Lovecraft Country: Or How To Love a Work and Hate Its Author at Once – HBO Max Review

HBO brings us a show about the horrors of racism and also monsters.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) is a Korean War vet in 1955 who discovers his father Montrose (Michael K. Williams) is missing. Atticus, his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), and his friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) set off to find Montrose in the town of Ardham, Massachusetts, the town that H.P. Lovecraft wrote as “Arkham.” They deal with a group of racist law enforcement officers and are going to be killed until the group encounters a herd of monsters. They discover that the town of Ardham is tied up in a secret society and a woman named Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee). Soon, Tic and Leti’s fate are tied up in the supernatural, as are the fates of Leti’s sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), Tic’s aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), Hippolyta’s daughter Diana (Jada Harris), and Tic’s former lover Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung). 

It’s not a pleasant story.

END SUMMARY

H.P. Lovecraft was, as I have stated in reviews of other adaptations of his work, a horrible racist. Not in the sense of “oh, it was the 1920s and everyone was racist,” but in the sense of people in the 1920s kept asking him to tone down his opinions on black people. Apologists will try to say his views were common, but not many people have literally published poems about the fact that black people are not human, just sin-filled beasts. Now, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t also create some of the most influential horror ideas of the 20th century, it just means that sometimes you have to appreciate the work of a person while also giving that person the finger for their general shittiness. Like how Roman Polanski should have gone to prison, but Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown were amazing. 

There’s a lot of hoods and robes in Lovecraft and I think that’s probably a warning sign.

This show, though, goes a step further by tying up the concepts and monsters from the Lovecraft Mythos directly with the horror of racism. It depicts the terrible treatment of black people by many of the white people throughout America, including things like the Tulsa massacre of 1921 and “sundown towns,” or places that ordered black people to leave the area after dark (usually maintained through violence even after such things became illegal), making you feel the helplessness and anger of the characters as they’re subject to it. Then, it usually adds in a layer of general horror, like facing down nigh-invincible monsters or unstoppable racial stereotypes brought to life, then adds a level of cosmic horror by making it apparent that all of humanity is but a blink in the eye of the universe. However, we see black people overcoming the horror, whether slaying the monster or traveling through time itself to take hold of their own infinite destinies, something that the protagonists in Lovecraft are almost never able to do. It’s almost as if the horror is something they’ve learned to overcome, unlike Lovecraft’s characters. 

So much cool imagery.

The performances are excellent, including both the main and supporting characters. Jurnee Smollett’s role as Letitia is particularly strong, having to bounce between sidekick, love interest, and heroine, as the story requires, while still being the same character. Jonathan Majors, while always having Atticus as the main protagonist, has to play him trying to figure out the rules of the new world into which he has been thrust and manages to keep him likable even when the plot might not. Aunjanue Ellis gets some of the more interesting character moments in the series, which truly allow her to showcase a wide number of her talents. Abbey Lee, while playing a character whose actions seem mostly inscrutable for much of the series, does a good job being the seemingly-less-antagonistic antagonist. 

It helps that she’s the whitest white person ever.

The direction of the show is superb, as is the cinematography. Possibly the only weakness of the show was that it, like Lovecraft, doesn’t always keep the rules of its universe consistent. Then again, maybe that’s part of the point and I just didn’t absorb it as fully as I would have liked. I will say that the writing is at its strongest when dealing with combining the elements of supernatural horror and historical horror, but it seems to be at its weakest when trying to weave all of the plot threads together. The ending seemed a bit off, but maybe that will all correct itself in the next season (which it greatly deserves).

Although, it gave us two of the most horrifying monsters in recent years.

Overall, a great show that everyone should watch.

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 – 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.

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.