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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Cinqué Lee

Mystery Train (1989)

trainElvis truly was the King, baby.

Memphis, Tennessee is known for a lot of things. Most importantly, the hotbed for a lot of early rock ‘n roll, featuring the one and only Elvis Presley himself. Over the course of one day, a bunch of random people will navigate through the city and do things their own way. There’s the kitsch-obsessed Japanese couple (Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh), who seem to love one another a whole lot, but the language barrier keeps them away from fully attaching themselves to Memphis fully. Then, there’s a trio of amateur robbers (Joe Strummer, Rick Aviles, Steve Buscemi) who take one night to roam free and act wild, crazy and drunk like they’ve never done before. And an Italian immigrant (Nicoletta Braschi), who has no clue of where she actually is, tries to survive Memphis for this one night only. Meanwhile, there’s a somewhat eccentric and creepy night clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) at a hotel who seems to have a lot more to do with these folks than you’d think.

Look out, Memphis!

Look out, Memphis!

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch likes to take his time with his movies. That’s a known fact and in certain ways, it can make his movies feel like boring slugs, than actual slam-bang, fun and compelling thrill-rides. Those who expect the later, probably know not to go to a Jarmusch flick, whereas those who expect more time, consideration and care given, know exactly what they’re getting into with Jarmusch and it’s why so many people love and adore him.

That said, Mystery Train definitely shows Jarmusch taking as good a time as ever to tell anything resembling a story that, sometimes picks up its speed, sometimes lingers around, and other times, seems to meander without any sort of sense of direction that you wonder just where the movie’s going, or what the hell it’s even getting at. Yet, that’s also what’s kind of compelling about it – the movie literally could go anywhere, at any time, and while Jarmusch is never known for his shocking bits of violence, the way he makes Memphis out to be here, other than a pretty cool place to live, is that it can be somewhat dangerous and capable of taking down any person, at any time. Of course, Jarmusch wasn’t just focusing on the violence aspect of the whole story, but there’s that sense and feeling that makes however many small, quiet moments, still feel somewhat tense.

At the same time, though, Jarmusch is also taking his time with developing this story, which can sometimes make it an interesting watch, if not always fully satisfying picture altogether.

I'd hang with them for a night. And then some more.

I’d hang with them for a night. And then some more.

If anything, Mystery Train shows that Jarmusch can toy with his audience just as much as the next auteur, but sometimes, it can’t help but feel like he’s taking an odd detour for the sake of doing it. For instance, every chance it seems like he’s going to go somewhere with a clear plot-point, he switches things up, brings something random and cryptic into the picture, has us scratching our heads, and wondering just what it’s all about. It’s the same thing that Haneke does, but whereas his movies have a point for their sometimes sheer randomness and unpredictability, for Jarmusch, it can’t help but feel like he’s bored.

The only bit of this movie that feels like Jarmusch with a clear head on his shoulders, no tricks to be found whatsoever, is the final subplot involving the three buddies who go on something of a drunken crime-spree. Of course, this is the closest resembling Down by Law, so it’s obviously going to work in Jarmusch’s favor, but it also shows Jarmusch not pulling any punches and telling us a clear, concise, and rather straightforward story, with the occasional detour into goofiness.

But the goofiness doesn’t overtake the subplot, which is why it works best.

The rest of Mystery Train, unfortunately, runs into this problem. There’s a lot to like for sure, as the movie’s funny, interesting to see how it all connects, and well-acted by virtually everyone involved, however, it’s not asking all that much to expect a movie to follow some sort of pattern/rhythm, especially when said pattern/rhythm seems to actually be working for itself. Maybe I’m just not nearly as much as an indie-kid as I make myself out to be, but sometimes, I don’t mind convention and formula.

Oh well. Sue me.

Consensus: Even with his usual brand of goofiness and oddball charm, Jarmusch’s Mystery Train can sometimes detour too far into crazy town, losing sight of the sometimes very strong narrative it’s working with.

7 / 10

We've all got that feeling.

We’ve all got that feeling.

Photos Courtesy of:Media Life Crisis

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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