REVIEW: DA 5 BLOODS (2020) Netflix

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Here we have Spike Lee’s first film since BlacKkKlansman and “Da 5 Bloods” is sure to evoke all kinda of reactions including my very own. While I watched the movie about 10 days ago, I decided to wait till all the fervor regarding it died down some before putting out my own thoughts.

Making a film about the Vietnam War isn’t always on the top of most directors lists as it’s not what one would call a ‘good war’ such as some did for WWII.  And a bit of even the most basic history will tell you the Vietnam War was fought on a soil not many American’s had ever touched let alone wanted to fight for.  Needless to say it was known that it was a tough war because so many opposed it, which was probably the right attitude, but it meant that a lot of returning vets didn’t get the respect they deserved or the help they needed – which is sadly the American way, and actually by no means exclusive to just the Vietnam war. And of course we all had learned about the ‘My Lai Massacre’ in school – where 500 unarmed civilians – men, women, children and yes, even babies – were slaughtered by U.S. soldiers. Women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated, as were children as young as 12. When their cover-up was eventually busted and brought public, 26 soldiers were charged with criminal offenses but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was given a life sentence but served only three and a half years under house arrest. Sound familiar?

Many leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., were opposed to the war as black men were being essentially told (as was everyone as we, the U.S., had initiated the draft) to serve their country, and there weren’t any colleges or doctors writing bone spur deferrals for them. They were asked to protect the freedoms of people in other countries when they still didn’t have real freedom in their own homes. So of course this means POC – and even more specifically black men – were called up in much greater numbers than their white fellow citizens of course, and therefore were also a higher proportion of POC/black men combat casualties in Vietnam. To put the cherry on top of the cake, African American soldiers encountered racists bigots amongst their own ranks, huge discrimination and many disadvantages when it came to promotions/decorations, and lastly,  few to no services if and when they returned home. So yes, there is a lot of history of this war and none of it is good.

Now we’ve seen the Vietnam War done many times, and some of the very well, but Spike, well Spike has got his own tale to tell of this war and in Da 5 Bloods he does just this. The film follows a platoon of four Vietnam vets, headed by level-headed Otis (Clarke Peters) and erratic, Trump-supporting Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) as they travel along with Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) who has his own backstory with his dad, back to their former battleground to recover the remains of their celebrated leader and 5th Blood, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman)…and also the pile of gold they stashed along with him.

From there the film zips from thriller to hang-out comedy, action to drama and here is sadly where the film falters some as it’s all over the place with tone as the plot almost changes completely. The mood of a scene can change on a whim, some of them are ridiculous and so far over the top we almost lose the entire sense of the film itself. It’s as if it almost becomes a reflection of the turbulence of the battle they once fought in – where, as we see in superb retro-inflected flashbacks of so much of the controversy of which the 60’s entailed as Lee also puts in a bunch of videos and stills of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Kent State Massacre and the Fall of Saigon are among the many notable figures and events from the time of the Vietnam War, along with the dramatic events of the present unfolding in the blink of an eye in front of us. Their quest to find Norman’s remains – wanting to give him the hero’s funeral he is painted as deserving – is an arduous one, but is one that is allowing for some truly brilliant character studies of these guys to emerge as well. Of course, to smuggle something to the tune of $7 million of gold back into the United States, the Bloods have to involve Tiên (Lê Y Lan), Otis’ old flame, and a Frenchman named Desroche (Jean Reno). Desroche promises he will get the money to various off-shore accounts that the Bloods will be free to draw from, which truly is up for debate throughout the entire film.

So as not to tell you the entire plot line and give away everything as the film is something you should take the time to watch, delving a little into character study is needed. While all the characters play key roles in this plot, none quite do it like Delroy Lindo does. Lindo, always a great supporting actor, has never really had to really carry the entire weight of a film on his back alone, and here he does a remarkable job of giving us his all. The reflections monologue as he ventures into the jungle is unparalleled by anything he’s ever given us before. Paul is ravaged by PTSD, he is by far and away the most complex and entrancing character on screen, and Lindo brings him to life. You hate Paul – you love Paul – you want Paul to leave – it’s all that and so much more. Almost indescribable. Again this is not about diminishing the other performances in the slightest. Everyone does an incredible job, especially Majors as David. However, it would be remiss not to point out Lindo’s all out one that put’s an incredible hold on you throughout the film.

