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+


THE MISOGYNISTS – movie review

Oscilloscope Laboratories/Factory 25
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Onur Tukel
Screenwriter: Onur Tukel
Cast: Dylan Baker, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Ivana Milicevic, Lou Jay Taylor, Matt Walton, Christine Campbell
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/2/20
Opens: February 14, 2020

In just 85 minutes writer-director Onur Tukel compresses three years of seemingly endless political discussion into a stagy tale spotlighting Dylan Baker, whose somber performance as a Russian spy in “The Americans,” goes against type as Cameron in “The Misogynists.” This hilarious tale, one that sends up Cameron who stands in for a type of Trump supporter that Hillary once called “deplorables,” deliberately portrays Cameron as a one-dimensional racist, homophobic, prejudiced, misogynistic citizen and voter, standing in as a the kind of person who may not express his bigoted ideas at the workplace or at home but is free to let loose in locker talk with his best male friend.

Cheering as he probably had done many times in his life, this wealthy businessman, separated for four months from his wife and living in a luxury hotel in Manhattan, is over the moon when on election night in 2016 the media calls Donald J. Trump the winner of the presidential election. His pal Baxter (Lou Jay Taylor) is a more nuanced gent, possibly a liberal at heart but seemingly able to be convinced under the right circumstances, with the right shots of Vodka and lines of coke, to find common ground with his boorish compatriot.

The Misogynists (2017)

For the most part what Cameron likes about Trump is only partly the commander-in-chief elect’s plan to build a fortress America on our southern border but mostly because this victory will symbolize man as ruler, leaving woman to cook steaks in the kitchen. Cameron cannot credibly be called the voice of the Christian Right, the Evangelicals, who may have held their noses when they voted for the developer, but more akin to the white nationalists, the anti-elitists, the know-nothings, really, like the folks in that political party who in the 1840s bonded with like-minded Protestants who feared a conspiracy to undermine their religious and political values.

Playing the part of Cameron’s straight-man, Taylor evokes the impression of a klutz who is likely in conflict with all sorts of things in his life, including his ties to his wife Alice (Christine M. Campbell), who calls him on her cell demanding that he come home, the controlling woman who is often the target of Cameron’s wrath. His own political beliefs in conflict, Baxter would like to fit in with the views of Cameron, the dominant male, but he is neither a Hillary voter nor a Trump supporter. Given the curfews that Alice appears to set down, Baxter could readily go whole-hog over to Cameron’s position that men should rule.

Some of the sharpest dialogue occurs between the hotel guests and a Mexican-American busboy (Rudy de la Ctuz), inviting the lad to extend his break and do some lines. While you might expect the busboy to be anti-Trump, he, like some of friends, simply did not vote. He cares not a whit what the resident in the Oval Office has in store for people like him. Best of all is the exchange of obscenities between Cameron and the two hookers, Sasha (Ivana Milicevic) and Amber (Triests Kelly Dunn), who for their part get thrown out of the cab by the driver, Cairo (Hemang Sharma) for insulting Muslim men.

Dylan Baker turns in a spot-on performance, emerging from his previous, quieter roles in “The Good Fight” on TV and “Anchorman 2.” Almost all the action takes place in a single room, the TV performing as a separate character turning itself on and off and showing clips in reverse order.

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

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

BURDEN – movie review

101 Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andrew Heckler
Screenwriter: Andrew Heckler
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson, Andrea Riseborough, Tess Harper, Crystal Fox, Usher
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 2/24/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/ You’ve got to be taught from year to year
Its got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

We learn from these lyrics from “South Pacific” that we are not born with hate. Hate is evoked by the environment, not the genes. The negative emotion may be given birth by your parents, later by your friends and what you see on TV and in the movies. This does not mean that we should not hate Hitler and Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. That hatred is rational. To feel this animosity to an entire people because of their skin color or religion is irrational.

