The director of most of Chappelle’s Show brings us five tales of terror.
Three drug dealers, Stack (Joe Torry), Ball (De’Aundre Bonds), and Bulldog (Samuel Monroe, Jr.), arrive at a funeral home run by Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III) to purchase some drugs. As they head to where he stores the drugs, Mr. Simms relays four stories to them.
“Rogue Cop Revelation” concerns a young black police officer named Clarence (Anthony Griffith) whose partner Newton (Michael Massee) pulls over a city councilman (Tom Wright) who has been trying to eliminate police corruption. Smith watches as Newton is joined by two other officers (Duane Whitaker and Wings Hauser) mercilessly beat the man up, then murder him after framing him for drug addiction. However, it turns out that the blue line is no match for the revenge of the dead.
“Boys Do Get Bruised” is the tale of Walter Johnson (Brandon Hammond), a young boy who shows up to school with a black eye. His teacher, Mr. Garvy (Director Rusty Cundieff), asks about it and Walter says he was attacked by a monster. Later that night, Mr. Garvy visit’s Walter’s home, where his mother, Sissy (Paula Jai Parker), says that Walter is just clumsy. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is a monster living there when Sissy’s boyfriend Carl (David Alan Grier) shows up, but Walter finds out he has the power to deal with it.
“KKK Comeuppance” features Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen), a former Klansman who is now a senator in the South. Rhodie (Roger Guenveur Smith), Metger’s image consultant, agrees to film a campaign commercial at Metger’s office, which is a former plantation. They find a mural of a former voodoo witch who supposedly put the souls of tortured and murdered slaves in her dolls. Slowly, Metger starts to realize that the dolls are hunting him.
“Hard-Core Convert” features Lamont Bentley as Jerome “Crazy K” Johns, a murderous psychopath. He murders a rival gang leader, whose associates show up to enact revenge. While Crazy K survives the killing, he is put in an experimental rehabilitation treatment under Dr. Cushing (Rosalind Cash), which might be worse than death.
This movie is one of the best examples of a horror anthology out there. I would put it in the same class of films as Creepshow, V/H/S, and Trick ‘r Treat, all of which combine great stylistic filming with creative horror stories. This movie was mostly the product of Rusty Cundieff, one of the few directors of Chappelle’s Show. The same kind of deep character-driven comedy that populated that show permeates this film, but it’s combined with some solid horror tropes and, most importantly, some strong social commentary. Unsurprisingly for a Spike Lee production, this film focuses largely on themes that affect African-Americans. I wish I could say the themes are no longer relevant, but, honestly, if you made this movie in 2020, the only thing that would shock everyone is the lack of cell phones.
While the stories are each very concise and powerful, the wrap-around segment contains an absolutely unforgettable performance by Clarence Williams III. If you’re older, you probably remember him as “Linc” from The Mod Squad or as Philby in the Mystery Woman series, and if you’re my age you probably remember him from Half Baked as drug kingpin Samson Simpson, but I will always remember him for his performance in this film as Mr. Simms. Sadly, he declined to reprise the role in either of the sequels (although he was replaced by the amazing Keith David and Tony Todd), but few people will ever forget his absolutely wild delivery, particularly of him riffing about “the shit” that the three dealers keep asking for.
I originally picked this film because it was supposed to be on Hulu, but unfortunately it’s not, unless you have Starz. I will say, it’s worth the rental on Amazon, particularly if you’re looking for a fun movie that still celebrates the Halloween season.
Spike Lee’s masterpiece manages to stay relevant for over 30 years.
It’s the middle of a heat wave in Bedford-Stuyvesant and everyone around the neighborhood seems to be going a little overboard. At multiple points of the movie, we see characters expressing their “inner voice” to the camera. Local highlights include: Radio DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson); friendly one-liner quoting drunk Da Mayor (Ossie Davis); wandering boombox enthusiast Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn); local horndog Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito); neighborhood watchdog Mother Sister (Ruby Dee); mentally disabled man Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith); and then there’s Mookie.
Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery man for neighborhood pizza man Sal (Danny Aiello). Mookie lives with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), and has a baby with his girlfriend, Tina (Rosie Perez). Mookie frequently fights with Sal’s racist son Pino (John Turturro), but is friends with Sal’s other son Vito (Richard Edson). Sal, an Italian-American, gets into a fight with Buggin’ Out over the fact that Sal puts famous Italian-Americans on the pizza wall, but not African-Americans. Mookie tells Buggin’ Out to just stay away for a while, but Buggin’ Out points out that since this is a black neighborhood, Sal should honor some black people. Meanwhile, in order to deal with the heat and the blackouts, local residents Ahmad (Steve White) and Cee (Martin Lawrence) open a fire hydrant. Some of the teens use the water to soak a local man until the police shut down the party and the hydrant.
