Archive for "Spike Lee"

This Day in Film: Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”

Published by Clay Cane on Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 12:00 am.

(Photo: Courtesy New Line Cinema)

Twelve years ago this week, my favorite Spike Lee film opened in theaters — Bamboozled. With little to no promotion, the movie barely got a run at theaters, but created a huge buzz due to screenings on various college campuses.  I first heard about Bamboozled from students at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I saw the artsy Spike Lee Joint at a theater in Manhattan — instead of a movie poster, which is usually posted for every film, Bamboozled had a 8 x 10 computer print out.  The sheet of paper was taped to the door of the theater. Bamboozled was getting bamboozled in every direction.

Bamboozled was the story of the Mantan Show, the new millennium minstrel show that became a television sensation. The flick starred Jada Pinkett Smith, Tommy Davidson, Michael Rapaport, Mos Def, Savion Glover and Damon Wayans as the lead, Pierre Delacroix. Bamboozled received mixed reviews and wasn’t a box office hit, but in many ways Lee’s vision of a resurgence of minstrel shows has come to life in the form of reality television.

Bamboozled is an underrated classic.  If you haven’t seen it, Nextflix it right away.

Check out the vintage trailer below!

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This Day in Film: “Mo’ Better Blues”

Published by Marcus Reeves on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:30 am.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

On this date, 22 years ago, Spike Lee released his fourth feature film, Mo’ Better Blues. The sultry, jazz-centered story was a drastic turn for the confrontational director who, just the year before, unleashed the racially-explosive film Do the Right Thing, which some critics predicted would start riots in the hot summer of 1989.

For Mo’ Better Blues, Lee used his penchant for creating cinematic tension to tell the tale of star jazz musician Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) who, along with leading a star-studded band, juggles two girlfriends (played by Cynda Williams and Spike’s sister Joie Lee).  Moreover, within his band, he must temper the ambitions of his hotheaded virtuoso sax player Shadow Henderson, played by Wesley Snipes. The cast also included Dick Anthony Williams, John Turturro, Robin Harris and Samuel L. Jackson.

While the film wasn’t as big a hit as Lee’s first three projects, Mo’ Better can be credited for turning both Denzel and Wesley into Hollywood leading men and sex symbols.  Who could forget Shadow’s steamy balcony scene?

Yes, Mo’ Better Blues marked Lee departure from focusing on the provocative issue on race. But, in true Spike fashion, the film did manage to rub one group — Jews — the wrong way. Several Jewish organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, complained about the director’s depiction of two Jewish jazz club owners, saying they were stereotypical.

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This Day in Film: “The Original Kings of Comedy”

Published by Michael Arceneaux on Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 9:33 am.

(Photo: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks)

On this day in 2000, the Spike Lee directed The Original Kings of Comedy was released to theaters. Filmed in front of a live audience at the Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina over a two-night stand, the movie captured the routines of four of the biggest Black comics at the time: Steve Harvey, Cedric The Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and the late Bernie Mac. The Original Kings of Comedy consistently sold out 10,000 to 15,000 seat capacity arenas during its coast-to-coast run – making it one of the biggest comedy tours in history.

Each respective comedian covered topics related to black culture, race relations, religion and family during their sets. In between each comedian’s bit, footage of the funny men backstage and their lives on the road were intertwined. On the movie, The New York Times wrote, “What comes out of these comedians’ hearts hits the most powerful chord, and the audience wants more of it.”

Others highlighted the comedic genius of Bernie Mac, with the critic at Film Threat claiming: “It is Bernie Mac who is the true King of Comedy here, following in the footsteps of Pryor and Murphy before him as he crosses from church-raised testifying, to furious black cultural theorizing, to barely controlled comedic genius.”

The Original Kings of Comedy was produced with an estimated $3,000,000 budget, but went on to gross a total of $38,168,022 at the box offices. The stand-up film also spawned several sequels, in particular The Queens of Comedy featuring Academy Award-winning actress Mo’Nique.

