DA 5 BLOODS – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/14/20
Opens: June 13, 2020

Da 5 Bloods Film Poster

Spike Lee’s testosterone picture is no mere action-adventure film. The war scenes play out to evoke Lee’s overriding message: African-Americans have fought for our country in the Civil War, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and assorted skirmishes, but the promise of America has not been kept. Police racism, Presidential bigotry, and general all-purpose fear and hatred have been part of our DNA’s since the first slave ship arrived in 1619. In fact Trump’s popularity is engendered in large part by his put-downs of Black and brown people, whether curtailing immigration from countries with people or color or advising us that militias like the Proud Boys are filled with good people. Lee throws in archival films not only of scenes from the Vietnam War but also of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, and others, all hinting that the promise to African-Americans has not been fulfilled.

“Da 5 Bloods” enjoys a script from the minds of Kevin Willmott, who co-wrote “BlacKkKlansman” with a screenplay by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo.

Vietnam, where the five title African-Americans had served, illustrates the bond that the quintet had formed since their service in what Vietnam calls “The American War.” They had made the long journey from the United States to bring back the body of Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), one of their fighters, killed in action some five decades earlier. The discovery of gold bars which the American forces had left behind after a military aircraft was wrecked, leads them into battles with Vietnamese, who claim the riches as theirs, resulting in the deaths of some of the “bloods” by adversaries that include a French fortune hunter and a group of near-crazed locals.

As Paul, Delroy Lindo, best known to TV viewers for his role as a partner in a law firm in “The Good Fight” often
considered the best show on the tube, has suffered from PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since his soldier days in the Vietnam War.

Using identifying handshakes and lots of excited talk, Paul (Delroy Lindo) Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) meet up in Saigon, sharing their dismal treatment by Americans who called them baby killers (never mind that they were drafted and that the real killer was sitting in the Oval Office). Vinh (Johnny Tri Nguyen) serves as their guide, though some of the bloods believe that he is ideologically “in” with the Viet Cong communists. During their adventure, Otis visits his lover from the war days, finding out that she has a kid and that Otis is the dad. Among the real heroes, Hedy (Mélanie Thierry) shows up, announcing that she has repudiated her family’s fortune and is now altruistically with a group dedicated to removing old land mines.

Naturally the African-American adventurers do not always agree with one another. Otis does not entirely trust Paul, and David (Jonathan Majors), who turns up with the group, has had difficulties connecting with his father, largely because of the latter’s PTSD. Though “Da 5 Bloods” is an ensemble piece and will compete for end-year awards as such, each character has his own identity, from the hotblooded Paul to the generally calmer Melvin. Cameos include a re-creation of a Tokyo-Rose type of newscaster who, during the war, broadcasts to the Americans that racism exists at home, implying that the Vietnamese communists are not their real enemy. She notes that eleven percent of America is African-American, yet they comprise thirty-two percent of soldiers in the war.

Action scenes, archival films, evocations of racism in America down to this day make “Da 5 Bloods” my choice for Best Ensemble, allowing me to vote for the picture when New York Film Critics Online considers the best in fifteen categories.

156 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+


DAYVEON – movie review


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B-
Director:   Amman Abbasi
Written by: Amman Abbasi, Steven Reneau
Cast: Davin Blackmon, Dontrell Bright, Kordell “KD” Johnson, Chasity Moore, Lachion Buckingham, Marquell Manning
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/26/17
Opens: September 13, 2017
Dayveon Movie Photo
A recent issue of the leftist online magazine Counterpunch advises that we are not living in a post-racial society.  Never mind that white people alleviate their guilt by seeing African-Americans in top positions; Obama, Oprah, Beyoncé, and all those newscasters, white and black getting along famously, and act as though we are well beyond the days of white-only water fountains, hotels, restaurants. Black earnings are well behind those of whites on average, and perhaps the most depressing cases are African-Americans still living in the rural South, having never given up the ghost to move north into the cities  The folks in Amman Abbasi’s freshman feature are young blacks without jobs, who spend their time in the summer just chilling out, hanging, and living under the protection of gangs like the Bloods.  In Abbasi’s particular focus is the title character, Dayveon Buckingham(Devin Blackmon), coming of age with some characteristics of rural people who despite their lack of urban, so-called elite membership would hardly vote for Trump—even they even knew the names of the president and vice-president in their inward society.