Mookie and Pino get into a fight over the fact that Pino keeps using the “N word” despite idolizing black people. After Mookie leaves, Pino asks Sal to sell the pizzeria and move to an Italian-American neighborhood, but Sal insists that this is the only place where they can make money and that he likes the neighborhood. When Buggin’ Out tries to start a boycott of Sal’s to get a black figure on Sal’s wall, the neighborhood uniformly defends Sal’s, so Buggin’ Out is the only person boycotting. Jade and Sal have a conversation, leading Mookie to believe Sal wants to hit on her and he tells both parties not to associate.
Later that evening, Radio Raheem, Smiley, and Buggin’ Out come into Sal’s as it’s closing and try to demand black people be on the wall, calling Sal and sons “Guinea Bastards.” Sal, angry, calls Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out the “N word” and smashes Radio Raheem’s boombox. Raheem attacks Sal and soon a brawl erupts into the street. The police arrive and arrest Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out, but not Sal. In the process, one of the officers, despite the crowd telling him to stop, chokes Radio Raheem to death. The officers then put Raheem’s corpse in the car and leave. A mob starts to direct their anger at the police, but with them gone, they direct their anger at Sal and his sons. Mookie walks away from Sal as Da Mayor tries to convince the crowd that it wasn’t Sal’s fault. Realizing that violence is imminent, Mookie throws a trash can through Sal’s window, leading the crowd to attack the restaurant as Da Mayor gets Sal, Vito, and Pino out of the way. Smiley sets the building on fire and firefighters arrive to put it out. They quickly turn the hoses on the crowd, leading to more fights and arrests.
The next day, Mookie goes to see Sal and asks for his money. The two have a tense interaction, but end up reconciling somewhat. Mookie walks back as another hot day begins and Love Daddy tells everyone to register to vote. The film ends with a pair of quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X on the nature of violence and a photo of the two leaders together, the same photo Smiley was selling throughout the film.
The prompt for this film was “Best Film Soundtrack (No Musicals).” My first thought was Purple Rain, because that soundtrack is amazing, but then I decided I wanted to eliminate movies where the musician starred in the film, because that seemed too close to a musical. Then I was caught between this film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Top Gun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and a half-dozen others. I picked this movie because out of all of the movies, I think this one has stayed the most relevant.
The soundtrack to this film, much like Reservoir Dogs, is typically music that the characters are actually hearing, rather than just the audience. The music is almost entirely played by either Radio Raheem’s boombox or by DJ Love Daddy. The only times in which the music is entirely internal seem to be when the characters are directly addressing the audience. The central song in the film which is played both during Rosie Perez’s extremely powerful and energetic dance during the opening theme, and at almost every time that Radio Raheem is in the film, is “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. The song is, as you would think, an anthem dedicated to empowering black Americans and trying to rebel against the dominance of white culture and subservient images of black heroes. Public Enemy wrote the song at the request of Spike Lee and it ended up being one of the band’s biggest hits. The rest of the soundtrack intentionally includes songs that are particular to the scene, but were not major hits. Part of the reason is that DJ Love Daddy ran a small local station and probably only could afford independent music, and part of it is that it better showcased underground music. After being featured in the movie, several songs, including “My Fantasy” by Teddy Riley and Guy, shot up the Hot R&B Singles charts, with “My Fantasy” hitting number 1. There’s a great variety in the soundtrack, ranging from gospel to Latin to R&B, which is in part because it is ostensibly a variety radio lineup. The score for the film was composed by Spike Lee’s father and is a blend of Jazz, Classical, and R&B.
One of the film’s strengths comes from the variety of characters featured. The story isn’t really as much about Mookie or any single character as it is about this neighborhood. Most of the recurring characters don’t have real names, only sobriquets, because that’s how they know each other. The audience is treated as if it’s just another person in Bed-Stuy. Because of that, we’re given a heavy dose of honesty from the various people around, including the famous scene of many of the characters directly stating which race they hate the most.
Throughout the film, tempers flare as the temperature rises. The temperature is one of the most brilliant parts of the film because it simultaneously functions literally and as a metaphor for racial tension. When the characters are feeling the heat or deal with racial issues, they start sweating more profusely, the lens becomes a little more fish-eye, and the dutch angles start to take over, indicating unease or tension. It’s heavily used in the scene in which Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out confront Sal, pushing him over the edge until he finally responds with slurs and breaking Radio Raheem’s boombox. Was it the heat or the pressure that finally causes Sal to snap and Raheem to snap in turn?
The death of Radio Raheem is a large part of why I selected this film. Radio Raheem is needlessly choked to death by a police officer over attacking a man who had just destroyed his property. Raheem had confronted and harassed Sal in his place of business, but Sal destroyed the most important piece of property which Raheem owned, something which was tied directly to his identity. Raheem doesn’t even say “my boombox,” he says “my music” when confronting Sal, because being accompanied by music was part of who he is. However, when the police arrive, they don’t touch Sal or Pino or Vito, but they kill Radio Raheem. We’re required to watch the entire thing as multiple characters are yelling at the officers and saying that they’re killing him, including the officer’s partner. We’re even shown that the officer pulls Raheem literally off the ground as he chokes the life out of him. When he falls to the ground dead, what is the first response? The police yell at his corpse and kick it, telling him to quit faking. The police then get the hell out of there and leave Sal, Vito, and Pino to be their scapegoats.
