Da 5 Bloods – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr and Chadwick Boseman.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul de Meo and Kevin Willmott.
Length: 156mins

From one of the greatest directors working today, Spike Lee presents his new film ‘Da 5 Bloods’ in collaboration with streaming giant Netflix. Changing between a backdrop of present-day Vietnam and its war torn counterpart of the 1970’s, the film follows the experiences of a group of black soldiers who refer to themselves as ‘Da 5 Bloods.’ Through the camera lens, we are able to witness how the war has affected them as they grow older and adapt to the contemporary American landscape, whilst they also reflect on their time in the war, after being drawn back to find a secret treasure that they hid as young soldiers, many years ago.

One of the many things that Spike Lee is great at is giving a voice to those who are often silenced in history, and this film is no exception. He employs still images of various historical black figures and soldiers who impacted American history, but are no longer provided the remembrance that they deserve. This demonstrates to his audience that the events of the story are not as fictitious as they may first appear. Although this technique does prove useful to better engage the audience with the type of oppression experienced by our lead characters and others who contributed to the war efforts in similar ways, the jarring nature of the images can feel as if it distracts from the film’s narrative, as well as leaning towards exploitative cinema in the way that the real life murders shown on-screen feel as if they infringe on the dignity of the victims that suffered these tragic fates during the Vietnam conflict. Of course it’s important to ensure that the innocent people caught up in the violence are remembered,  but by showing their murder to do this takes away any of their own personality, and uses them simply as another victim of conflict.

Between tackling the involvement of the US in the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights movement, the current US political landscape, a heist-style narrative, the reunion of old friends and a developing father-son relationship, ‘Da 5 Bloods’ packs a lot into it’s two-and-a-half hour runtime. However, the varied amount of grandeur each of these stories provide can often feel slightly contradictory when the film attempts to build to more climactic scenes. For example, a boat ride where tensions are rising between a father and a son is set to Richard Wagner’s grand piece ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in a clear homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Vietnam film, ‘Apocalypse Now.’ However, as the conflicting elements of ‘Da 5 Bloods’ story at this point are purely emotional, the shots of a boat slowly travelling downstream feels fairly underwhelming when set to Wagner’s piece, especially when compared to the iconic helicopter ride into battle that the scene is paying tribute to. There are moments of greatness within the film, but especially within the first hour-or-so they are few and far between, which may be a result of the amount of exposition the narrative requires to set up it’s later events, due to the wide range of issues being tackled.

 Although it does take a little while for the film to develop its lead characters and their relationships between one and another, the acting really does get better as the film goes on, especially in Delroy Lindo’s case. His role as a man traumatised by what he has seen in the war encourages hatred to shine through, and becomes increasingly clearer and more dangerous as the film goes on. As the story develops, his rush towards violence in situations becomes more and more frequent, reflecting the impact the Vietnam War has had on his life. Lindo does an incredible job at portraying this unpredictability, and accompanied with cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s camerawork, the intensity of the character directly confronts the audience and ensures that you’re appreciating the horrors that these men have suffered.

‘Da 5 Bloods’ feels like a great progression in Lee’s career. With his hands on a bigger budget and a wider audience than ever, he’s able to use his platform to spread ideas and attitudes that educate those watching – one of the most important elements of cinema. Although the film can feel like a slight mess in places, the overall story is intriguing and the way events play out grips the viewer, ultimately coming together to create a film that deserves to be seen.

Finding Neverland – Review

Rating: PG
Cast: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman and Freddie Highmore
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by David Magee
Length: 106mins

Marc Forster’s ‘Finding Neverland’ follows the story of writer J.M Barrie (Depp) as he finds the inspiration for the characters that changed his life. Wrapped in moments of heightened joy, grief, frustration and imagination we find Barrie stuck in a rut as his latest play fails to impress an audience with whom Barrie struggles to relate as well as negotiating a cold, awkward relationship. A chance meeting with the Llewelyn Davies family; four young boys and their mother (Winslet) unshackles not only J.M Barrie’s creativity as a writer but also Marc Forster’s own visual ingenuity.

Depp’s performance as J.M Barrie is so uniquely his own. The script allows for emotional jumps between sobering realities of ‘adulthood’ and expectation contrasted with the jovial encounters with the Llewelyn Davies children. It keeps the film moving at a decent pace whilst allowing space for the slower moving moments. Kate Winslet is just as brilliant as Depp in her role, yet both leads are arguably upstaged by Freddie Highmore. At just 11 years of age when he played Peter Llewelyn Davies he gave such a raw, emotional performance that connects the whole story and allows the audience to see how a character like Peter Pan could have been inspired.

