Gangs Of New York Movie Essay On Malcolm
Sadly one of Lee's flattest film but still a story worth hearing and features a good performance from Washington
Malcolm Little was a young man when his father was murdered by the KKK and he and his siblings were taken from their mother and separated. As a young man he became a hustler and eventually a full robber with his friends, before eventually getting 8-12 years in prison for his crimes. While inside he learns the ways of Elijah Muhammad and coverts to Islam. Once released he rises in the ranks of the Nation of Islam to be an uncompromising leader of the black movement , tackling white oppression head on.
Lee does not want any question about the tone of this film. Opening with footage of the Rodney King beating projected onto an American flag that chars before bursting into flames while Malcolm's `American nightmare' speech is played over the top, Lee leaves us in no doubt that this film will not step back from being provocative and incendiary. Unlike many reviews on this site, I will not review the politics of Malcolm X but I will try and view this as a film. I do not need to agree with the stance of X to be interesting in this film - I did not watch this film to fight with it or get annoyed by it, I watched it to listen to Lee tell the story of Malcolm X.
Substance wise, the film is too long - Lee did not allow the editors to be as ruthless as he should have been. I can understand why though, this was a labour of love and he must have felt that he needed that long to do the job. As a flow it works reasonably well, although it is too baggy quite often, but it is an interesting story nonetheless. Many critics have lambasted the film for it's bias. In that regard the only thing that surprised me was that they genuinely seemed surprised by this fact - what did they expect from Spike Lee? However, I don't believe that this is a fair accusation to make at Lee. He tells the story in a fair light - he doesn't hide the double standards of the Nation of Islam nor does he spin the anti-white teachings to paint Malcolm in a better light. Of course Lee is going to bring his own pro-black politics to the film, but that is his right and he doesn't rewrite history to serve himself.
In fact I admired some of Lee's touches as they actually produced a more balanced view. For example, where Malcolm is talking to Betty about his thoughts on women, Lee cuts to Malcolm being told the same opinion (word for word) by Muhammad - a brave move that implied the spoon feeding of his views that I didn't expect from Lee. Of course the other way to look at it would be Lee excusing Malcolm's stance on women by pinning it on Muhammad and in fairness to that view, Lee does tend to gloss over the NOI's view on woman's place. The film is a little kind to Malcolm but not to the point where the absurd claims about bias and spin would really stick - well, for the majority anyway. I did feel that, although it wasn't spin, that the final 5 minutes of the film really went too far with the little kids all standing up saying `I am Malcolm X', parallels with Jesus and then Mandella being wheeled out...now THAT bit I found to be unnecessary as it was not from Malcolm - it was heavy politicing from Lee himself in further evidence that he was knocked off his usual style by the weight of the material.
In fact, this stands out to me as being one of Lee's least stylish and slick films - only the early, freer scenes of Malcolm's crime, drink and dancing seem to be directed by a Spike Lee using the camera and the space. For the most part, Lee sits back and watches - apparently in total reverence of this subject and afraid to take away from the supposed importance of what the film is trying to do. It is a shame because the overly long running time means that it desperately needed a spark at times and I did expect Lee at least to bring the film alive with visual flourishes. Sadly, like I say, Lee's respect for his subject causes him to do nothing and, worse still, he includes some bits that just don't work - Muhammad's appearance in the cell is worst but Malcolm's trip to Mecca doesn't work as it is overlong and forced (again, as Lee stresses that Malcolm dropped the anti-white stance). In regards this, critics have unfairly accused Lee of trying to lessen Malcolm's stance and make it more acceptable (ie change history) but those of us who are a bit older know that we will learn things over our life and will not hold the same opinions as we did when we were 18, or 25, or 30. In the same way Malcolm lost his harsh teachings with age - this is the case, it is not Lee trying to trick us.
For all these reasons, the film is greatly in debt to Denzel Washington. If it weren't for his engaging and powerful performance then this film would be very bland for the majority. Happily then, Washington rises to the role and deals with it's changes and development really well. He makes a charismatic leading man and it is difficult to imagine that anyone else could have done a better job with this role - or that the film would have worked without him. The names of those involved is impressive, but not all their performances are. Bassett varies between being a shy little woman and having raging fights with her husband, in neither mode does she convince. Freeman is also pretty comic - but part of the blame for that lies with Lee's portrayal of him (floating in a cell is not a good look!). Hall, Lindo, Randle, McDaniel and Lee himself all do reasonably well in minor roles but the film belongs to Washington and it is just as well for the film's sake that he is up to the task.
Overall this is an interesting film that is worth seeing as an INTRODUCTION to Malcolm X - however if you take your opinion from this film alone then you are doing yourself a disservice. As a Spike Lee film it is surprisingly flat and lacking in the usual visual style that he brings, it is a real shame but this labour of love is not one of his better films (although it is not among his worst) - it is rather pedestrian, overlong and, were it not for a charismatic performance from Washington, would be a lot duller than the subject deserved.
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Move over, Tyler Perry. Let “Girls Trip” director Malcolm D. Lee show you how it’s done. In what could easily prove to be the summer’s word-of-mouth comedy sensation, Lee sends four black women — AKA the “Flossy Posse” — on a long-overdue weekend getaway, as “Madea’s Class Reunion” meets “The Hangover” for a raunchy mix of empowerment and intoxication at Essence Fest, New Orleans. Get ready for girl fighting, male nudity, multiple self-help lessons, an impromptu prayer session and not one but two musical numbers — all of it so consistently outrageous that audiences shouldn’t even miss the absence of a cross-dressing black lady.
