Netflix Review – Da 5 Bloods: Spike Lee’s Apocalypse Now

Four former soldiers return to Vietnam.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

During the Vietnam War, five black men serve together in the US Army: Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), and their squad leader ‘Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman). Dubbing themselves the “Bloods,” the five secure the site of a CIA airplane crash, finding that it’s full of gold bars. Thinking about the state of black people in America, they decide to bury the gold and retrieve it later for their own gain. Unfortunately, a bombing kills Norman and destroys the area, preventing them from finding the gold before they go back to the USA. 

Spike Lee playing the fifth blood in this shot.

Decades later, the four survivors reunite in Vietnam in order to track down the gold after a landslide uncovers part of the plane. They are tailed by Paul’s estranged son David (Jonathan Majors), who joins the group along with their guide Vinh (Johnny Trí Nguyễn). Otis also discovers that his Vietnamese flame Tiên (Lê Y Lan)  was pregnant when he left, leading him to meet his daughter Michon (Sandy Hương Phạm) for the first time. Tiên also puts Otis in contact with Desroche (Jean Reno), a French businessman who agrees to buy the gold from them. David meets Hedy (Mélanie Thierry), a French woman who runs a landmine removal group, and her two assistants Simon and Seppo (Paul Walter Hauser and Jasper Pääkkönen). As the group makes their way into the jungle, tensions start to run high, and money never tends to make that better. 

END SUMMARY

I call this Spike Lee’s Apocalypse Now not so much because there are a lot of similarities with that film, but because this film is really long and set in Vietnam and I’m sure will be given awards and critical acclaim out the wazoo. This isn’t to say this film isn’t worthy of praise, it is an absolutely amazing film, but by Spike Lee standards, this is not his best work. I think the biggest indicator of that is how much the phrase “most ambitious work” is being used to promote it, rather than best. The film is definitely ambitious, but that doesn’t mean it is flawless. It does a good job telling the story and it does a good job trying to do social commentary, unfortunately it doesn’t do a great job of doing them together. Instead, it feels like the story is periodically interrupted for a clip of Hanoi Hannah (Veronica Ngo) telling US soldiers, particularly the African-Americans, about how abusive the US is to its own citizens, or some other short segue about race in America. 

A lot more digital watches than Apocalypse Now, though.

It’s pretty easy to see why this is when you take a look at the film’s history. This movie was originally written for Oliver Stone to direct, I guess as a fourth entry in his Vietnam series, this one taking place long after the war was over. However, after Blackkklansman was released, the film was given to Spike Lee, who rewrote it to be about African-American soldiers during Vietnam. So, the initial bones likely didn’t have any of the civil rights messages that the final product had, which might be why they feel a little more tacked-on than scripts that Lee started himself. That doesn’t make the messages any less valid, and maybe the fact that they kind of interrupt the film makes them more impactful, but I admit that once you’re 60 minutes into a 150 minute movie, you don’t really want a cut-away. It may just be that I have a gap in my movie knowledge, but I think this might be the first Vietnam War film which is focused entirely on black soldiers. Given that over 7,000 black soldiers died in Vietnam, over 10% of the casualties, that absence is more than notable.

The movie is a nice blend of genres, too. Aside from the war movie elements, the film also includes a decent amount of comedy between the leads (to be expected from Lee and Kevin Willmott, writer of C.S.A. and co-writer of Blackkklansman) and a heavy dose of heist movie staples as the plot moves forward. As with many heist films, getting to the prize is only the first half, getting away with it is the real challenge. The movie pays homage to a number of other films, mostly classic war movies, in ways ranging from soundtrack to cinematography, but it also decides to subvert the tropes of those films by being less dramatic and more just plain brutal with its violence. 

Not that there isn’t plenty of drama in the film.

The performances are all amazing in this film, but I will have to say that Delroy Lindo seems to do a lot of the heavy lifting. He plays a black conservative, which already puts him at odds with his fellow Bloods, who has PTSD and a son that he barely talks to. The range of his character traits allows him to have emotional scenes that the others just don’t get. I will also say that, while his role is limited, Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Norman is unbelievably memorable. The cinematography highlights the beauty of Vietnam, but also shows us how devastating the war was to its people and geography. 

There are some touching moments, too.

Overall, this is a really well-done film. I may not put it up at the top of either Vietnam films or Spike Lee films, but it is definitely one of the best movies that has come out this year.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – The Good Cop: Season 1

Tony Danza is a very endearing guy when he’s performing. From Taxi to Who’s the Boss? to The Tony Danza Show, he’s always at least somewhat charming.

