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Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2015)

ff388289b27ddfa130ea3d18c29e9913_largeVampires from New York are a lot less insufferable.

After being stabbed to death by his assistant with a cursed ancient weapon, scholar Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) finds himself transformed in ways he didn’t expect to be. For one, he can’t kill himself, no matter how hard he tries. And he’s now got an addiction to blood, which would, in turn, make him into a vampire. It’s life-changing alteration that Green feels weird with at first, but sooner than later, soon realizes that he can have some fun with it. The only thing is that he needs to make sure that he gets blood, from anywhere he can find it; meaning, in some cases, he’ll have to kill people, just in order to suck out their blood. After some time, however, his assistant’s ex-wife, Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), shows up and actually begins to fall for him. Green doesn’t know whether he can let Ganja in on his little secret, because if he does, that means the both of them will turn into addicted, blood-sucking vampires. Rich ones, too.

Though he’s had plenty of missteps in the past (like any talented director has), there’s no ignoring the fact that whichever movie he does, Spike Lee always finds ways to make them interesting. Not just visually, but also by what he’s trying to say underneath the actual plot itself. Sometimes, his point is effective and can definitely hit home for some (He Got Game and Do the Right Thing are famous examples of this), but other times, they can be not one bit subtle and just seem like someone getting up on their soapbox and preaching at you for two hours (Jungle Fever and Bamboozled). Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is somewhere in the middle of these two possible options, although it’s hard to ever pin-point what sort of message Lee is trying to make in the first place.

Quite effective. Assuming that the other person doesn't have a fire-arm with them.

Quite effective weapon. Assuming that the other person doesn’t have a fire-arm with them.

Could it be that fortune makes one person lose all humanity and forget about who they once were? Could it be that society has been constructed in such a way that the only way for an African American to survive in today’s economy, is for them to eat and kill their way to the top? Or, simply put, is it that no matter how far down the deep-end one can go in life, that God, our lord and savior, is always there to save you?

Personally, I have no clue and I don’t think Spike Lee knows either.

This creates a problem with a movie that, on the surface, is a bit too plain. It’s known that Lee raised all of the movie’s finances through a Kickstarter campaign and while it is nice to see someone put all of that hard-earned money to good use (as opposed to other famous celebrities utilizing the same method for financing), there’s not much more to this story that makes it all feel deserving of being told to us. Especially when it’s our own money being dealt with here.

However, there is something to be said for someone like Lee, who is able to bring out interesting anecdotes in a film that isn’t filled with too many of them. Rather than coming right out and saying that this movie’s a vampire tale about one dude trying to get as much blood as he possibly can to survive, Lee goes a step further in exploring the actual dude who has, suddenly, been turned into a vampire. As dull on the surface as Dr. Hess Green may be, it’s his background that’s actually the most interesting element about him – he’s a smart fella, for sure, but the only reason he is as rich as he is, is because his parents left it all for him. So now that he’s been stricken with this tragic circumstance, he now has to act on his own and do what’s best for him, rather than having to follow whatever mommy or daddy may have wanted for him to follow.

This might be an instance of me stretching myself a tad too thin, but whatever the case may have been, there was something intriguing to this character that made him compelling to watch. Williams doesn’t bring much flair or excitement to this role, but then again, I don’t think the movie was calling on him to do so, either; he’s as plain as day and the fact that he’s now a blood-sucking vampire, is supposed to make him interesting. If only ever so slightly.

Not creepy at all, bro.

Not creepy at all, bro.

And speaking of the whole vampire-angle to this story, it’s kind of where you can tell Lee’s having the most problems with this film. Rather than shaking up the genre in his own, innovative way, Lee seems to just constantly hammer in the fact that vampires like blood and will do whatever they can to gain access to it. Lee hardly ever strays away from that and it’s a bit of a disappointment, considering how he’s made a career out of doing that practically his whole career. There’s maybe one instance in which we see Lee play with the formula, in which Green sucks the blood of a prostitute who may, or may not have AIDS. Automatically, this puts the whole story into perspective and made me wonder what kind of movie was next to follow. But then, as soon as he brings the idea to the table, Lee then poo-poos it and counts it off as nothing more than a false alarm.

Yet again, another instance in which Lee, someone who seemed to once love to shake things up for cinema, gets back into line like the rest of the other directors out there.

And don’t have me fooled, this isn’t me saying that everything Lee does here isn’t inspired (there’s another key scene near the end involving a church ceremony that is one of the more exciting, visually breath-taking things he’s done in awhile), it’s just that this clearly isn’t the film for him to really stretch his wings out, try something new, or better yet, even show the world why he needs us, the adoring fans, to fund his work. Kickstarter is fine and all, but when you raise a bunch of money, for something that doesn’t seem to quite go anywhere all that eventful or miraculous, then what’s the point? Vanity?

Oh, who knows.

Consensus: Occasionally interesting, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus finds Spike Lee trying to do whatever he can, with whatever limited resources he’s given, but also doesn’t allow it to result as much worth talking about.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

At least we get a dolly shot. That's all that I paid to see.

At least we get a dolly shot. That’s all that I paid Spike Lee millions to see.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Red Hook Summer (2012)

Does this count as Sunday Mass?

Flik (Jules Brown) is 13-year-old, spoiled-brat who is forced to live with his grand-daddy (Clarke Peters) for a whole Summer. However, Flik isn’t doing exactly what he dreamed of this Summer when he’s with his Grandfather Enoch, who just so happens to be a pastor and trying to get Flik back in the eyes of God.