To summarize it up, after Lee’s last film was there maybe more to be expected, sure there was, and while the message is clear and strong, the sometimes ridiculous plot is saved by the brilliant acting all the way around. For that reason alone my grading goes up a notch.

Grade: B-

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DA 5 BLOODS IS AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON NETFLIX

 

 

REVIEW: “21 BRIDGES” (2019) STX Entertainment

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“21 BRIDGES” opens with a young Andre Davis (Christian Isaiah) at the funeral of his police officer father who was killed by some drug dealers and the clear effect it has on him. Scroll ten years forward to an adult Andre (Chadwick Boseman) who has grown up to be a cop himself, but one with a notable tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.  This leads to him being called up in front of Bureau of Internal Affairs.  As this is happening to him, what is supposed to be a small time drug heist, goes down and several police officers are coldly gunned down by the two criminals who blundered into this unexpected disaster, Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephan James), both war veterans and extremely loyal to one another. Ray is the typical villain while Michael, although loyal to him, has more sense and compassion and wanted to walk away once things were clearly not going to plan.

Police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) now has a bunch of cops out for revenge for their fallen officers. In a rare move on this mission-almost-impossible, he decides to pair up Andre with narcotics officer Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), a tough as nails undercover with a mind of her own – though you get the sense there is more to her than meets the eye.  As the two criminals take to the streets of Manhattan on the run, and with the FBI breathing down their back to take over, Andre makes the decision to shut the entire city of Manhattan down all exit/entries closed hence all 21 bridges leading in and out of the city. Shaken by the loss of eight of his officers, Capt. McKenna continues to hint to Davis to live up to his reputation and take no prisoners.  But Davis’ intuition kicks in as very early on, it becomes clear that dirty cops are involved with all the incidents seemingly pointing to a conspiracy of sorts, and Andre doesn’t know whom to trust. With that, Andre has just one night to solve the case and catch the killers before they escape the city of Manhattan.

Not going into full detail of the entire plot which, needless to say, has many twists and turns sort of running parallel are a police procedural and a crime story from the POV of the criminals. Yet the twists are obvious and predictable with the dialogue being somewhat routine. With a decent character development ’21 Bridges’ should be Boseman’s vehicle, yet it’s Stephen James who is the stand out here. Not only does his character feel like the one with the most to lose, but he’s got a story behind him that conflicts with his actions and he plays it well enough to the point of actually wanting to see him to get away with it all at times.

Nothing super new here story-wise, but the camera work and action scenes were marvelous. Although the plot is not original, the story was fine with good editing, however the script could have been better and acting was average at times. It’s still a decent bang for it’s buck.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment

“21 BRIDGES” IS OUT NOW IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

REVIEW ~ “GET ON UP” ~ Q & A w/Brian Grazer, Chadwick Boseman, Tate Taylor

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Everyone has a favourite James Brown song, no matter what age you are..sometime in your life you’ve heard a James Brown song, snapped your fingers, tapped your foot, danced, sang with it..however you did it, it’s resonated with you.. Or you’ve seen Mick Jagger, Prince, Morris Day, Michael Jackson or Axl Rose perform and realized where they got their moves from.  James Brown is a legend, no question about it.   So let’s just get it right out now.. This is not your typical biopic.  It starts off with an older James Brown, in his 60’s when he was a bit worn down as let’s face it..he wasn’t the most stellar of human beings, definitely had his faults and dare I say it..absolute shady-ness when it came to business practices, the law & his wives.  And he had ego..oh so much ego and referred to himself in the 3rd person..a lot.. But if you were the ‘hardest working man in show business’ I guess you deservedly can at least have some of all of these.