Andrew Heckler, who directs and wrote “Burden,” has been heretofore known mostly for his acting. However he contributes an incisive portrait of hatred based closely on a true story (we see some of the actual characters in the epilogue). In this case the focus is on the Ku Klux Klan which, surprisingly, was alive and well as recently as 1996, albeit in one small South Carolina town. Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson), the head of the sheeted warriors, had the brilliant idea to invigorate a dump of a one-screen cinema house by converting it into a museum of the Klan, with Confederate flags prominently displayed. One woman involved in the structure might be called a moderate in that she announces that Blacks are welcome as well as Whites because “Blacks also fought and died for the Confederacy.” A shrine to the KKK would seem bad enough but the place is used for headquarters of an actual Klan group, one of its members, Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), serving as grand dragon.

Not much is told about Burden’s youth aside from his statement that he once coaxed a deer to come right up to him fearlessly (the animal senses the boy’s friendliness) only to be shot by Burden’s father. Burden is poor, badly educated, orphaned, seeking a family as do so many young gang members, though he finds familial warmth from Tom Griffin, who assures him that he treats the young man as his own son. In fact he is so enamored of Mike that he hands over the deed to the Klan museum, giving title to him upon his death.

Two forces counteract the racist group. One is Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mom, who is instrumental in turning around the emotionally unstable Mike. The other is David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), the local reverend, who active not only in his fire-and-brimstone sermons on Sunday but throughout the week gathering crowds of other Black people including a few Whites, demanding that the Klan museum be destroyed.

Much of the movie is taken up with the gentle and sometimes fiery relationship between Judy, who is actively anti-Klan, and Mike Burden, who treats her as lovingly as he treats the local Black people with contempt and with his fists. In one scene he targets the reverend for assassination with a high-powered rifle, but on further consideration he puts down the weapon (he “lays the burden down” as we hear from a song on the soundtrack) and reconsiders his fury at the African-Americans.

Many of the scenes come across as if the movie were endorsed by the church, given the loving attention that Reverend Kennedy gives to the repenting Klan member, affection that means a lot to Burden after he quits the Klan and is targeted for beatings at Tom Griffin’s order. The reverend’s “chasing hate with love” is not popular with his own family, which recalls the many beatings that the gang members gave to the African-Americans.

Garrett Hedlund’s terrific performance anchors the story, turning the individual into a thoroughly credible action to redeem himself. Many of the scenes, however, are not modulated, the physical actions and obscenity-laced words appearing one after the other. We in the audience are coaxed to consider whether we should treat our enemies with love, as “brothers in Christ” as the reverend notes, or to feel emboldened temporarily by taking vengeance against those who have wronged us.

Save the for cursing, you might almost take this film as a Hallmark Hall of Fame episode, one that could be appreciated by a wide audience as a supplement to a Sunday sermon.

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

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

WIDOWS – movie review


20th Century Fox
Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Steve McQueen
Screenwriter: Steve McQueen, Gillian Flynn
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Liam Neeson
Screened at: AMC 34th St., NYC, 11/5/18
Opens: November 16, 2018

Widows Movie Poster

With our own midterm elections just behind us and with discussions that will probably linger for a few more weeks with the TV pundits, politics is very much on our minds. That makes “Widows” a movie which, while not dealing with Trump or Cohen or Hannity or Huffington, might be “ripped from the headlines.” While the concentration is on the mostly African-American ward in Chicago’s South Side rather than with the nation as a whole, “Widows” could stand in for goes on among the people who should be representing us but instead, surprise! are in the business for themselves.

Director Steve McQueen, whose “12 Years a Slave” is, like “Widows,” a look into the corruption of the American empire, then as a freed man is abducted and sold back into slavery, now tackles not only politics and ethics but focuses on problems with gender bias, racist thinking, and the contradictions of capitalism. “Widows” is brilliantly acted particularly by the awesome Viola Davis, but is marred by an overly complex, confusingly edited handling of the plot written by the director and Gillian Flynn.

McQueen opens the movie in the way that so many screenwriting advisors recommend: with a bang. With quite a few bangs, in fact. Mobster Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his wife Veronica (Viola Davis) are kissing in bed, standing up, and pre- and post-shower. Cut to the scene so common in blockbusters. A job has gone wrong, the SWAT team lets loose with automatic firepower, and Harry is killed. Problems are just beginning for Vernoica as a crime lord, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) determines that the two million dollars of his, now up in smoke , visits the grieving woman and demands that she pay him back within one month.