After giving us two, relatitvely-solid mainstream movies (Inside Man, Miracle at St. Anna), Spike Lee finally returns to his roots, in more ways than one. Firstly, he’s going back to indie-filmmaking which he seems to have abandoned for the longest time, and secondly, he’s back to filming in his native Brooklyn, where it just so happens that Mookie is still delivering pizza’s for Sal. However, cool your jets while you still can, people, because even though Mookie is in this flick and shows-up for about 3 minutes, this is nowhere near a Do the Right Thing sequel, or even a Do the Right Thing-caliber movie. Heck, it’s not even a Spike Lee-caliber movie, if we’re not including She Hate Me.

In the past, Lee has been attacked for being too self-indulgent with his material and not knowing how to separate style from substance, and in the past, I have stood-up for him and said, “nay”, to those attackers but here, he makes me look like a fool. The usual trademarks that we see with a Lee flick are here, however, there’s no driving-narrative to really help it out. Instead, there’s just a bunch of scenes where kids are being kids, and a crap-load of sermons about God. And for all of you people out there who were pissed about Michael Parks’ over-long sermon in Red State, don’t worry, it’s even worse here as I would say about 30 minutes of this flick is probably dedicated to these preaches about everything from God, technology, being black, being poor, being white, Obama, and so on and so forth.

No, just let them talk it out. Maybe, just maybe, the kid will become a better actor after.

No, just let them talk it out. Maybe, just maybe, the kid will become a better actor after.

As usual, the points that Lee bring are up are reasonable and very smart, considering that this is a guy who has a big brain and a very big mouth, but they aren’t done well-enough here to be considered in your mind. Instead, all of the smart views, points, general ideas Lee has in his head and tries to get out on-screen for all of us to see and get into our minds, just fall-flat on the ground as if somewhere after the 4-year hiatus from filmmaking Lee has taken, he lost his sense of telling an important issue, with an important story. In ways, this doesn’t really feel like a Lee flick because it’s almost as if the guy just lost his skill and if that is the case, then damn. It’s disappointing to see a filmmaker of these heights just get so high up there, in terms of knowing what he’s doing, how to do it, and master his craft, to just fall-apart right in front of our eyes. You can talk as much shite on Tarantino as much as you’d like to, Spike, but the fact is: he’s making better films than yo ass.

The film runs a very long 130 minutes (that actually feels twice as long) and for about the hour-and-45-minutes, I was bored stiff-less. However, the last 20 minutes or so of the flick came-around and automatically, I found myself alive and interested in what Lee was bringing to the table. Without giving too much away, there’s a curve-ball that Lee throws at us that shows us more about Enoch than we originally thought and really livens up the story and gives us a new-perspective on all that we see. Yeah, it could be viewed at as a cheap-way for Lee to make a conventional-story, seem less conventional and more thought-provoking, but at the same time, it didn’t matter to me because it kept my interest, almost all the way until the ending, and then everything fell apart once again. But hey, those 20 minutes still kept me watching and that’s a hell of a lot more than I can say about the rest of the flick.

Get back to work, Mook!

Get back to work, Mook!

Everything in this flick may suffer, big-time, but the only person who really gives it his all and actually comes out on-top is Clarke Peters as Da Good Bishop Enoch. There is a lot about this character that could be terribly annoying and terribly one-sided, as he spends almost half-of-the-film just constantly yelling and preaching to people about how they need to get “the big man” in their lives, but Peters shows more effort than that. Peters makes this guy seem very nice, very comforting, and like a relatively normal guy that just so happens to be so high-strung on the G-O-D, that is is a rather off-putting, to say the least. Still, once this twist by the end is actually shown to us and comes into our minds, Peters handles the material very-well and gives us a glimpse at a real man, with real problems, and real, deep, dark secrets that can come out at any time. Peters is definitely the flame that keeps this fire moving and without this dude, doing his own thing, the flick would have definitely been a lot worse and painful to watch.

The reason I say that, is because when the flick isn’t focusing on Peters and all of his sermons, it’s about the forming of love between the two kids in this movie, played by youngsters Toni Lysaith and Jlues Brown. Now, as much as I hate to get on kids’ case about how they can’t and handle the material that’s thrown at them, I still can’t get past the fact that in this movie, where half of the film/story revolves around them, Lee actually gave the “okay” on some of these final-cuts, because being a director that knows how to direct actors and give some of the best performances of their careers, this is almost an embarrassment  Seriously, these kids are drop-dead terrible and the stuff they say to each other not only doesn’t feel genuine, but seems like Lee has lost his touch and should have just stuck with Nate Parker and the gang of Bloods that he lead. To be honest, and I hate to say this, but his performance, his character, and his gang, would have probably been a lot more of an interesting story to focus on, and probably a better-road for Lee to go down considering the guy is one of the best at writing stories for them. However, when it comes to kids, I think he’s got to stay away, as dirty as that may sound.

Consensus: It’s great to see Spike Lee finally back in-front of and behind-the-camera, but Red Hook Summer is not the type of flick that I was imagining all that glee coming from. It’s long, poorly-scripted, boring, and to be honest, only good and worth a recommendation for the last 20 minutes where a phenomenal performance from Clarke Peters, gets better and better by each scene.

5/10=Rental!!

"Please God, don't let Oldboy be a bust."

“Please God, don’t let Oldboy be a bust.”

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