Tagged Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s Malcolm X: Has Anything Really Changed?

Malcolm X. 1992. Directed by Spike Lee. Screenplay by Lee & Arnold Perl.
Starring Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Theresa Randle, Kate Vernon, Lonette MCKee, Tommy Hollis, James McDaniel, Ernest Thomas, Jean-Claude La Marre, O.L. Duke, & Larry McCoy. 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks/Largo International N.V./JCV Entertainment Networks/Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13. 202 minutes.
Biography/Drama/History

★★★★1/2
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Sometimes I’m not a fan of Spike Lee as a public persona, simply because he doesn’t always think before speaking. However, I’m usually a fan of his work as a director. He has a big, wide mind and puts that to work usually tackling issues within the African American community. There are too many of his movies to talk of in an introduction, but suffice to say I do think he is a great director. One of the greatest in his generation, and certainly one of the best African American directors out there, period.
And that’s perhaps why Malcolm X is the film out of his catalogue which resonates most. It isn’t necessarily his greatest. Yet there’s such a poignancy and depth to the work Lee does to portray Malcolm X (played wonderfully by Denzel Washington), not just as a powerful black leader, but also as a human being; one not completely above judgement, one not perfect as some might idealise him. Furthermore, we’re able to get a look at the inside of the Nation of Islam, as far as fiction allows. Many prominent figures in the life of X and circling the NOI, as well as the Civil Rights movement in general, are included, from cameo roles such as Nelson Mandela, Al Sharpton and others, to the portrayals of characters like Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman Jr.) and Thomas Hagan (Giancarlo Esposito), among more. The nearly three and a half hour runtime of Malcolm X may seem daunting. If you’re sitting down to watch a film, you’ve really got to be prepared for this one, though it’s beyond worth the effort. For me, the 202 minutes rushes by in a beautifully shot and directed, phenomenally acted story that jams a whole man’s life into one screenplay. Not everything gets covered, and there’s also plenty of story to be told after X’s assassination. Above all else, the character of X comes out, as does his struggle. For some this was a stepping stone to learning more about the Civil Rights movements that began raging during the 1960s and 1970s, and onward. I won’t ever forget my first time seeing this one. It’s a classic that stands the test of time, telling an important, crucial story about America during the early latter half of the 20th century, and examining one of the more turbulent times of race relations in the country’s history. Sadly, some of what happened back then is still much too alive and much too well in American society, and if X were still alive he’d likely still be as fiery and determined as ever.
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The best aspect of Malcolm X is the fact Lee doesn’t attempt to make him above reproach. As a person, X was not perfect. Nobody is, so Lee never tries to make him out to be anything else. Some worried that he would include X’s life before he converted to Islam, and that’s exactly part of what makes this story interesting and intriguing. There’s no sense in ignoring that part of his existence. X himself never did ignore it, he always kept himself open and honest and raw. That’s a huge part of why many did, and still do(/always will), admire him. He was not like most other leaders. He didn’t admit every one of his faults – again, he is only human. But on the whole, he never shied away from his once criminal past, as that in a way led him to where he went after and helped him attain the enlightenment of Islam.
One of my favourite moments happens between Malcolm X’s speeches. A young white woman approaches him, admiring his work, and wondering what a white person without prejudice might do to help further his cause: “Nothing,” he says smiling before walking on. This is such a brief, powerful moment. I’m reminded of watching a recent documentary about the KKK, where they also spotlighted the Black Lives Matter movement and the shooting in Charleston; one scene shows a white woman, with a mixed race child, trying to march in solidarity, who’s told by a black woman to go home – she does in fact leave after, though the black lady gives her a hug and seemingly explains this is just not the time or place for her presence. There’s a stand-off element to X and his feelings for white people. Again, that changed once he went to Mecca on his Hajj, and then essentially transformed into a full blown humanitarian. Yet Lee never strays away from that inflammatory perspective X held towards white American society, and makes clear it’s simply about black people gaining back their power, or retaining what they have, not so much about hating white people. So in that scene where X shrugs the white woman off, it represents the idea that white people may want to help, but black people don’t need their help. They sometimes just need white people to stand back, let them do their thing and settle the issues on their own. That’s not always the case. Particularly in the time of X, there were tough things happening (not that there still aren’t in this day and age), so this was a stance he felt black society needed to take in those times of near racial war. Not long after X, once Elijah Muhammad was out of his life, he made clear the black community had to unite first, then they could work more on white-black relations. That scene with the white girl epitomises this concept.