Whereas Perry’s work serves mostly as counter-programming “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf,” appealing to those who typically feel more comfortable going to church than going to the movies, “Girls Trip” has something for everyone — provided that they’re old enough to see a hard-R-rated comedy, and not so easily offended that an explicit demonstration of the so-called “grapefruit technique” would send them running for the exits. The movie’s equal-opportunity irreverence makes for a welcome addition to the bachelor-party genre, so often aimed at the frat-boy crowds. As Queen Latifah, who plays one of the Flossy Posse foursome, might say of the status quo, “That’s some white-boy shit right there” — whereas these girls are here to mix up the formula.
When bestselling author Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall, a veteran of Lee’s “The Best Man” movies) is invited to give a keynote speech at Essence Fest, she uses the opportunity to reunite her gang of college friends, whom she hasn’t seen in five years. Like liberated “Sex and the City” types, these ladies represent different facets of the female experience, from divorced single mom Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) to the aggressively sexual Dina (scene-stealing newcomer Tiffany Haddish). Ryan also hopes that the reunion will give her a chance to bury the hatchet with Sasha (Latifah), who launched a blog peddling celebrity gossip after a joint business venture fell through a few years back.
Like a Michelle Obama-elegant version of Oprah Winfrey, Ryan has published a book called “You Can Have It All,” pointing to her marriage to football star Stewart (Mike Colter) as evidence that she’s living the dream. But Ryan’s longtime girlfriends have known her long enough to see through the act, and while they’re more than happy to join her in New Orleans for the weekend, they’re not about to sit idly by while the unfaithful Stewart makes a fool of their best friend. Taking a page from the Perry playbook, much of “Girls Trip’s” personal drama centers on infidelity, faith (more in oneself than in a higher power) and doing right by one’s sisters — and though they may sometimes disagree (make that “almost constantly”), these girls always have one another’s backs.
As an example, take the wild zip-line scene, in which Lisa, whose bladder is full to the point of bursting, gets stuck dangling midway across Bourbon Street. You don’t need to have seen the trailer to guess what happens next: Look out below! And yet, unlike so many ad campaigns, in which the preview spoils the best parts of the movie, “Girls Trip” is just getting started, expanding upon the joke in a way that’s not just wet-yourself funny, but poignant to boot — because the situation could have ended very badly for Lisa, but instead offers the perfect opportunity for one of her gal pals to come to the rescue.
Not all the jokes are as effective as that one — a sausage-tasting confrontation with Stewart’s Instagram-star girlfriend, played by Deborah Ayorinde, fizzles when it’s meant to convince an important sponsor (Lara Grice, as the movie’s grimacing white gatekeeper) — although “Girls Trip” rivals even “Bridesmaids” in its ability to keep the comic situations coming. Add to that a series of legitimately steamy moments with the likes of Kofi Siriboe (as a well-endowed college kid with a thing for Lisa), Larenz Tate (as Ryan’s almost-too-perfect old flame) and Sean “Diddy” Combs (as himself).
When it comes to Hollywood studio comedies, most of the time, we’re lucky to get one unforgettable set piece, whereas “Girls Trip” screenwriters Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver deliver at least half a dozen. And rather than simply letting an effective joke stand, they double down, milking it for all it’s worth. Case in point, Dina doesn’t just explain “grapefruiting,” but vigorously demonstrates how it’s done, putting even viral-star sex adviser Auntie Angel’s viral video to shame. And before the movie’s over, we get to see how such a trick could go hilariously wrong.
Barris (creator of ABC sitcom “Black-ish”) and Oliver (with whom he co-wrote “Barbershop: The Next Cut”) are masters of the callback, finding unexpected ways to circle back and built upon earlier jokes — and from the look of things, the entire film has been given a thorough punch-up, as funny lines keep coming, even when characters’ mouths aren’t moving (a clear sign of ADR, or “additional dialogue recording,” where the filmmakers go in and loop new lines to make the movie better). In this case, it works like a charm, especially with Haddish’s character, a relative newcomer who nearly runs away with the movie — the way Melissa McCarthy all but stole “Bridesmaids.”
Whether smashing a wine bottle to confront Ryan’s no-good husband or going on about smuggling drugs in her “booty hole,” Haddish has an irrepressible, unfiltered quality that’s sweetened by the fact she’s by far the most loyal member of the group. She’s also a uniquely black character, and that’s every bit as important to the movie’s affirmational portrayal of African-American women as the way that the three other characters represent more colorblind ideas of success. Dina’s greatest asset is how she holds true to herself, and that in turn motivates her friends to follow suit.
Film Review: 'Girls Trip'
Reviewed at Regal Chinese 6, Los Angeles, July 11, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 122 MIN.
Production: A Universal Pictures release of a Universal Pictures, Will Packer Prods. production. Producers: Will Packer, Malcolm D. Lee. Executive producers: Preston Holmes, James Lopez.
Crew: Director: Malcolm D. Lee. Screenplay: Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver; story: Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver. Camera (color, widescreen): Greg Gardiner. Editor: Paul Millspaugh. Music: David Newman.
With: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Kate Walsh, Mike Colter, Kofi Siriboe, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Sean Combs.
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