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This Day in Film: ‘Mo’ Better Blues’

Published by Michael Arceneaux on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 10:24 am.

(Photo: Universal Studios)

Fans of Spike Lee know that the acclaimed director has long idealized jazz. His father, jazz musician Bill Lee, has composed a number of his son’s films. So it wasn’t surprising to see Spike create a film centered within that world. Unfortunately, the ambitious Mo’ Better Blues wasn’t as well received as the works preceding it.

The 1990 drama follows the life of Brooklyn jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam (played by Denzel Washington), who is conflicted in his personal relationships as much as he is in his professional ones. Bleek is torn between two women – the sultry songstress Clarke Bentancourt; and the less glamorous, but more stable Indigo Downes.

Meanwhile, Bleek’s professional troubles stem from his band needing better leadership in order to make it big.

Critics like the New York Times’ Caryn James lauded the visual aesthetics of the film though quipped, “But if the best you can say about a film is that it looks good, there’s serious trouble underneath. Like Bleek himself, Mo’ Better Blues is all smooth, handsome surface and no inner life.”

Peter Tavares, longtime film critic for Rolling Stone, had similar complaints, writing, “Spike Lee has helped right that wrong by making a film about and primarily for Blacks. Unfortunately, he has merely reshuffled the Hollywood clichés instead of rethinking them.”

And like any Spike Lee film, it was not released without controversy. The director was blasted by the Anti Defamation League for the Mo’ Better Blues’ depictions of the Jewish nightclub owners in the film. The organization claimed Lee was dredging up old anti-Semitic stereotypes and alleged he “has employed the same kind of tactics that he supposedly deplores.”

Spike Lee shot back at those claims in a New York Times editorial entitled “I Am Not An Anti-Semite,” dubbing the criticism “unrealistic and unfair.”

Mo’ Better Blues was released 21 years ago today.

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“The Best Man” Director Chops Up Tyler Perry

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm.

On Wednesday night in Manhattan, Malcolm D. Lee, Spike Lee’s cousin and the director of 1999’s The Best Man, was featured at Broadway Night Out’s “The Filmmakers View.” The discussion ranged from writing a script to developing characters and the hustle of Hollywood. However, no discussion about Black film is relevant without a mention of the Tyler Perry phenomenon.

When asked about Perry by the host, Raqiyah Mays, Malcolm answered, “Tyler Perry is a very shrewd businessman. This dude has built an empire off of what he does and people support him.” He continued: “I have to admit, I enjoy some Madea. Madea’s funny to me. All the other stuff and the morality tales, I could do without. Just bring me more Madea!”

When talking about the merit of Perry’s work, just like his famous cousin, Lee didn’t hold back. “It’s not as terrible as people say it is, but it’s not as good as the box office numbers are. Just because something makes money doesn’t mean it’s good, it’s just popular, it taps into something people respond to. I don’t do what he does.” He continued: “He’s not interested in art, he’s interested in turning out a product. There is value in that, building up a studio and being independent. I wish he would get better as the movies go on. Maybe he will, I don’t know, but I don’t think that is his focus right now.”

Do you agree?

Photo Credit: Kevin Winters / Getty Images

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Five Movies That Needed Sequels

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, February 4, 2011 at 8:00 am.

Sure, most sequels equal disaster but there are some characters that audiences fall so in love with that we want to see again. Here are a list of movies that should’ve had a sequel.

Love Jones (1997)Yes! We needed to know the outcome of Darius and Nina after kissing in the rain. Did Darius move to New York? Maybe Nina moved back to Chicago. Did Lisa Nicole Carson’s character continue to give bad advice and did she ever find a man? We all could’ve used a Love Jones sequel – now, the moment is gone.

City of God (2002)This is one of the greatest films ever made, which is about life in the favelas of Brazil. A follow-up to the boys of City of God would’ve been incredible and the main character, Rocket, played by Alexandre Rodrigues, was an interesting enough character. There was a Brazilian television show called City of Men that was inspired from the film and latest four seasons. However, there hasn’t been anything that brought together the surviving characters of the original.