When Veronica is not grieving, she’s is carrying her small West Highland Terrier in her arms as though the dog were a stuffed Teddy, which makes you wonder whether the pup is a Mac Guffin or the key to the big twist that comes some three-quarters into the 130 minute movie. Occasionally grounding the dog–surprisingly phlegmatic for a terrier—she assembles other widows in a plot to get five million dollars. Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) a mother with a shop that has been taken over by the gang, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), a tall, blond, Polish American whose own mother (Jackie Weaver) pimps her out, and Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a hairdresser assigned to be the getaway driver.

If that plot is not complex enough for you, much is made of the candidacy of handsome, slick Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), driven to run for alderman by his racist father Tom (Robert Duvall) to keep the power in the hands of white people. His opponent, an African-American, refuses to withdraw from the race while both seek the endorsement of the ward’s leading preacher. Yet many African-American women will vote for Mulligan because he provided them with the loans (they were refused by the banks) to open their own businesses. But there’s a catch, and that brings in serial killer Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya—the great actor who shined in last year’s best movie, “Get Out”, the only performer who could begin to match Viola Davis).

Confusing, needs a second viewing to unscramble the erratic editing, great acting, good visuals.

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

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

BLACKkKLANSMAN – movie review


Focus Features
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Spike Lee
Screenwriter:  Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
based on Ron Stallworth’s book “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”
Cast:  Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin, Adam Driver, Ryan Eggold, Laura Harrier, John David Washington, Paul Walter Hauser, Robert John Burke, Corey Hawkins, Jasper Pääkkönen, Michael Buscemi, Harry Belafonte
Screened at: Bryant Park Hotel, NYC, 8/6/18
Opens: August 10, 2018

Violence is as American as apple pie, as Spike Lee is not shy about dramatizing.  Why should he be?  The director of “BLACKkKLANSMAN” my have jump-started his career with his successful opener, “She’s Gotta Have It,” then proceeded to hone in on what is truly important if we are to hope for a country more rational in its politics.  “Malcolm X,” “Doing the Right Thing,” “Driving Miss Daisy” can be appreciated for entertainment value as well as their political importance, and now with “BLACKkKLANSMAN” he carves a drama that could serve as a background for today’s news headlines in an entertaining, persuasive, provocative and downright exciting film.  That he makes a few inevitable cracks about our president is practically a given.  Yet that he is restrained when reminding us of the stupidity of Trump’s comments about neo-Nazis and their Antifa counter-protesters “there are good people on both sides.”  That restraint serves him well, allowing us to watch his story unfold without the taint of yellow journalism.  Some of the scenes are so pumped up you might find it difficult to believe that the movie is based on the true story of a black police officer in Colorado Springs, the first African-American hired by the local force and used to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan.

The violent opening is a scene from the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind,” a battlefield of the Civil War with hundreds dead trumping the romance between a manipulative woman and a roguish man.  Toward the conclusion he affords us a look at D.W. Griffith’s 1915, a pro-Klan, 3-hour project with unflattering looks at black men (played by whites in blackface) acting sexually aggressive toward white women. Ultimately he pays attention to the Charlottesville, Virginia white nationalist rally in a formerly quiet college town.  Given an obligatory explosion near the finale and a little gunplay now and then, “BLACKkKLANSMAN” eschews outright killing in favor of presenting a damning look at the racism of the Klan during the 1970s, portraying  David Duke as a leader who favors substituting a businesslike organization for the more radical and thuggish cross-burners—all the more influential if the Klan hope to influence American government. Or should we say “influence the government further?”