Dayveon appears destined to wind up in jail, of at least the probation system, through a series of actions that are partly his own doing, but mostly a fault of his environment.  Even at this young age, he understands that there is something wrong with the way he is living, as in the opening scenes in which the boy rides his bike furiously through the tree-lined, rough roads, now and then chasing way the bees, and entertaining himself with a monologue about how stupid he finds everything in the town.  What’s more he has not gotten over his grief over the shooting death of his brother, often standing before a large colorful poster of the unfortunate victim of what is undoubtedly a senseless crime.  When he passes by members of the local Bloods, he is initiated into the membership by being beaten, showing his begrudging acceptance of the violence as it allows him to become one of them.  There are people who care for him in his own family, which is bereft of a mother,who apparently had a breakdown after the death of her son.  His sister Kim (Chasity Moore) takes care of meal preparation, and her boyfriend Bryan (Dontrell Bright) with whom he plays computer games, wants the boy to confide in him, though the relationship is mixed with some hostility by Dayveon, who considers the large man an interloper.

While there are a few melodramatic moments, such as a robbery of a convenience store in which Dayveon remains in the getaway car, this is a meditative drama which occasionally crosses the line into documentary.  The audience is presumably the small group that would go for David Gordon Green’s “George Washington,” in which George is part of a group of working class youths in North Carolina who, through a mistake, seek redemption.  Like Green’s year 2000 movie, this is a slow-mover which captures the rural south dialogue (subtitles would have been most helpful) and whose major feature is that the performers are non-professionals who, like many groups of young people seem to be all talking at the same time.

Unrated.  75 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why

THE BLEEDING EDGE – movie review


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Kirby Dick
Screenwriter:  Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/29/18
Opens: July 27, 2018
Essure Permanent Birth Control device.jpg
Who better to expose the rampant corruption in the medical devices industry than Kirby Dick?  The muckraking documentarian has knocked out hard-hitting films like “The Hunting Ground” which covers rape and cover-ups on college campuses, “The Invisible War” about the rape of soldiers in the U.S. military (likewise covered up), and “Outrage,” about the hypocrisy of closet legislators who talk big about the need for anti-gay legislation.  I wonder what Mr. Dick and co-writer Amy Ziering—who co-wrote and acted in “The Invisible War”—would think of President Trump’s recent declaration that for every new regulation he would sign, he would shred two other regulations?  That one has an obvious answer: Trump is in the sack with Big Business just as are the presumed regulators of drug and medical devices in the Food and Drug Drug Administration who, upon leaving the FDA at the end of their terms serve as lobbyists for the industries they were regulating.  Not only that: these former government officials, now with jobs paying greater than three times more than they received from the government, tell the drug and device companies how to get around FDA regulations.  (In the same manner, of course, former employees of Internal Revenue have been known to tell the private industries they now work for how to get around, i.e. cheat, on their taxes.)

In the Netflix doc “The Bleeding Edge” Kirby Dick takes aim against four industries that use medical devices: the da Vinci robotic surgery device, materials used for hip replacements, the mesh used in gynecological surgeries, and most of all a specific company, Bayer, that manufactures Essure, which are implants for birth control.  Most of the individuals interviewed in the cast, filmed by Thaddeus Wadleigh with Jeff Beal’s music to intensify the drama, are women, none of whom give much praise to the device which had been sold to the public presumably because it’s new.  This is a metal coil claimed to be 99%+ effective at preventing pregnancy, which sounds great—until you realize that 65,000 women are parties to lawsuits against its manufacturer.  They get their chance to announce their frustrations to moviegoers, warning them of the possibility that their audience, like them, may suffer from cramps and bleeding requiring the removal of a device that is said to be for a lifetime and not removable.  They recommend the good old fashioned tried-and-true surgery to tie their tubes, a tubal ligation, which like Essure takes only minutes for a gynecologist to process and to our knowledge has not met with horrendous side effects.  To top it off, a video taken at an approval meeting, members of the government committee joke about dissenting voices. Ultimately the only thing that the FDA does to regulate Essure—forget about having them take it off the market—is to require doctors to advise patients of side effects.