Jackie’s Back (1999)Jackie’s Back should be an epic franchise like Harry Potter. Starring Jenifer Lewis as Jackie Washington, Jackie’s Back is a mockumentary on an aging star. The original included cameos from Whoopi Goldberg, Dolly Parton, Rosie O’Donnell and Loretta Devine. There has been talk of a sequel for years but it has never happened.

To Wong Fo (1995)Of course a sequel is no longer possible with the passing of Patrick Swayze but they should’ve had a follow up in the works as soon as production finished!  This Golden Globe nominated film is a cult classic. Although Swayze has passed, I would pay good money to see Wesley Snipes as Noxemma Jackson again!

Do The Right Thing (1989)
With the right script and the original cast, a sequel to Do The Right Thing would’ve been doable. The issues in Spike Lee’s classic are still the same — however, Brooklyn is so gentrified now that Do The Right Thing would need to be titled What The Hell Happened To Brooklyn?

What movies do you think needed sequels?

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Nelson George Is Bringing Old Brooklyn Back To Life

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 12:00 am.

Anyone who has trekked through Brooklyn over the past ten years might notice a distinct change — it’s not the Brooklyn you know and love. Brooklyn has birthed legends like Notorious B.I.G., Spike Lee and Rosie Perez but some of the soul that made BK urban folklore has vanished.  What’s happened to Brooklyn and, many cities across the country, is gentrification.

Filmmaker and historian, Nelson George, has a documentary, Black Boheme, on the black arts community that came from pre-gentrified BK, which includes commentary from Chris Rock, Spike Lee, Talib Kweli and many others.

Check out the trailer below — and like many independent projects, the funds need to be raised. If you can donate to the cause, click here – if not, be sure to pass this to someone who might be interested.

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Spike Lee Applauds Sean Penn

Published by Clay Cane on Monday, August 9, 2010 at 11:59 am.

Remember back in the ’80s when Sean Penn used to bash paparazzi for taking photos of him and his then-wife Madonna? Well, the Oscar winner has channeled all of that energy into activism, from New Orleans to Haiti. As we all know, Wycelf Jean is running for president of Haiti, but Sean Penn questioned Clef’s intentions.

Recently, Spike Lee spoke about Sean while promoting his latest HBO documentary, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise. The film icon said, “Sean Penn doesn’t live in the United States any more. He lives in Port-au-Prince. That’s his life now, trying to get this country on its feet. I have to commend him for that. He’s not living in a palace, he’s living in a tent. I know because I slept three nights there. It’s a tent-tent. He’s put in his dues and time to speak about Haiti.”

Penn is the co-founder of J/P HRO Haitian Relief Organization and approximately 50,000 survivors of Haiti’s earthquake live in a camp set managed by Penn. Gotta give congrats where it’s due!

Spike Lee’s If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise is a four-hour documentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and airs August 23rd and 24th on HBO.

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Tyler Perry ‘Pissed’ At Spike Lee’s Criticism

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 12:00 am.

tylerperrymadeaEarlier this year, the legendary Spike Lee made some comments about Tyler Perry, referencing some of the playwright’s work as a minstrel show.  Sunday night on 60 Minutes, Tyler Perry took on Lee’s criticism.  Perry said:

I would love to read that [criticism] to my fan base. All these characters of mine are bait, bait to get people talking about God, love, family, and faith.  You know, that pisses me off.  It really does. Because it’s so insulting. It’s attitudes like that that make Hollywood think that these people do not exist and that’s why there’s no material speaking to them, speaking to us.

