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: “THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” (2017) Fox Searchlight

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Step right up Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell and please just accept your Oscar’s for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor already. Yes, truly they are that good and that’s how I feel. And hey, throw in a Best Picture nod while you’re at it please!!!

This wonderfully dark comedy featuring a brash, outspoken and very funny McDormand in the lead role as Mildred Hayes, a divorcee from Ebbing, Missouri and let me tell you, Mildred is one extremely pissed woman at her local Police Department. Most especially Sherriff Willougby (Woody Harrelson), and she is not afraid to let everyone know this as she rents out 3 billboards on the outskirts of town at $5000 a month from Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones). The way Mildred see’s it is it’s been seven months since her teenage daughter Angela (Kathyrn Newton) was raped, murdered and set ablaze on a quiet stretch of country road, and yet still no arrests have been made or suspects identified. Mildred and many others in the town, feel as the local Sherriff’s dept. are “too busy torturing black folk”. And she’s right as Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) has been investigated for doing just that. Sheriff Willoughby however, doesn’t much like being publicly mocked by billboards that read: “Still No Arrests?” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” and “Raped While Dying.”
And the story that unfolds before you is one that will capture every emotion you thought you never had. This is a hard -edged drama, but with enough sarcastic comedy in it to somehow keep it funny through a dark subject throughout the film. This film is a brilliant piece of storytelling that somehow has stories within that all fit together in the end in a 360 degree type circle.

McDormand is simply superb as the mother whose anger is just part of her problems in life. She breaks this character down inch by inch in front of us in such detail you are sure not to forget her anytime soon. Rockwell – who let’s face it, can be very ‘hit or miss’ with his performances, here he is so crazy good and volcanically funny that you want to almost applaud whenever he shows up, as he somehow he makes Dixon both horrendous and humane – sometimes both in a same breath – it is truly a tremendous performance. Harrelson is wonderful, yet sarcastic, a bit vulgar and yet even in the face of death, funny. Peter Dinklage as James, the town’s only ‘small person’, Lucas Hedges in another fine performance as Mildred’s son Robbie and John Hawkes as the ex-husband, truly round up a great supporting cast. The only true problem I had any of this cast was with Harrelson’s wife Penelope (Samara Weaving) as the being 1/2 his age part wasn’t the only blur, but how in the world is an Australian somehow in this little backwoods town of Ebbing, Missouri. Besides that, it truly is a flawless picture by Martin McDonagh and not only my favourite film of the year so far, but hopefully a shoe-in for a couple of those Oscars!

Grade: A
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Media Screening Review: Monday, November 6, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
“THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” is now playing nationwide // International release in Jan 2018

REVIEW ~ “JOHN WICK” (2014) Lionsgate

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It’s been quite sometime since I sat at a movie and completely & totally rooted for a character so much so as I did John Wick. Even though you know he’s really not a ‘good guy’ per se’ you really truly can’t help doing so in this movie. But before you even head into this movie you know it’s going to be in-your-face non-stop, kick-ass, kill ’em, violent. And it is..I mean the trailer tells you this..what it doesn’t tell you is how much fun it’s all going to be. Not funny ha-ha..but just plain fun – entertaining -go for it – good time action packed movie. Betcha ya didn’t expect all that now did you?!!  Because I didn’t, but I really enjoyed myself at this movie and coming from a someone like me who loves movies, but can be super picky..this film was a nice surprise for me.

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First of all can we talk about Keanu Reeves for just a quick moment.  No one ever said he’s the best actor, but damn this is his movie..no if’s, and’s or but’s..it’s all him and his wooden acting style fits this movie like a glove, as let’s face it,  it’s always best when Keanu doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and the amount here is just perfect for him to carry out and boy does he do it well, in probably his best performance in a decade or so. He performs so well as the cool, calm demeanoured “John Wick” a retired assassin code named “The Bogeyman” and moves with such ease during this super fast-paced, heavy stunt-fest so smoothly, that you will never even realize that hey..Keanu is now FIFTY yrs. old, no way..not a chance.

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So to set it up, in his hey-day the now retired, Wick/Bogeyman was the ‘go to’ guy if you…well..needed someone assassinated. And within minutes of the start of the film, the stage is set for what exactly John Wick can do, when the son “Iosef Tarasov” (Alfie Allen) of Russian mob boss “Viggo Tarasov” (Michael Nyquist), runs into Wick as he’s just randomly pumping gas in his badass Mustang and Iosef likes the Mustang, offers to buy the muscle car, which John politely refuses. Next thing you know, the Russian thugs break into his home to steal the car and take the one thing that he could share his grief with, a dog his wife “Helen” (Bridget Moynahan) gave him before she passed, AND then kick the crapola out of him to boot. Well that’s all it takes to reeaally piss Wick off as we ALL know..you don’t hurt an assassins dog for chrissakes, so off he goes to his basement with a sledge hammer and breaks up the floor and unearths a clearly long forgotten stash of weapons and some odd gold coins. Then things get ugly – for the mob that is.. Word gets back to his former boss, Viggo, from chop shop car owner “Aureilo” (John Leguizamo), who’s recognized his friend Wick’s Mustang.  Viggo informs his son in no uncertain terms that he’s royally screwed up, then sends in in a dozen or so guys to meet the threat head on. But you’re gonna need a lot more than that against John Wick!! And that my friends is when the non-stop action and fun really start.  This is pure high-energy, in your face, revenge flick and ladies and gentlemen, hold onto your hats as you’re in for a rollercoaster of a damn good time. john wick 4

Along with Keanu’s great action spin, there are many fun supporting roles here and one of my favs is the hit-mans hotel of choice, Continental’s manager “Charon” (Lance Reddick) This is a ‘special’ hotel where you can check in only with those ‘special’ gold coins Wick had in that cache he dug up. You’re not supposed to do ‘business’ at this hotel but Viggo entices our one female hit’man’ “Ms. Perkins” (Adrianne Palicki) to do just that and go after Wick for an extra payday. There is also the wonderful Willem Dafoe as “Marcus” a former colleague who is taking names and kicking some ass for a short time here with Wick, the always fun Ian McShane as the Continental owner, “Winston”, Dean Winters as “Avi” the wimpy-ish inept sideman to Viggo who can’t understand a word of Russian and there entails a few funny moments with his lack of ‘understanding’, and Clarke Peters as “Harry” the old-school assassin. All of them add loads of flavour to this movie, but again, make no mistake..this is Keanu’s movie and he kills it..john wick 3

This film rocks and this film rolls..all in the right ways and it’s truly loads of fun!  Of course there are plot holes, like how is Wick even functioning after what he goes through, but it doesn’t matter, because you’re too busy cheering for John Wick!! There were times I wanted to just scream out a big WHOOOO HOOOO! And you will too. I take ’em as I see them and I had a great time watching this movie. Enjoy people..enjoy!!!

Grade:  B-

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Grading Scale:  A = Oscar-worthy;  B = Above average – must see;  C = Average – should see;  D = Don’t waste time or money, VOD or cable at best; F = yeah, don’t see the movie under any circumstances  (+ or – gives it an edge up or down)