We are not made to accept foreign bodies easily, though there are some proven techniques like implantation of pacemakers for heart patients that have saved lives.  Under the microscope here, though, is the vaginal mesh used to hold tissues in place.  One woman’s experience will not soon be forgotten by those watching the movie.  When the mesh became rigid—and her husband became rigid—the poor man receives a cut on the tip of his penis.  So movies like “Teeth,” a horror film that has overly aggressive men and rapists lose most of their penis from women who have implanted teeth into their vagina, creating “vagina dentate,” are not so far out.  Statics are invoked that Johnson and Johnson lost $300 million from lawsuits against earnings of $683 billion during the same period.

Robotics surgery is touted now as New! New! New! Doctors urging some patients to avoid the need for trauma as doctors are able to manipulate a million dollar machine for some procedures.  Yet because the system is new and because hospitals that have invested in the machines have a need to use them, some doctors are not fully trained.  In one horrific case we come across a woman who had three feet of her colon falling out of her body. No, this is not a film by Rob Zombie or Eli Roth or Wes Craven.

Many of us will need hip replacements at some point in our lives.  We wear out, just like computers and cars.  Some folks interviewed here have had replacements made with cobalt, and one orthopedic surgeon, himself a patient who should have known better, had tremors and memory loss because, one again, the body is not friendly to spare parts.  In his case the metal got into his bloodstream. Did that stop the use of cobalt?  Guess.

If you’re one of the exceptional people who blow the whistle, you’re likely to get fired, and in fact nine FDA officials who warned that the commission is too lax were fired.  Maybe that made an impression on current staff members.  Not a single one from the agency or, for that matter, any rep from the companies being criticized agreed to be interviewed.

By now you should realize that this is a documentary that should be seen by all, as none of us who live to a ripe old age can avoid having to make decisions on treatments.

Unrated.  88 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical –A-

Overall – B+



Amazon Studios
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Directed by:  Lynne Ramsay
Screenwriter: Lynne Ramsay adapted from Jonathan Ames’ novel
Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Location:  Park Avenue, NYC, 5/22/18
Opens: April 6, 2018

Novelist Jonathan Ames, whose 112-page novella “You Were Never Really Here” comes across as a book written to be put on the screen, may not have had the current administration in the White House and Capitol Hill in mind when he described the corruption endemic in our system.  No matter.  Corruption is embraced under many generations of politicians in the U.S., which is why this adaptation situates its evil within the East Side-Midtown area of Manhattan, close to the UN and to the purveyors of capital.  It may or may not be a coincidence that the mansion depicted in the final scenes could resemble a likeness of  breathtaking wealth during the gilded age, where money rules, where in fact there are no rules, and to get things done all you have to do is hire the right kind of guy to do it.

In this noirish adaptation, writer-director Lynne Ramsay—whose “We Need to Talk About Kevin” about a mother made meek because of an “incident” must struggle to love her strange child—focuses now on another person of disturbed psyche.  And who can blame Joe (Joaquin Phoenix)?  He was brutalized by his father, became an FBI agent and then a soldier in the Iraq War, and sees ghosts wherever he goes.  The specters are often women with dead eyes who stalk him, evoked by his experience in Iraq where he sees a girl killed.  He simply was never really there for her.  He dedicates his remaining time to the service of a hit man, but so far as we can see he’s a good guy.  He is part of an organization that rescues girls kidnapped for sex slavery, with Nina Voto (Ekaterina Samsonov) standing in for one thirteen-year-old that he rescues, but her own zonked out appearance could have resulted as much from abuse she faced from her father, State Senator Albert Voto (Alex Manette), as from her treatment as a sex slave.  The senator tells Joe, his hit man (for $50,000) that she often ran away from home.  Her unprotected status made her easy prey for the perverted criminals who hooked her into their lair.

The picture is filled with violence, yet don’t expect to see a grand build-up leading to a massive assassination.  The particularly artistic tone of the eighty-nine minute film presents violence often as events that had already happened, as though Joe was conducting the fury and the bloodshed off screen like the ancient Greek tragedians.  His weapon of choice is a hammer, and he appears to buy a different one for each killing.  One of the killings has poetry.  As his victim is on the ground, blood gushing from his stomach, Joe lies down with the man, joins him in singing a song from the radio, and holds his hand—whether to ease his pain of death or to sense when the fellow has taken his final breath.