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I love the inclusion of the conk hairstyle at the beginning with Malcolm and his buddy Shorty. Not simply because African American culture at the time saw a lot of young black men styling their hair that way. What’s most interesting is that Malcolm X later spoke about conk and its double edged sword-like effect on the black community. On the one hand, conk – because of its threat of chemical burns and scarring, hair loss, et cetera – was seen as a ritual of manhood, going from a boy to a grown adult. On the other hand, he and other African American scholars came to see conk also as a way of erasing oneself in order to become more white. This latter idea is presented in the screenplay after the conk is put in, washed out, then Malcolm admires his new hair in the mirror and says to the men in the barbershop: “Looks white, dont it?” The whole concept of the conk plays into how we see Malcolm ultimately reject everything white. And yes, he said incredibly inflammatory things about white people. But things can change, people can. He didn’t turn into who he was later because of a hate for white people. Effectively, he hated injustice. The white man, the white culture, the white HAIR, it all comes down to representing the white world that he lived in and found himself subject to at every turn, on a daily, minute-to-minute basis. So the conk is simply one element of the white superstructure that Malcolm came to reject. A great inclusion on Lee’s part to show that. It could’ve been a basic scene that shows us where he came from, his beginnings. Instead the scene represents a microcosm of that influence white culture had (/still has) on black people that are brainwashed into feeling as if ‘white is right’ or any of that other sadness. Later when Malcolm is in jail, the conk becomes a sticking point when he’s confronted by an inmate who tries to help him, out of the life of a gangster and moving towards something better, which is the Nation of Islam; a huge influence in his life during prison, as well as afterwards. It may seem a superficial, brief moment in the 202 minute runtime of this epic biography. And it’s a drop in the pond, really. Although, it is highly significant to the overall themes surrounding the film and X himself as a Civil Rights leader.
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This is one of the best movies of the 1990s, certainly one of Spike Lee’s best, too. Malcolm X is a dissection of a cult of personality. It is a film that attempts to get to the core of what X and his struggle represented. Without all the denial some insist on upholding in regards to X’s personal history, who he was, who he became. The movie is not totally perfect, though it is perfect where it counts. Likewise, Lee concentrates on not inflating X as a leader. Rather he takes an inclusive look at the man, not ignoring the good and the bad alike. He dives into the an era where things were different, and somehow not enough has changed as of this writing in 2016. Watching this movie again now, 24 years after its release and concerning a subject decades older, it’s almost sad to watch and think how hard X would roll over in his grave were he able to witness some of the scary racist madness that’s still going on in the streets of America. Love this movie, love Denzel, and Spike is near his best here. A positively entertaining piece of biography, history, all combining to make a well executed film in every respect.

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Martyrs 2.0 – The Little Remake That Shouldn’t

Martyrs. 2016. Directed by Kevin & Michael Goetz. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith; based on the original characters from Pascal Laugier’s film.
Starring Troian Bellisario, Caitlin Carmichael, Kate Burton, Bailey Noble, Toby Huss, Diana Hopper, Lexi DiBenedetto, Taylor John Smith, Peter Michael Goetz, and DaJuan Johnson. Blumhouse Productions/The Safran Company/Temple Hill Entertainment.