The combination of the quaint Victorian setting and Barrie’s wonderful imagination allows Forster to conjure up a world where fantasy leaks into the everyday as fleeting moments; be it a tinkling bell or a brandished hook, Forster’s merging of reality and imagination is what really makes the film stand out. There’s something liberating about imagination being encouraged in such a film, particularly as the film is not explicitly for children.

Although rated a PG the film explores loss and grief quite significantly, it’s a true credit to David Magee for incorporating how both children and adults might cope with such emotional trials whilst still enabling a younger audience to watch should their parents deem it appropriate. Any themes that could be considered slightly more adult are discreetly woven into the script, subject to the viewer choosing to consider the parts of the story that aren’t told in the film. I love that they keep the storyline relatively simple, they don’t throw big dramatic moments into the plot just for the sake of it. The filmmakers trust their story and their actors to tell it.

It is worth noting that this film is not a biography, it’s classified as a ‘historical fantasy drama’ based on the 1988 play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee. It attempts to tell how biographical events inspired Barrie’s 1904 stage play; namely the relationships between the playwright and his lost boys…

“You find a glimmer of happiness in this world, there’s always someone who wants to destroy it”

Do the Right Thing – Review

Rating: 18
Cast: Danny Aiello, Spike Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn and John Torturro.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee
Length: 120mins

Not only is Spike Lee one of the coolest filmmakers out there, he represents the start of a wider movement within black cinema being brought to the mainstream that still grows stronger by the day. In 1989, Lee directed, wrote, produced and starred in what many consider to be his masterpiece, ‘Do the Right Thing.’ Although we touched on this film earlier in the week on our ‘Black Lives Matter Cinema’ post, I feel there’s a lot more to talk about with this release. Set across a single day on the hottest point of the year, tensions rise on a street in Brooklyn as various events transpire that could build into something greater and of higher stakes.

One of Spike Lee’s greatest achievements within this film is his ability to give the location character. As all of the events transpire within a fairly small area, scenes seems to run into one another, with key characters crossing by in the background of shots, as well as audiences becoming familiar with certain sets and the characters that inhabit that space. As well as this, the way in which the heat of the setting is portrayed is also done excellently. Bright colours such as reds and oranges physically demonstrate this idea, whilst the dialogue between the characters also reinforces it. It’s only as the film progresses that we can possibly re-consider these obtrusively bold shades to instead represent the violence and anger that has built up within the oppressed communities living within the area, which is the greatest issue tackled by the film.

Although the film is very much a political and radical-minded piece of art, ‘Do the Right Thing’ also carries a great amount of comedy with it. The loud-mouthed and over-the-top Boston New York stereotypes played into by Spike Lee allow for some hilarious characters and scenes to be created. Furthermore, the way the different communities can interact with one another allows for some funny scenes, although they often hide another layer of contrasting cultural attitudes which can quickly evolve into hostile scenarios.

Although a fairly mainstream release, there are some great elements of more experimental filmmaking at play. Moments of anger within the narrative are displayed outright, with various characters from each community within the neighbourhood staring down the camera and reeling off as many race-related insults as they can. Through this, Spike Lee reflects the conflict onto the audience, interrogating you and making you appreciate the hatred that is carried in each word. As well as this, a ‘love and hate’ themed monologue delivered by Radio Raheem pays homage to Charles Laughton’s 1955 Christianity-based thriller, ‘The Night of the Hunter,’ and conjures up imagery of a deeply-rooted type of love-hate relationship that has been experienced by those of colour when living in America.

Lee’s writing truly encapsulates the idea that these characters have grown up together all within a few houses of one another. The interactions are often smooth and incorporate inside jokes that physically show the viewer who is familiar with who. I’m sure that in this regard Spike Lee is drawing from his own personal experience growing up in a Brooklyn neighbourhood himself. As a result of these intricate connections within the story, it only becomes even more heartbreaking when such relationships break down as a result of racial tension that divides the neighbourhood. As is all too often the case, the ignorance towards one another’s cultures is what fuels the fire, and the police’s involvement never helps either. What Spike Lee created in 1989 sadly echoes into our modern day society, and shows that nothing much has changed. Despite this solemn idea, this film shows that we must do more to more to progress past the racist values often upheld by those in power, so that another 30 years down the line the same cannot be said.

Spike Lee is one of the greatest directors working today, and ‘Do the Right Thing’ definitely stands as his masterpiece. His work carries so much ethical weight to them that they are all worth watching (except for his remake of Oldboy). I look forward to his upcoming release ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ this summer on Netflix.

