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The Films of Spike Lee

Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads

She's Gotta Have It

School Daze

Do the Right Thing

Mo' Better Blues

Jungle Fever

Malcolm X

Crooklyn

Clockers

Girl 6

Get on the Bus

4 Little Girls

He Got Game

Freak

Summer of Sam

The Original Kings of Comedy

Bamboozled

A Huey P. Newton Story

Jim Brown: All American

25th Hour (January 9/03)

25th Hour is undoubtedly one of Spike Lee's most thoroughly effective efforts in years, as the movie is also one of his most straight-forward. Lee's biggest problem has always been his inability to reign in his overly enthusiastic sense of style, which often seems to do more harm than good, and yet the filmmaker has finally found himself a script so strong that even his avant-garde tendancies don't seem terribly out of place. Based on the novel by David Benioff (who also penned the screenplay), 25th Hour contains a premise that's inherently interesting - as it follows Edward Norton's Monty as he spends his last night of freedom hanging out with his friends (including Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jakob and Barry Pepper's Francis). Monty is a guy who's been spoiled by life; he thinks he's untouchable because of all the years he's been able to get away with dealing drugs. But he got pinched, and he knows that even when he gets out, his life will be completely different. As he mentions at one point, he'll have to essentially start from scratch and find something useful to do with his life. Though we know what he did for a living, Monty nevertheless becomes someone that we like and even feel sorry for - which makes it all-the-more intriguing to watch him as he deals with his final night as a free man. But what's really surprising about 25th Hour is how much time the film spends away from Monty. The characters of Jakob and Francis each get a 10-minute introduction all by themselves, and there are other sequences throughout the film that focus on the two of them - without having Monty anywhere near the two. And while the film would've been considerably shorter had the focus remained solely on Monty (as it is, the running time is around 135 minutes), letting us get to know his two friends just adds to the richness of the story. It certainly doesn't hurt that two great actors play Jakob and Francis, with Hoffman giving yet another amazing performance and Pepper proving that he's one of the most underrated actors that's out there. And, of course, there's Norton. He's saddled with a tough job - Monty is someone that we really shouldn't have much sympathy for - but he pulls it off, creating a character who's fate we really become invested in. Having said that, 25th Hour's biggest problem is Lee's obsession with the September 11th tragedy. The film's opening credits run over images of the two beams of light display that was erected on the anniversary of the disaster, and as compelling an image as it is, it really doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the story. Likewise, there's a scene a bit later one featuring Jakob and Francis talking - with Ground Zero smack-dab in the background. Admittedly, that was an impressive sequence if only because it goes on for a while and it's uninterrupted, but still, all this 9/11 imagery finally becomes more distracting than anything else. And Lee just can't resist inserting one of his patented diatribes on race midway through the movie, with Monty speaking to a mirror image of himself and blasting virtually every culture that exists within New York City. It's compelling, sure, but how does it fit into the rest of the movie? It doesn't, really. Still, 25th Hour manages to remain entertaining throughout it's long running time, a feat that few movies of late have been able to accomplish. Even if you're not a fan of Lee, the movie will probably win you over with some great performances and an engaging storyline.

out of

She Hate Me

Sucker Free City

Inside Man (March 23/06)

Inside Man has understandably been referred to as director Spike Lee's most mainstream effort to date, though there's certainly no mistaking the film for anything other than a Spike Lee joint. The filmmaker peppers the story with a variety of expected elements - including ostentatious instances of style and a few pointed comments on race relations in America - but this is generally a straight-forward (yet undeniably overlong) piece of work. The story revolves around a cocky criminal named Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his attempts to pull off "the perfect bank robbery." Along with his team, Dalton casually strolls into a major metropolitan bank and proceeds to hold everyone inside hostage. Negotiator Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is assigned the case, though he's currently under investigation for allegedly stealing a hefty chunk of change. Also thrown into the mix is a shifty corporate millionaire (played by Christopher Plummer) who enlists the services of a shiftier corporate weasel (Jodie Foster) to ensure that his interests within the bank's walls are protected. Though Inside Man initially comes off as a tense thriller (stemming from a surprisingly taut sequence in which Dalton and his crew take over the bank), Lee - along with screenwriter Russell Gewirtz - bogs the film down with needless subplots and bizarre digressions. This is despite an opening half hour that's actually quite entertaining, as Lee effectively establishes the situation and various characters with an easy, distinctly laid-back sense of style. The loose tone even extends to the heist itself, which appears to play out precisely as Dalton has planned and consequently doesn't offer much in the way of thrills (Heat this is not). The inclusion of some seriously colorful supporting characters undoubtedly undermines the reality of the situation, while the whole subplot involving Plummer and Foster's hijinks feels as though it belongs in a different movie altogether. Both these elements contribute to the film's unmistakably erratic pace, a problem that's exacerbated by Lee's strange reluctance to allow the story to conclude organically (the movie goes on far, far longer than it really needs to, primarily to serve that aforementioned superfluous subplot). And yet despite the film's sundry faults, there are enough positive elements here to warrant a recommendation (mild as it may be) - with Chiwetel Ejiofor's scene-stealing turn as Washington's partner an obvious highlight (Washington and Owen, likewise, are expectedly superb).

out of

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Click here for review.

Miracle at St. Anna

Passing Strange

Kobe Doin' Work

If God Is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise

Red Hook Summer

Bad 25

Old Boy (November 24/13)

Old Boy follows Josh Brolin's Joe Doucett, an obnoxious, alcoholic advertising executive, as he's kidnapped and imprisoned for 20 years by an unknown figure, with the movie, for the most part, detailing the character's subsequent efforts at discovering who is behind his abduction (and why he was taken in the first place). It's an off-kilter premise that is, at the outset, employed to less-than-engrossing effect by filmmaker Spike Lee, as the director, working from a screenplay by Mark Protosevich, has infused the early part of Old Boy with a grimy and pervasively unpleasant feel that holds the viewer at arms-length from the material. The movie's shift from unimpressive to surprisingly entertaining comes as Brolin's character is released from his claustrophobic confines, with Joe's compelling investigation into his kidnapping heightened by a smattering of larger-than-life action sequences - including the now-infamous interlude in which the protagonist takes on dozens of goons armed with only a hammer. (It is, in spite of an overly theatrical and nigh campy execution, an undeniably engrossing scene.) It's worth noting, too, that unlike Chan-wook Park's 2003 original, Old Boy contains, at its core, an intriguing (and interesting) mystery that perpetuates the film's compulsively watchable atmosphere. Brolin's standout work as the tortured central character is matched by strong supporting performances by Elizabeth Olsen, Michael Imperioli, and Samuel L. Jackson, although it's instantly clear that Sharlto Copley's scene-stealing turn as a flamboyant antagonist stands as an ongoing highlight within the proceedings. By the time the engrossing, shocking conclusion rolls around, Old Boy has established itself as a superior remake that improves upon its (admittedly solid) predecessor in most aspects - with the movie benefiting substantially from filmmaker Lee's unflinching approach to the less-than-savory material.

out of

© David Nusair