Unrated. 81 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★1/2
COVERI always try to give remakes a fair shake. Slightly different story when you have to push through a favourite film being remade, especially if it comes out poorly. Though I love Spike Lee, as a filmmaker, his remake of Oldboy is one of the worst in recent memory. And that’s been a favourite of mine for years. When I heard Pascal Laugier’s frantic, bloody, wild movie Martyrs was being remade, it didn’t exactly excite me. Sure, I love when a fresh take or update can be done on a film, such as Alexandre Aja and his efforts on The Hills Have Eyes. But more often than not, an excellent foreign language film gets turned into nonsense by way of North American directors and writers.
Sadly, this new version of Martyrs is not up to the task of making things fresh, exciting, or even much different. It is definitely not a shot-for-shot remake, but it also doesn’t have a lot of what made the original French film so impressively visceral and continually interesting. This re-imagining, remake, or whatever word you choose to employ, didn’t have to go for big gore and get as graphic as Laugier. What it did need, though, is the emotional resonance, the quality techniques of Laugier and the original team, and generally a better screenplay if it were meant for glory. Not near being one of my favourite remakes. Another great film gets an unjust treatment for North American audiences, many of whom are probably too lazy to read subtitles and watch the original, evident by how many foreign films get remade here in the West. If that weren’t the case, if the demand weren’t so high, I’d assume people were seeking out the original pieces of work. In this case, I certainly suggest you watch Laugier’s movie. It’s leaps and bounds better than this mediocre, run of the mill dishwater.
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Two young girls come together as orphans at a young age, Lucie (Troian Bellisario) and Anna (Bailey Noble). Lucie escaped from a terrifying, abusive situation of captivity, which Anna helped her get past.
Cut to years later. They’re grown young women. Lucie finds the family who supposedly held her captive, then shotguns them all, including the kids, to death. She calls Anna frantically, telling her what happened. Her friend arrives to try and help things go smoother, as far as is possible. But Lucie spirals out of control. Soon, Anna is in the house, bodies everywhere, and a group of armed people take over.
Brought to room and tortured, Anna discovers what Lucie went through. The two girls are pitted against their captors. Although, the past comes back to bear on their present situation. As things are revealed the capture of Lucie as a young girl becomes more clear, the movie behind it all unearthed. Can they survive this? Will Lucie be able to make it out of the horror a second time?
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*SPOILER ALERT: TURN BACK OR THOU SHALT FOREVER BE SPOILED!*
One thing I quickly disliked about this version is that the screenplay from Mark L. Smith (The RevenantVacancy) decides to keep both of the main women alive. Whereas in the Laugier original, the Lucie character dies. What I love about that original screenplay is that the Anna character is then forced to deal with the aftermath of the situation, as well as the group who come to find her, forcing her to also suffer the torture her friend once did years ago. In this film there’s this sense of a bunch of subjects captured at once, while Anna and Lucie then also find themselves captives. Part of why I enjoyed the original French film is that Laugier went for a definitively tragic and truly epic plot. Smith, though he did amazing stuff with The Revenant, makes the mistake of going for something more hopeful. Realistically you have to look at the group doing these experiments; they are obviously massive, a solid organization, so to just do another escape thriller with this setup is wasting a lot of potential. The original capitalized on all its brutality, as well as emotions, and went for a dark ending. Without spoiling anything, this remake cops out. Some say the original was all nihilistic. Except for the fact the people torturing the hopeful martyrs, for all their faults and bloody terror, are seeking a way to discover what makes someone into such a portal to view what’s in their eyes, seeing beyond life and into the chasm of death. So, it’s not really nihilistic, not in true terms. But any of the impact of the film is taken away in this screenplay. Not at all impressed with Smith’s choices.
The execution isn’t a whole lot helpful either. Tons of exposition that the original never needed, as well as so much sanitized horror. It all combines into a real mess. There are, yes, several moments of decent blood, and also several intense sequences. Yet none of this adds up to even half the impact Laugier came off with, which does nothing to make me enjoy this needless remake. There was a grim, moody atmosphere and a gritty tone to the original. Here, most of the movie feels glossy, bright even in the darkness, and overall there is nothing technique-wise that ever grabs me. Kevin and Michael Goetz did 2013’s Scenic Route and I actually enjoyed that a good deal. It was entertaining, gritty at times, funny even. Lots of good stuff. Their follow-up film is nowhere near as good. Hopefully next they’ll go with an original film with a better story because they’ve proved themselves on the previous movie. Martyrs is a step backward.