John David Washington turns in an extraordinary performance as Detective Ron Stallworth, a neat, handsome African-American who becomes the first of his race to be hired by the Colorado Springs police department.  Initially assigned to the stock room which bored him no end (and where he has to put up with the one outwardly racist cop), he is transferred at his request to narcotics, then suddenly re-assigned once again—to infiltrate the Klan.  What? A black man being accepted by the Klan?  Not exactly.  His phone voice—the king’s English in which he claims to be as fluent as he is in jive—is his, but Ron Stallworth’s identity will be taken by Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Jewish cop who must convince the KKK that he is Aryan white.  Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkönen) is wary, insisting that he take a lie detector test and show him his “dick,” but he is accepted by the others.  When the real Ron Stallworth is not on the phone, he is romancing Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), an Angela Davis lookalike who is president of the black students’ union, which had been the audience of a fiery speech by Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins).  Ultimately we have to suspend disbelief when Stallworth is ordered to guard the life of David Duke (Topher Grace) when the Klan leader visits Colorado Springs.

If you insist that a movie stay consistent in tone, you may find difficulty marrying the sometime uproarious comedy with the darkness that surrounds it, but this is a work of fiction, however based on a true account, and director Lee knows exactly how to entertain at the same time as warning us—as he does in a final scene that America is in dire straits.  Have you kept up with current politics via CNN, the Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, the New York Times, and all the other progressive media that cut through the sickness at the heart of our current political situation?  Without explicitly saying so, Lee encourages us to go to the polls this November to try to take back our country—certainly not in the way that our “leadership” today would like, but as rational people who fear the push into authoritarianism by a president who disses the Prime Minister of Canada while at the same time glorifying Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim.

The supporting actors are terrific, making good use of a witty, yet grandiloquent script, the movie shot by Chayse Irvin in Ossining, NY among other locations and given a huge emotional boost by Terence Blanchard’s 1970s rhythm-and-blues soundtrack.

Rated R.  135 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

DRIVING WHILE BLACK – movie review


    Artist Rights Distribution
    Director:  Paul Sapiano
    Screenwriter:  Dominique Purdy, Paul Sapiano
    Cast:  Dominique Purdy, Sheila Tejada, John Mead
    Screened at: Critics link, NYC,
    Opens: February 1, 2018
    Driving While Black poster
    The best way to convince an audience of your political reviews is not to bop them over the head in your desire to proselytize.  People resist heavy-handed treatment, just as police get their dander up when suspects challenge their authority.  The best film to hit home on that score last year, “Get Out,” is perhaps the best movie of 2017 because it finds much to criticize with one large segment—the progressives, or the liberals as they used to be called—who think that they have no racism in their DNA but are effectively exposed as hypocrites.

    “Driving While Black” is itself a great title because like the Paul Sapiano’s film, it uses wordplay to impress its target audience.  Director Sapiano, whose “The Boys Guide to Getting Down” in 2011 deals with sex, drugs and bad behavior, is in his métier with this latest contribution, as he hones in on a rough section of Los Angeles whose police, whether white or black, can sometimes be as much of a problem as the gangs.  The comedy serves both to entertain and to caution those of us who think that the police can do no wrong given the extent of the criminal element. It is often flat-out hilarious.  Credit Dominique Purdy, both the principal actor and co-writer, for a movie that will inevitably be well received in early 2018.

    Dmitri (Dominique Purdy) is a typical young and hip black man who has the ghetto look—the hoodie, the baseball cap, the wtf attitude.  He does not have a threatening look, though the cops would disagree, he means well in his attempt to get a job as a Hollywood tour guide, and even has an artistic bent, using hydrochloric acid, coat hangers and a blow torch for his projects. He smokes weed (not a biggie except to the cops) and hangs out with people whose attitude toward the men and women in blue often gets them and Dmitri in trouble.

    Sapiano takes us on Dimitri’s pizza rounds and the hanging out episodes in Dimitri’s Ford Focus.  Scenes that stand out include one in which the person to whom he is to deliver pizza is under arrest in the police vehicle as the arresting officers open the box and take their free slices. They love the pepperoni, and even feed the handcuffed suspect a bite.

    The tension arises when Dimitri, on the way to an interview that would improve his life, is stopped, lined up, and insulted by police such as Officer McVitie (Peter Cilella), who is particularly racist as he received a vicious beating years back by five men.  He is certain that Officer Borty-Lio (Sheila Tejada), the only really good cop, was promoted to sergeant over the men with more experience because of affirmative action.

    The picture claims 32 festival wins and is most deserving of your time.

    Rated R.  92 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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