.

BlacKkKlansman is one of those films that I was so happy to see nominated for the Oscar. Not only did it give me a proper excuse to prioritise it over watching movies on the 1001 list, but it gave Spike Lee an overdue nomination for Best Director. Also, it’s one of the few nominees that I was actually interested to watch – especially because it’s based on a ridiculous, but true, story about an African-American cop who infiltrated the KKK.

Despite being set in 1972 (although the events of the film actually happened 7 years later), Lee ensures that we as viewers understand the timelessness of the messages of his film. He makes a lot of effort to hammer home the atmosphere of racism that was (and still is) prevalent in areas of America. He does this not just with the members of the KKK, but also members of the police. This is also tied into misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia – but racism is the main issue of the film.

Some of the messages are very on the nose, especially when you think of the pre-selection that will occur of people who would want to see this film, but these are the times we live in. The ending sequence where he plays real footage of neo-Nazi marches and how Trump apologizes for them is remarkably chilling; the final footage depicting the death of protester Heather Heyer being particularly harrowing.

It’s weird to think that a film like BlacKkKlansman, which depicts so much darkness, has so many comedic moments. Then again, it would be hard to watch if it wasn’t for those moments. Sometimes the switching between tones gives a bit of whiplash, but for the most part it’s done well. It’s also worth heaping praise on both John David Washington and Adam Driver for their roles – just a pity that the former couldn’t achieve a nomination at the Oscars.

So, will this win? Probably not. It may snag a screenplay award, but I would be surprised if it would achieve much else. Still, it’s a very interesting and worthy nomination – and I am so glad to have seen it.

Current Rankings:

1) The Favourite
2) Roma
3) BlacKkKlansman
4) A Star Is Born
5) Black Panther

6) Bohemian Rhapsody