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I’ll give the film a 1&1/2 star rating, solely because I did enjoy aspects of Bailey Noble’s performance, even if I wasn’t a fan of the plot. Likewise, Troian Bellisario is decent enough to keep your attention particularly later when the torture commences once more. But this is an unnecessary remake. Honestly, I try to give these remade films a chance, however, they more often than not let me down big time. This one is no different. Over the past few years this is one of the worst. Again, I hope the Goetz brothers go forward and make something better. As I hope Mark Smith pushes on and finds better success with another movie. These are better artists than the movie suggests. Martyrs, the original, is worth your time. Despite what others say about a totally boring, gory film, Laugier made an impact with that one, which I will never forget. Skip this, see his original. You’ll thank me.

The Fog: A Chilling American Ghost Story

John Carpenter’s The Fog. 1980. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Hal Holbrook, Charles Cyphers, George ‘Buck’ Flower, and Jim Haynie. AVCO Embassy Pictures/EDI/Debra Hill Productions. Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
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An impressive aspect about John Carpenter, other than stuff I’ve already talked about in reviews, is that his filmography as director has covered such ground in terms of genre. While a lot of it is horror-centric, within horror he crosses over into science fiction, the thriller, and even ghosts/the supernatural. He can cross any genres and make them work well with his slow and steady pacing, his suspenseful style. The ghost story style plot works for Carpenter, as he has a way of creeping up on you, every frame draped in the lurking presence of danger.
The Fog is a super interesting story of ghosts looking for revenge and a town with deep, dark secrets. Carpenter and frequent partner-collaborator Debra Hill came up with a nice screenplay, which he in turn crafted with style into one hell of a creepy horror movie.
tnt24.info_Mg³a_-_The_Fog_1980_Horror_HDRip_XviD_AC3-HQVIDEO_RUS_.4060__97446In Antonio Bay, California, a one hundred year celebration is about to happen. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) is busy preparing the town for its big shindig, while Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is playing his part well enough, except his church is obviously in financial ruins; all the money flowing into big parades and such for the centennial. Then there’s Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) who keeps herself and her son afloat, barely, by owning/operating the lighthouse radio station. At the same time, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) rolls into town with a hitchhiking young woman named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis).
But things start to go wrong, or at least they begin to get strange. A boat full of men doesn’t come in like they usually do, which prompts Nick to go looking for a friend who’d been on it. Once they track down the boat everything gets weirder, and not a soul is found aboard.
On land, Father Malone happens to find a diary lodged in the wall of his office at the church – it paints a gruesome picture of the residents in Antonio Bay during 1880 who did terrible, unspeakable things all under the guise of keeping their citizens safe from sickness. What has begun to happen in the little town turns out to be the revenge of those beyond the grave… those who will rise up from the water, in the fog, to come for every last descendant of the ones who took their lives.
FOG_1 screenshot_27Said it before, I’ll say it over and over: Carpenter’s scores are undeniably infectious. The swell of the electronic sound he often lays under a scene, how the swell then builds and builds, it’s so effective. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve always been so in love with 1980s horror – not only was I born in the ’80s, the music of those films was always so interesting, so brooding; not every last one of them, but so many, even the shit ones some times. But Carpenter infuses each of his films with such an intriguing sound in that way. It helps his style so much, the way he works off of suspense and tension. The music really lends itself to that. Particularly I love it here because the way the fog creeps in during many scenes almost matches the sound of the score. There’s more to simply throwing a bunch of special makeup effects and a fog machine into the shot – Carpenter actually crafts an atmosphere of genuine tension, his ghostly apparitions sneak into the frame and into our heads, they slowly take over the small seaside town. At the same time the terror slowly works its way up your spine and seeps into your brain. I’m not one to get JUMP UP AND SCREAM SCARED. But I love a good slow burning, deeply tense horror movie. Carpenter almost exclusively does this type of work.