Joe’s gentle moments appear in his treatment of his mother (Judith Roberts) with whom he lives, and also in his care for the rescued thirteen-year-old.  Most important as we look over the whole scene is that rarely has a crime drama been told with such a lean and mean focus, cutting everything to the bone—with moments of ironic peace such as when Joe buries a victim, large plastic bag and all, into the lake, wading into the water with suit and tie.

This picture is all about Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, one that will hopefully be remembered at end-year awards time.  The grizzled man with a huge beard, glassy eyes, with the aura of someone wandering with seeming aimlessness as though through a dream albeit with a specific purpose, is mesmerizing. Yet the film is for a special taste, for an audience that does not need to see the actual commissions of crimes graphically reproduced, but is more than content to focus primarily not on the brutality but on one disturbed man’s psyche.

Rated R.  89 Minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

GET OUT – movie review


    Universal Pictures
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A
    Director:  Jordan Peele
    Written by: Jordan Peele
    Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery, Erika Alexander, Keith Stanfield
    Screened at: Regal E-Walk, NYC,
    Opens: February 24, 2017
    Get Out Movie Poster
    Phil Ochs, a true leftie, satirized liberals as hypocrites with the 1965 song, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.”  Ochs sings, in part:

    I love Puerto Ricans and Negroes
    As long as they don’t move next door
    So love me, love me
    Love me, I’m a liberal

    And I’ll send all the money you ask for
    But don’t ask me to come on along
    So love me, love me
    Love me, I’m a liberal

    It’s easy enough to skewer a racist, particularly nowadays, as it has become unfashionable in reasonably polite circles to parrot the same old tiresome clichés  in referring to African-Americans.  But what about liberals?  Do they get off without rebuke?  Just as Phil Ochs points out that people who are left of center will go only so far and no farther—contribute money to civil rights causes but not take part in demonstrations—so does Jordan Peele in his debut directing role.  Peele is not nearly as timid as Ochs, though.  He is not the sort of screenwriter/director who points out in a most genteel manner that white liberals are “full of it.”   In “Get Out” he sees whites as people who are so uncomfortable around blacks that they have to say how much they admire Tiger Woods, or how they would have voted for Obama for a third term, or how Jesse Owens really showed up those Nazis in the 1936 Munich Olympics.  Since satire requires exaggeration, Peele goes the distance, indicating that genteel whites may invite blacks to their homes, welcome them to their neighborhoods, smile when their daughters date African-Americans and even feel just dandy if their daughters want to marry these boyfriends.  Yet they still feel a sense of ownership somehow that black people, though certainly a lot more than servants, exist largely as an auxiliary to their own privileged, pale skin.

    Few films have captured this dimension.  Here’s one off the bat; Robert Downey Sr.’s 1969 “Putney Swope,” wherein African-Americans take over the running of an advertising corporation, hire one white guy for diversity, and show how they would change the culture we expect of the Fortune 500.

    “Get Out” will be greatly enjoyed by the more educated and more mature folks who come to see it for the satire.  It will be at least equally enjoyed by those who like visceral action, who are looking for a psychological thriller that they can feel deep-down on a gut level, one whose buildup leads to a conclusion that could knock them out of their seats.  This is because “Get Out,” which gets its title because one of its black characters shouts this out a few times, is the most exciting film of its type in many years.

    This is the real thing, readers, involving a blend of talents that capture the suspicion between the races, blithely covered over by false bonhomie.  Its direction by Peele (catch his shtick on Key and Peele on youtube at https://video.search.yahoo.com /search/video?fr=mcafee&p=key+ %26+peele+youtube#id=2&vid=4fe 62182ebcb66159283f185dfc471cc& action=click) evokes superlative performances from the entire ensemble. The cinematography and special effects are spot-on, particularly in scenes that depict the main performer’s hypnosis.  The filming location, Fairhope, Alabama, is just right for illustrating the estate owned by two upper-class professionals.  The screenplays toys with us in the audience, throws in some twists that you will not see coming, and ends in the expected bloodshed, filmed with love by Toby Oliver behind the lens, backed up perfectly by Michael Abels’ spooky music.