The first 15 minutes or so of the film was hard to follow as it moves all over the place from Brown’s regretfully sad childhood, being left by both parents “Joe & Susie Brown” (Lennis James, Viola Davis), whom you don’t see much of or get to know much about, to being left at and growing up in a brothel ran by “Aunt Honey” (Octavia Spencer), to young James Brown just realizing his talent where it would take him in life, to older James Brown and many different places in his life in-between.  If you’re looking for a linear, chronological order story of James Brown’s life, this film has no interest in giving you that. It’s all over the place in time, which again, difficult at first, but once you get used to how it gets scattered all about, you can concentrate more on the performances, most especially Chadwick Boseman as “James Brown” completely amazing transformation into Brown from 16yrs old, getting arrested & sentenced to 5- 13yrs in the old Jim Crow days of a Georgia prison for stealing a 3-piece suit, all the way on through to a 63yr. old James Brown walking solo down a hallway into a concert venue of screaming, cheering fans, makeup transformation complete. But it’s not just the makeup that makes Boseman into Brown..It’s the embodiment of everything that is, was, and could ever be James Brown that makes it so remarkable. He’s got the moves, the body language, the accent, the facial expressions, all of it…down pat ~ he is to sum it up ~ BRILLIANT in his performance.

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While Boseman also gave a good performance in “42” as Jackie Robinson, the 1st baseball player to cross the racial barrier lines of the National League of baseball,  this movie never really hits on racism to much, as you know Brown had to have experienced this as it was part of the times back then, and they do refer to him trying to get off the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ or when he runs into a young “Little Richard” (Brandon Smith) they term the word  ‘white devil’ as Brown refers to his  manager, “Ben Bart” (Dan Aykroyd) calling him that, though the love & respect he has for the man is also clearly shown & apparent, this movie isn’t much to do about that. One pivotal scene in 1968 let’s you know how much Brown did help out by making the mayor of Boston, during the race riots of that year, to let him do his show and just as things are starting to get out of hand with fans jumping on the stage, police throwing them off, Brown stands up to let the audience know to make it about the show.  Also apparent throughout the movie is just how big Brown’s ego was, as he’s knows he is destined to be great, all the while being verbally abusive to those around him, in great supporting cast roles,  such as his best friend “Bobby Byrd” (Nelsan Ellis) & bandmates “Maceo Parker” (Craig Robinson) “Nafloyd Scott” (Aloe Black), “Pee Wee Ellis” (Tariq Trotter) in making them do long rehearsals on days off, not paying them due to his well-known tax problems, making sure they know he and only he, is the boss by detrimentally having each of them answer a silly question about how each instrument that they play, no matter what it is, is just really meant to only serve as percussion.  And though they skip over much of it, his physical abuse of his wives,”DeeDee Brown (Jill Scott)  girlfriends etc.  until they finally leave him..

So while this story being told with plenty of holes in it, the main focus is the music.. the music ..the music..and all the while Chadwick Boseman is just giving it to you at 150mph and you won’t forget it.  If for any reason at all you’re not a James Brown fan, which could be understandable due to he was a man with many faults, see this movie for this amazing performance alone.

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I was treated to a wonderful Q & A afterwards with Producer: Brian Grazer, Dir/Prod: Tate Taylor (an old friend)m and the man himself, Chadwick Boseman, who btw received a standing ovation from the audience.. I love hearing the thought process, and time frames (10yrs) that it took for this movie to get made.  They started it with James Brown himself, and after he passed it was dead in the water so to speak, luckily enough, Mick Jagger obtained the music rights to his catalog and the rest as they say.. is this movie! 😀

Grade: C+ – for the movie itself  B+ for the performance of Chad Boseman

Grading scale: A = Oscarworthy; B = Above Average – must see; C = Average – should see; D = Don’t waste your time or money; F = Yeah, no don’t see the movie.  (+ or -) give it a bit up or down