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 LAST FULL MEASURE – movie review

Roadside Attractions
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Todd Robinson
Screenwriter: Todd Robinson
Cast: Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/18/20
Opens: Opens January 24, 2020

Todd Robinson, whose “Lonely Hearts” dramatized the true story of a hunt by two homicide detectives for the pair of “lonely hearts” killers who seduced victims through the personals, might not surprise you for the war movie he directed over a decade later. Yet “The Last Full Measure,” a title whose expression means “death,” is likewise based on a true story which, though not involving city detectives, instead concentrates on battlefield heroism. Its hero is not only the soldier, William Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine)but also Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan ) in particular who gave up a promising career promotion to unfold a thirty-year-old story of an airman denied the well-deserved Medal of Honor by members of Congress covering up an exposure of bad battlefield decisions. Also involved but also of the folks who held out hope for a three decades that a wrong would be righted. That hope came to life as Huffman interviews Tully (William Hurt), a bosom buddy of the Vietnam war hero and also of Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), who witnessed Pitsenbarger’s bravery during a battle taking place 56 kilometers outside of Saigon, William Pitsenbarger (Christopher Plummer) and Alice Pitsenberger (Diane Ladd) as the parents of the airman, and two other on the spot witnesses Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda) and Mott (Ed Harris).

“The Last Measure” takes place in two time periods, one involving the bombs and bullets ducked in 1966 by a pinned-down group of soldiers whose commanders had apparently made bad decisions, and in 1998, involving scenes taking place in the Pentagon and on the territories of witnesses and lobbyists for the heroic William Pitsenberger. The film will recall similar heroism by Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) in “Hacksaw Ridge,” looked at with contempt by officers for his stand as a conscientious objector refusing to pick up a rifle, but who nonetheless saved the lives of some 75 men in World War II.

The principal role in “The Last Full Measure,” though, is that of Sebastian Stan, whose Pentagon careerist Scott Huffman determines to dig up new evidence about why Pitsenbarger, though originally considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor (the highest award given to combat soldiers), was downgraded to an Air Force cross. Those who knew Pitsenbarger had been sitting on the case year after year, never giving up hope that the medal would be upgraded, though such a review rarely recommends such an action.

Among those testifying to Huffman, perhaps the most interesting is Sam Jackson’sTakoda, a salt-of-the-earth gent who in one point grabs the recorder out of the interviewer’s hand and tosses it into the river. As the story unfolds, we learn that 20 infantrymen remained alive though hit but a burst of enemy fire, some coming from snipers in nearby trees near Vietnam’s Cam My. Helicopters are sent in to rush the wounded out of the area. When young Pitsenberger is offered a ride by the last chopper out, giving him a chance to depart the scene, he refused, dedicated to helping the wounded and comforting them with his words.

With battle scenes photographed in typical war-movie style DP Byron Werner in Thailand and with tense scenes accentuated by Philip Klein’s sometimes intrusive music, “The Last Full Measure” cannot avoid sometimes descending into soap-opera inspired dialogue. Nevertheless the subject is well served by this narrative drama, giving many in the film audience too young to have followed the Vietnam War a hint of the action, particularly of the guerrilla warfare engaged in by the enemy, some of whom serving in regular jobs during the day and as fighters by night.

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

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