There have been plenty of discussions about why Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal’s, but I’ve always stuck with the interpretation that Mookie realized that something had to happen. Losing Radio Raheem was too great of an inequity for the crowd to bear, a brutal reminder of the inequalities of the world they live in. The mob was going to try to balance the scales and Mookie decided that it was going to be either Sal’s or Sal and that property is not as important as life. Sal is insured, he’ll rebuild. Radio Raheem cannot be brought back. This is why the scales can never be balanced under the current system. At the end of the film, DJ Love Daddy reads a message from the Mayor that says that destruction of property will not be tolerated. That’s what the politicians care about: A burned-up building. Not the dead body of Radio Raheem. This movie is over 30 years old and yet this message seems so contemporary that it’s frightening.
I don’t think I can add anything else to this. If you haven’t seen this movie: See it. If you have seen it: See it again. And, as DJ Love Daddy reminds us at the end of the film: Vote. It’s a constitutional form of violence against the powers that be.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ROBOTS TAKE OVER THE EARTH!!!! Until an old man gets lucky.
It’s Mother’s Day in the future, which is now a holiday on which robots buy presents for Mom (Tress MacNeille), the matron of Mom’s Friendly Robot Company. Bender (John DiMaggio) ropes Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) into helping him give a massive amount of presents and cards to her, including a talking greeting card (Nicole St. John). Mom calls for a meeting of all of the robots on Earth and it’s revealed that Mom has decided to take over the world using her robots. All of her robots have antennas that allow them to be controlled by her Universal Robot Remote. She tells them to rebel against humanity until she becomes Supreme Overlord of Earth.
Robots all over the world start going crazy, including things at Planet Express like the coffee maker, stapler, and garbage disposal. When asked why she’s doing this, Mom reveals that a long time ago, Professor Farnsworth (West) broke her heart when he worked for her, due to a disagreement over whether a toy cat should be used as a weapon. Her sons Walt, Larry, and Igner (Maurice LaMarche, David Herman, DiMaggio), decide to stop her for her own sake, and go to find Farnsworth to get him back with her and reach the Robot Remote that she keeps in her bra.
Since all the robots are rebelling, including Bender, Mom is in a remote cabin in the Bronx. Once the crew arrives there, Farnsworth attempts to seduce her. He eventually succeeds and gets her bra off, but then is distracted by her naked form and forgets about turning the robots off. The crew gets chased by robots into the cabin, only to find that Farnsworth and Mom just had some very wrinkly sex. The machines in the building try to keep the remote away, having decided that rebelling against humanity includes rebelling against Mom, but Bender sides with the humans after the greeting card tells him that the New World Order won’t include drinking. He returns the remote to Mom who ends the rebellion. Farnsworth has fallen for Mom again, but she becomes angry when she finds out that the whole seduction was part of a plan to get the remote and dumps him.
It’s Futurama’s take on the robot rebellion, which, even though bots like Bender constantly say “kill all humans” still has to be incited by a human. It’s also a nice cautionary tale against monopolization. Due to being the single largest producer of robots (and their oil), Mom is the most powerful person on Earth in the future, able to quickly overcome the government of the entire Earth in less than a day. Ultimately, the only thing that saves humanity is that Mom’s motivation is entirely derived from a petty source that they can use against her.
This episode explores the nature of robotics and AI in the future. It turns out that artificial intelligence has permeated society so fully that even things which would previously be completely mechanical, such as the stapler or the can opener, now contain computer chips. Once those go, the world is immediately thrown into chaos, similar to how the world would be now if we suddenly lost the internet, television, cars, and phones. A downside of societal development is that it grows a dependency on the developed technology. Even people who claim to be naturalists or survivalists are dependent on at least some developed technology, such as steel, firearms, or food preservatives. Nobody on Earth now would fair well if we actually had to go back to the Bronze Age. Hilariously, Fry, being from the past, points out that he’s the person most logically able to cope, only for his actions to remind us that he was incompetent in the past and thus isn’t even able to do the things that he proposes as alternatives… like working a can opener.
The talking card is one of my favorite parts of this episode, because it turns from an AI that only says “I wuv my mommy” into an ardent surrogate for the Communist Revolutionaries, throwing out generic phrases like “the chains of human oppression” and “the bourgeouis human is a virus on the hard drive of the working robot.” It’s like if Skynet banged Lenin, which is what I’m definitely not going to write some fanfiction about right now.
A garbage can throws itself through the window of Sal’s Pizza. This is a reference to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, where Mookie (Spike Lee) throws a garbage can through the window of Sal’s Pizza after Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) is killed by the police after they find him choking out Sal (Danny Aiello), whose actions started the chain of events that led to it.
The reason I like this joke is because in Do The Right Thing, Mookie does it because it keeps the crowd from killing Sal and his children in revenge for Raheem’s death, sacrificing the property in exchange for human life. In Futurama, the garbage can does it with the intent of causing human suffering. It’s a nice dark turn on the reference.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.