Black Lives Matter Cinema

In an effort to show solidarity with the current protests taking place across the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we thought that by highlighting some of the greatest work by black/poc filmmakers, readers can enjoy cinema from what may be a different culture to their own, whilst also becoming better educated on the oppression that constantly plagues these communities.

The films that we take a look at in this post will be particularly focused on social injustice within a racist system that discriminates against those of colour. We feel that especially at this time, using film as a means to overlook what white privilege often blinds us to is necessary, as it allows us to greater understand and help those in need.

  1. Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

In 1989, when Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in this masterpiece, I imagine he hoped that looking back on this film when he was older, the violence and hate captured on-screen would seem dated. However, ‘Do the Right Thing,’ seems more modern than ever. With a climax that reads like a 2020 newspaper headline, the relationships between the police and the black community shown within the film reflects that of the current modern day riots taking place in America. Set over the course of the hottest day of the year, tensions rise along a street in Brooklyn as the various communities that live in the area interact with one another.

As well as being a testament to the institutionalised racism that seems to plague the American police force, Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ works as a masterpiece entirely from a filmmaking aspect too, with interesting characters, beautiful cinematography and a great use of experimental elements to show the growing tensions as the day runs its course. The film paints a vivid image of 80’s urban life in America, with Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet,’ blasting from a boom box whilst kids worry about getting their Jordan’s dirty. It would almost work as a typical coming-of-age story if the consequences for expressing yourself didn’t land the kids in the hands of the police, who have a tendency for brutality.

2. Blindspotting (Carlos Lopez Estrada, 2018)

Following the day-to-day lives of childhood friends Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) at a moving company in Oakland, there’s a tension to ‘Blindspotting’ rooted in the countdown towards the end of Collin’s probation. With the promise of a new life just days away, allowing freedom from a curfew, monitored housing and the inability to leave the area, Estrada creates a level of hopefulness that draws the viewer into the story, no matter their background. Over the course of the three days, the two friends find themselves entangled in social injustices that are all too familiar to people of colour.

Written by the two lead actors in an attempt to represent their home city in a more justified light, the film is brilliantly funny and works perfectly solely as a piece of entertainment, but the way the film also addresses social injustices is unparalleled. Diggs is known for his rapping ability, both from experimental hip-hop trio ‘Clipping,’ as well as his Grammy-winning performances in the stage show ‘Hamilton,’ and by bringing this talent to the screen, he utilises the medium to reinforce the emotions of his character as a reaction to the police brutality witnessed in the film’s opening act. Furthermore, the story does an excellent job of showing how a sequence of events can lead to situations that are misread by the police, and lead to the loss of innocent black lives. By highlighting these injustices, Estrada and the two writers make a point of drawing attention to the assumptious nature of the police in situations where a crime is supposedly being carried out, and shows the viewer how a narrative enforced by the media often has an entire other side to it.

3. Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)

John Singleton’s 1991 exploration into the daily life of teenagers growing up in South Central LA focuses on the gang violence and drugs that have corrupted their neighbourhood.  Starring rising acting talents Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr, this critique of an acceptance towards a hostile environment that’s so often found within these communities focuses mainly on the attitudes towards family that remain enduring no matter the situation. By highlighting these connections, Singleton creates an element of the story that can be related to by anyone, with parents worrying for their children in the same way that any mother or father would. What distinguishes this story from one that you or I may understand is the type of things that they’re fearful of. With drugs on every corner and gangs rampant throughout the neighbourhoods, a viewer could make assumptions about the type of relationships that are developed in such areas. However, love and family are shown to be enduring, and Singleton demonstrates that we are all alike in this way. ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ works as a great example towards overlooking a privilege that prevents us from seeing the situations that those around us may have grown up in.

4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2017)

At the hands of perfectionist Barry Jenkins, ‘Beale Street’ takes the source novel by James Baldwin from 1974 and forms a beautiful depiction of love in the face of constant oppression as a result of the leading couple’s skin colour. Set against the backdrop of 1970’s New York, life-long friends ‘Tish’ and ‘Fonny’ fall in love but struggle to find a place to live due to the prejudice of landlords in the area. After eventually settling down in converted loft apartments owned by a romantic Jewish landlord, the couple attempt to move on with their lives. The film feels as if it could play out exclusively like a beautiful love story if it wasn’t constantly interrupted by the hate brought to the story by the police.