TheGoodCopS1 - 1TonyDanza

Josh Groban has the voice of an angel and the appearance of a cast member from Revenge of the Nerds.

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But with far fewer felonies in his film

Netflix decided they should be on a father-son Odd-Couple-esque buddy-cop cop-and-convict whodunit-mystery show. Coincidentally, the price of cocaine has been increasing due to over-consumption.

SUMMARY

Tony Caruso, Sr. (Tony Danza) was formerly a hero cop who, it turns out, was massively corrupt and engaged in a series of widely-publicized scandals that sent him to prison. His son, Tony, Jr. or “TJ” (Josh Groban) is now a police officer renowned for his dedication to the rules, even going to comically enormous lengths to avoid small infractions. As a condition of Tony, Sr.’s recent parole, he is required to live with his son. Naturally, in the pilot, they fight constantly until Big Tony goes back to prison to try to cover for TJ, proving that he really does love him, so they can stay together, yadda yadda yadda.

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One’s in a suit, one lost his pants in a bet. How funny!

As the season goes by Tony Sr. keeps doing crazy semi-legal schemes and TJ gets caught up in them while they solve mysteries together. The supporting cast is: Cora Vasquez (Monica Barbaro), who was Tony Sr.’s parole officer who later becomes a detective under TJ, as well as his love interest; Burl Loomis (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), an older detective who was a friend of Tony Sr. who is renowned for his policy of “never running”; and Ryan (Bill Rottkamp), an ultra-nerd Tech Crime Analyst for the NYPD whose character was written when we thought Hackers was accurate.

TheGoodCopS1 - 5Cast

END SUMMARY

So, the show was created by the guy who made Monk, Andy Breckman, and it shows. The characters are all quirky as hell, there’s a loose story arc involving Tony Sr.’s dead wife that might get resolved in 9 years, and the mysteries are usually pretty creative. Honestly, the crime-centric episodes were the best, because they were actually decent puzzles and distracted me from how uninteresting the characters are despite the set-up giving so many potentially interesting conflicts. Breckman said, “Many cop shows feature dark and provocative material: psycho-sexual killers, twisted, grim, flawed detectives. Many address the most controversial issues of the day. I watch a lot of them. God bless ’em all. But the show I want to produce is playful, family-friendly, and a celebration of old-fashioned puzzle-solving.” So… mission accomplished?

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Though some of the Hi-Jinks are pretty funny.

It almost bothers me that I actually like this show, because it is bland as hell. Tony Danza and Josh Groban are both likeable and inoffensive (despite the fact that Danza’s character is supposed to be a convicted corrupt cop). Isiah Whitlock and Monica Barbaro are always entertaining when they’re on screen. Nothing about the show ever really gets me upset and it mostly keeps my attention. But it’s just… mediocre. It’s just like many of the seasons of Monk, but without Tony Shalhoub to give an amazing performance. I like it, but I don’t love it. It’s just that everyone involved in it is so loveable I can’t really dislike it either. It’s fun and not challenging to watch, which means that a lot of people will probably love it and I can’t blame them. It’s like a graham cracker – it’s not the most sophisticated snack, but I will eat the entire box and then cry about how I shouldn’t have done that.

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I will say that some of the episodes had some neat gimmicks, like having a talk-show host who toys with the officers or having the suspect be TJ’s crush, but ultimately it’s pretty middle-of-the-road. I really hope they give the characters some more depth in the future, because I can’t look Josh Groban in the eye and say “I don’t want to watch your show.” It would break his little heart and it’s not his fault.

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I can’t break that heart. It would hurt me “Evermore.”

I do have to add that at the end of the episode, the title card for the next episode plays and it’s spaced so that you can read it before Netflix automatically starts the next episode, which is a great idea and should be duplicated by other series. Good job, whoever did that.

Seriously, though, please add either more comedy or more darkness, because right now it’s just TVpH 7.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

BlacKkKlansman: Some Anvils Need to be Dropped (Spoiler-Free)

By the Grouch on the Couch

SpoilerFree

Obvious fact: Spike Lee is not subtle about the state of America’s race relations. Whether you agree with him or don’t, the man has made his opinion on the treatment of black people within the US damn clear for about 30 years. Hell, he says people call him the “angry black filmmaker.” Ten minutes on Reddit will tell you that’s the nicer version of what some people call him. BlacKkKlansman will not change that, because he’s clearly still black and angry.