Just to be fair, Spike Lee’s quote also read:

We’ve had this discussion back and forth. When John Singleton [made Boyz in the Hood], people came out to see it. But when he did Rosewood, nobody showed up. So a lot of this is on us! You vote with your pocketbook, your wallet. You vote with your time sitting in front of the idiot box, and [Tyler Perry] has a huge audience. We shouldn’t think that Tyler Perry is going to make the same film that I am going to make, or that John Singleton or my cousin Malcolm Lee [would make]. As African Americans, we’re not one monolithic group so there is room for all of that. But at the same time, for me, the imaging is troubling and it harkens back to Amos n’ Andy.”

I think when reading in context Lee is giving social commentary on what African Americans support and why, hence, the Rosewood versus Boyz ‘N The Hood analogy.  His comments weren’t directly about Tyler Perry, and Lee has certainly paid his dues in the fickle world of Hollywood.  I do think Spike has a well-earned voice at the table of African Americans and film.

I don’t think it’s unfair and, I actually think it’s healthy, to critique art.  We as African Americans should be allowed to be critical of our work and shouldn’t be forced to love it just because someone is Black and is making money.   Hip-hop is constantly analyzed and while Perry says, “I would love to read that [criticism] to my fan base,” Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z, or Lil’ Kim could make the same comment — it doesn’t mean they are immune to social critique.

In addition, is a character being a stereotype always socially irresponsible? Sheneneh was a stereotype, but she was brilliant.  Back in April, Alfre Woodard told me, “ When people say stereotype, a stereotype to me takes on a negative connotation, but it’s built from a particular characteristic.  It doesn’t have to be negative.  I think of Tyler in that tradition of comedy and farce when it comes to the Madea stories.  I don’t think he is bringing down the culture by any means.  But, I do understand it’s the job of social observers to comment.”

Do you think Spike Lee’s comments were unfair?

Check out the video below.

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Movie Review: Passing Strange

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:00 am.

passingstrangeSummary: Produced and directed by Spike Lee, Passing Strange is a film version of the rock and roll Broadway show that was a massive success in 2008. It’s the story of a young Black man from Los Angeles, California, grappling with issues of race, sexuality, identity and family.

Review: Passing Strange was all the rage in New York City: critically-acclaimed, selling out shows and proving once again there is an audience for African Americans on Broadway. From February 28, 2008 to July 20, 2008, the show wowed audiences with 165 performances. Leave it to Spike Lee to spot brilliance and film the show’s final three nights at Belasco Theatre.

Clocking in at 135 minutes on film, Passing Strange would seem difficult to capture for the big screen.  The musical  includes a lot: an onstage band, narrator, an additional cast of six and audience interaction. This is no easy journey to bring to the movies.  One would think you would need to experience Passing in person; nonetheless, Spike Lee manages to flawlessly grab the show’s essence, right to its core. With intricate camera angles, you see the actors up close — their sweat beads, facial expressions and one-on-one dialogue, which makes it seem as if you are in the front row.  Passing Strange is a “Spike Lee Joint,” but the Brooklyn native took a step back and let the story unfold. Spike Lee was clearly secondary, which shuts down many of his critics who complain he is self-indulgent.

If I could write a whole review about the cast I would. This group of actors seemed to truly enjoy themselves and each other on stage. They had chemistry that is rarely seen even from big-budget Hollywood films with an A-list cast. The majority of the cast played a variety of characters, bouncing from various accents (Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Berlin), ethnicities and personalities. A clear stand-out, Colman Domingo effortlessly portrayed a gay closeted young preacher, naked Amsterdam hippie and an artsy revolutionary.

The lead, Daniel Breaker, carried the production with his innocence, high-energy and undeniable pizzazz. His voice was outstanding, transitioning from a plethora of vocal styles like gospel, punk rock, blues, and jazz.

The true star of Passing Strange is the narrator and the man who wrote the lyrics and book, simply named, Stew. The story is obviously his vision and one can only assume, at least partly, autobiographical.

Passing Strange only adds to Spike Lee’s visionary resume and his eye for fresh talent. On another note, while the premise is of a young African-American man, the film rises above race and focuses on the innocence of youth and the various passages we go through to learn.

Passing Strange opens in New York City today.

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