5. When They See Us (Ava DuVernay, 2019)

Although technically a miniseries, ‘When They See Us’ deserves its place on this list due to its unflinching dedication to its horrific root story. 1989, New York City, a white jogger takes her usual route through a local park when she is beaten and raped by an attacker she can’t identify due to amnesia suffered as a result of the incident. From there, the police investigate the story and come to the conclusion that a group of black kids ranging from ages 12 to 16 who had been hanging out in the park that evening are the culprits. Beaten by the police and held alone for extended periods of time, the children are forced into confessing to the crime, and as the story progresses we see the fallout of the life-changing event that occurred simply because of a prejudiced police force targeting children. ‘When They See Us’ is a truly important watch not only because of its dedication to the survivors of the story, but as well as working as a testament towards the lengths racists will go to in an attempt to oppress those who look different to themselves

Ultimately, by celebrating the work of black/poc filmmakers, their voices will grow stronger within the filmmaking industry, and therefore across the world, allowing everyone to benefit from stories that may have otherwise never been heard. By educating ourselves on the situations of others, the root of these societal injustices can be more widely tackled, and allow for an inclusive and equal future.

Justice for George Floyd.


Hot Fuzz – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman, Paddy Considine and Bill Bailey
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
Length: 121mins

In 2004, British director Edgar Wright released his comedic homage to the zombie genre in the form of ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ a brilliant and clever film that utilised the stereotypical tropes of the genre to create a film that felt completely unique. This would be the start of a three-part series of films that would each take on their own respective genre in a comedic manner, and would feature a recurring all-star cast led by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Concluded in 2013, the so-called ‘Cornetto’ trilogy (named after the recurring appearance of the ice cream in each film, with three different flavours to match the three different genres) was rounded up by ‘Worlds End,’ a take on the world of sci-fi and aliens. However, I think that the strongest of the trilogy was made in 2007, when Wright turned his attention towards the action genre, and headed to Somerset to create his ode to the blockbusters of ‘Point Break’ and ‘Bad Boys 2.’

After over-successful London Constable Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is sent to enforce the law in the idyllic rural village of Sandford – hidden amongst the hundreds of other communities just like it – he begins to find that all is not what it seems, and after taking the Chief Inspector’s son PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) under his wing, Angel begins to believe that a series of grisly accidents may not be entirely so coincidental.

To say that Wright is thorough with details when it comes to designing his films would be an understatement. Within the script, the almost constant moments of humour are often accentuated by the smallest of details that may have alluded to future scenes in the earlier moments of the film. Not a line is wasted, and as a result, a moment of dialogue from the story’s beginning will only feature further along down the line. This extreme approach to script writing is what sets Wright and Pegg (who also co-wrote the script) apart from most, as their clever understanding of what adds humour to a scene is perfectly executed throughout the entire 121 minutes.

Wright isn’t only obsessive about recurring and subtle ideas in the script that may only be caught after repeat viewings, but also within the set and sound design. Moments such as Butterman’s peak of intrigue after Angel reveals that he’s been stabbed before is punctuated by a distant ‘ca-ching’ sound of a till opening somewhere within the pub, as well a burst of laughter from a pub-goer after Angel describes it as “the single most painful experience of his life,” are the kind of moments that could be easily mistaken for simple background noise, but are actually the work of meticulous sound design at the hands of a director who understands that if he’s creating a comedy, then he can use all areas of film form to add humour to a scene.

The fanatical use of noise doesn’t just stop at the sound design. Wright’s ideas towards musical accompaniment and the action of a scene are perhaps best displayed in his later work, ‘Baby Driver’ from 2017, where not a moment of action isn’t to the beat of a song, but ‘Hot Fuzz,’ still showcases some brilliant use of music. From Adam Ant’s ‘Goody Two Shoes’ accompanying the over-enthusiastic Angel in his police training, to Dire Strait’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ accompanying a scene of tragedy after a rendition of the titular play is performed. Being aware of the relationship between sound and action is what allows Edgar Wright to create moments that flow to a beat without the audience perhaps even realising.

Aside from the later action of the film, Wright perfectly captures the life of so many small villages dotted throughout the English countryside. From the only after work activity being the Pub, to the frequent reiteration of “everybody knows everybody round here,” anyone who’s spent time in such a place will know that ‘Hot Fuzz’ perfectly depicts the repetitious and slow lifestyle of any English village. Wright himself grew up in Wells, Somerset, where ‘Hot Fuzz’ was actually filmed, and was quoted as saying “I love it but I also want to trash it.”

‘Hot Fuzz’ is one of those films that you can stick on anytime, anywhere and with anyone, and not only laugh out loud, but get something new from it every time. Edgar Wright displays his talents excellently in this film and I look forward to the release of his new film, ‘Last Night in Soho,’ sometime in the near future.