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I mean, not all the time. Nobody’s angry around Jordan Peele.

And the movie’s a strong case that he’s justified in being that way.

Now, add in the fact that he’s got a true story like this and Jordan Peele producing and you have a recipe for a film that’s gonna piss a lot of people off. However, they’re the people who deserve to be pissed off.

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Clayton Bigsby gave this movie a series of horrifying slurs, including “that’s my story!”

SYNOPSIS (SPOILER-FREE)

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He’s first sent to infiltrate a speech by Black Activist and creator of the “Black Power” movement, Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), where he meets anti-police Black Student Union President Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), who he begins to date. At the same time, he answers an ad in the newspaper conducting a recruitment drive for the Ku Klux Klan, talking to the members over the phone. With Jewish Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) as his surrogate for in-person meetings, Stallworth works his way into the organization, eventually striking up a fake friendship with David Duke (Topher Grace).

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It takes place in 1979, who did you think would be in it?

END SYNOPSIS

So, the movie definitely plays up the fact that a lot of the slogans which have resurfaced recently like “America First” and “Make America Great Again” were previously used by groups that were less than subtle about their racism and xenophobia. By that, I obviously mean the f*cking Klan. Granted “Make (insert country) Great Again,” and “(insert country/empire) First” could be derived from translations of a ton of cultural movements throughout history, but generally they were movements that were based on some form of intense discrimination. I’m sure there’s a cave painting somewhere that translates to “Eagle and Goat Tribe First.”

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Notice: All the same color. 

They also point out that the real success of the Klan was that it tried to suppress its more violent members, instead replacing the leadership with images of respectable-appearing people such as David Duke. Kudos to Topher Grace, his version of Duke is actually kind of charming. It’s believable that he could convince a group of violent racists that the real success of racism would come from making it more acceptable to the common people, by framing it under things like “crime statistics,” “red-lining,” or “drug use.” While many of the Klansmen are portrayed as completely insane or degenerate racists, it’s the ones that aren’t that are more intimidating, because they seem relatively reasonable when they’re talking, even trying to keep the others in check. The more insane ones at times seem almost cartoonishly over-the-top in their racist crusade, but, well, I’ve known people who are like that, so… can’t say it goes too far.

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Oh, and David Duke exists, so, clearly, these people are actually that crazy.

In a moment of balance, the movie also calls out some of the problems with the Black Power movement, by having some of the members completely reject Ron’s attempts to be a police officer as “being part of the problem,” despite the fact that he saves their lives and prevents the KKK from committing atrocities. Oh, and is a good police officer, something that everyone should support. But, of course, their criticism of him for being a police officer kind of pales in comparison to all the stuff that the Klan does.

One of the scenes that’s most interesting in the film is that they show a Klan initiation intercut with a telling (by Harry Belafonte, no less) of the 1916 Lynching of Jesse Washington, one of the most brutal acts of mob violence in US history. Jesse Washington, a black man, was found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering a white woman, then was dragged outside, beaten, stabbed, dismembered, castrated, burned alive, and hung. A crowd of ~10,000 people watched, including the Mayor, Police Chief, and a professional photographer, making it a well-documented event. Even if he was guilty (which the physical evidence did suggest), HE WAS TORTURED AND BURNED TO DEATH PUBLICLY. There should never have been a time when that was okay, but the event was more condoned because of the recent release of Birth of a Nation (a movie that puts a nice, positive spin on white supremacy and the Klan). Like I said, it’s a solid scene, reminding us of exactly how much we try to erase from our nation’s history.

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A bunch of these people later said “we thought about stopping it.” Assholes.

The cinematography and soundtrack (with score by Terence Blanchard, who does many of Lee’s films) are amazing. The images of the cast looking directly into the audience are chilling, almost accusatory, and the effect is profound. The performances are all great, although special credit to Washington, who balances a lot of character traits within his portrayal.

Overall, it’s a solid film. It’s a little preachy, sometimes feeling like Lee’s dropping a moral anvil on your head, but, dammit, sometimes the anvil needs to be dropped. I recommend seeing it, but, *Spoiler alert* you do want to brace for the final shots of the film, because it moves from the movie to just news clips of the last 2 years, and… well, you will hear a f*cking pin drop from 3 theaters over as the credits start to roll.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews. If you want more from the Grouch on the Couch, maybe he’ll actually finish that piece he was supposed to publish 2 months ago.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.