    And where has Daniel Kaluuya been?  In the principal role of Chris Washington, he is in virtually every frame, displaying a huge range of expressions and emotions from those of a vaguely uncomfortable guest of the family of his current squeeze Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), to a confused role when he meets some of the “brothers” at a lawn party, and ultimately to full-scale murderous rage when he discovers what the white folks at this party have in store.

    To sum up without spoilers: Rose Armitage’s parents, Miss Armitage (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnosis while her husband, Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), performs neurosurgery.  They have a couple of black servants (as for why they refuse to hire white servants comes out clearly enough).  If 20-something Rose dotes on her parents, so Chris depends on a very special best friend, Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery) in the role of a TSA employee who stands in for the story’s comic relief.  He is, how can one put it, funny as all get-out.  When Chris goes missing, Rod reports his concern to a trio of detectives who burst out laughing—as you will too.  (Note that Shakespeare put comedy into his great tragedy “Hamlet,” but those gravediggers are not half as amusing as Lil Rel Howery).

    “Get Out,” then is a race-conscious thriller that veers from a comedy of manners to a visceral thriller, to a conclusion of all-out horror.  You probably will not see a better picture of this genre—and remember this is from a debut director!—for the remainder of the year.  Nothing quite like it recently.

    Rated R.  103 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

GERALD’S GAME – movie reveiw


Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B
Director:  Mike Flanagan
Written by: Jeff Howard, Mike Flanagan, from Stephen King’s novel “Gerald’s Game” (published 9/27/16)
Cast:  Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Chiara Aurelia, Carel Struycken, Kate Siegel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/27/17
Opens: September 29, 2017
Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Gerald's Game
Joan Baez does a great job singing the traditional song that opens “Hard if the fortune of all womankind/ They’re always controlled/ they’re always confined/ Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/ A slave to her husband all the rest of her life.”  This sounds more like a fantasy inspired by Saudi Arabian culture but it’s not at all untrue when dealing with our own country.  And who better to show the monstrous dimensions of male control than Stephen King?  Mike Flanagan adapts King’s novel to construct a tale that’s perhaps too theatrical for the movie (most of the action takes place inside a single room), but given top performances by Carla Gugino as the “controlled and confined” woman and Bruce Greenwood as the all-powerful controlling force, “Gerald’s Game” is a contest that’s worth your playing time.

In the well-paced, mostly slow-moving story, Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) and her rich husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) head for the summer home in Maine, intent on spicing up their marriage.  Gerald’s game starts out simple enough: he handcuffs her to the bed and refuses to honor her protests,  keeping her chained as a physical manifestation of their unequal bond.  When he drop dead of a heart attack after taking Viagra, she is stuck.  Unable to release the handcuffs and threatened by a stray dog that first works on Gerald’s body before considering a move on Jessie, she lets her imagination take hold, remembering—as Joan Baez might say “didn’t I tell you?”—an event that began when she was thirteen (played by Chiara Aurelia) and molested by her father, Tom (Henry Thomas).  Soon enough she begins to talk to herself, a fleshed-out image of her, commenting like a Greek chorus on her plight.

Though King’s novel takes place entirely within a room and positions Gerald as a schlemiel who resents his trophy wife, here the man is a hunk in the form of Bruce Greenwood, who paces around with a pair of clinging undershorts as though expected to have sex with her without stripping.  While Jessie struggles to free herself, the hallucinatory image of her husband talks calmly, giving the viewer a picture of empathy.  But Gerald is no pal, goading her with descriptions of how she will die of dehydration, while her own image tells her that “you and Gerald will be together, inside the dog.”

Carla’s confrontation after escaping is with an actual monster (Carel Struycken), an effect that’s like a bludgeon after the more sophisticated encounters that she has experienced.  All in all, a restrained look at the kind of horror to which Stephen King is accustomed, leaving behind the immature ravings and bloodshed of a monster for the more subtle and nuanced story.  If you’re a fella and go to this movie with a date, be prepared to hide under the theater seat.

Unrated.  103 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?