Another big part of this film are the landscapes Carpenter includes. The cinematography from Dean Cundey, a Carpenter-collaborator on the regular, is fascinating. So beautiful, at the same time it sets up this incredibly desolate feeling. Much like his work in The Thing. Here, the way he captures so many of the wide open spaces, the ocean, the hills, it’s really disturbing in a gorgeous visual sense. There’s always a feeling of isolation in Carpenter’s work, whether it’s Assault on Precinct 13Halloween, or The Fog. Cundey is able to provide big lush visual feasts in which the suspense/tension of Carpenter comes out perfectly.
the-fog-1980-Screenshot-4There are plenty films which use radio deejays as plot devices, such as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Don McKellar’s Last Night. What I enjoy about Adrienne Barbeau in this film, as lighthouse personality Stevie Wayne, is that she’s not used as a plot device. Rather, Stevie is just a solid character who we come to know intimately through her soft and silky voice going out over the waves in the dark of night. Then once her plight begins, things feel more tense.
And this comes back to the fact I feel Carpenter and Hill are good writers. They’re not trying to do anything crazy here, nothing metaphorical or anything (though you can absolutely take away stuff like that if you want/look into it enough). But really they craft a nice story with good characters. They’re able to get you to care for these people and pity them for being caught in the crossfire caused by their ancestors; while hating what the people of Antonio Bay did back in the latter half of the 19th century, these genuine, nice characters don’t deserve to die for that – do they?
Stevie Wayne is not the only good character. I love them all. Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone is solid, right to the end. Aside from him there’s the always charismatic Tom Atkins, who I was recently enjoying in the underrated (and misunderstood) Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And last but not least, not at all, the wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis in another early horror movie performance; she is funny, sweet and has great presence in this film whenever she’s onscreen. The chemistry between Atkins and Curtis’ characters is phenomenal and adds a little something extra to their subplot, as they try to survive their time in Antonio Bay.

So many creepy moments and scenes. One of my favourites is when Nick (Atkins) is telling Elizabeth (Curtis) a story, then first a locker tips over scaring her before an actual body, its eyes gouged out, falls against her back; what an awesome two-punch technique! Love that one. Usually I’m not one for jump scares, but I love them when done right. Carpenter utilizes them appropriately a lot of the time, much as he started doing back in Halloween. He knows how to do them with an interesting touch instead of heavy handed, making it a cheap scare tactic.
But the best spots in The Fog are those that slowly catch you. Like when the fog overtakes everything in Antonio Bay, and one by one people start to get sucked in and killed by the ghosts of the lepers. I love how you know what’s coming, yet Carpenter draws you in and makes things incredibly suspenseful.
A top pick for favourite moment has to go to when Stevie (Barbeau) ends up climbing, climbing the lighthouse trying to outlast the fog coming for her. I’m afraid of heights (even though I once worked as an electrician in Alberta at ridiculous heights; never again), so this part really grates my nerves. In the best filmic sense. Also helps that this scene comes nearing the finale, obviously. There’s a great intensity watching Stevie try her damnedest to survive. A real trooper.
Another top pick – Elizabeth encounters a reanimated man. I won’t say anything further. Wildly creepy scene.
the-fogAnother 5 star ’80s classic from John Carpenter. He and Debra Hill did so well with this story. It’s a gothic, macabre piece of writing. Pile onto that the excellent cast, the score, all those awesome shots and effects – it’s a real masterpiece of ghostly horror. I can’t recommend this one enough. Always a huge fan of Carpenter, I consistently come back to this one because it’s spooky, it has great writing, and I’m always entertained. You’ve got to add this to any Carpenter marathon, as well as any proper Halloween/October movie list. It has a ton of great qualities, especially for a creepy night with the television on and the lights off.