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Andrew

Da 5 Bloods

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Well, this is the best movie news in a while.  A new Spike Lee joint drops on Netflix on June 12th (my birthday, no less).  The premise is also right up my alley:  4 vets return to Vietnam, seeking their squad leader's remains.  The cast includes two alums of The Wire (Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock [sheeeeee-it!]), plus Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman.  To say I'm excited about this would be a vast understatement.

I'm not gonna watch the trailer, but in case anyone wants to: 

 


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Thanks for the alert. This does look like a potential highlight of the summer. Some basic conversation from Spike Lee here.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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On 5/18/2020 at 11:52 AM, Andrew said:

A new Spike Lee joint drops on Netflix on June 12th (my birthday, no less). 

Hey, birthday buddy!

Man, I can't wait for this film.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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So, this was excellent, if not up there with the best of Spike's films (I include Do the Right Thing, When the Levees Broke, Malcolm X in that pantheon).  I put it on a par with BlacKkKlansman.

Here's my full review, written after two viewings: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2020/06/da-5-bloods-war-as-fatal-distraction-from-the-battle-for-racial-equality/

Very much looking forward to our discussion next Wednesday!


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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This is easily the most beautiful thing I've read about Da 5 Bloods, but see the film first, since it's largely about the ending: https://www.rogerebert.com/features/real-treasure-the-reunion-at-the-heart-of-da-5-bloods

In reading comments about the film over the weekend, I realized it's not common knowledge that there's a real nightclub in Ho Chi Minh City called "Apocalypse Now."  I think it's been in business for 28 years now; it was going strong when I visited Saigon in '97 and '98 at least.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I was going to post this on Letterboxd, but it's down right now, so here are my initial, mildly spoilerish thoughts:
 

The first half is Apocalypse Now, and the second half is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Spike Lee tips his hat obviously to those two films, but the decision to merge homages to them presents a new view of the horror of the "American War" in Vietnam and its link to the horror of racism in America. It's an explosive link, and the two halves of the movie literally hinge on an explosion.

As the four surviving members of "Da 5 bloods" search for the gold they buried during the war, pursuing their own version of the American dream just as Tim Holt, Walter Huston, and Humphrey Bogart did, the far reaching consequences of the war and America's history of racism continue to rear their heads. However, Spike Lee is such a hopeful, love-filled storyteller that the bonds of blood run deeper the anger and greed that have defined so much of America's legacy at home and abroad.

Edited by Evan C

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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11 hours ago, Andrew said:

This is easily the most beautiful thing I've read about Da 5 Bloods, but see the film first, since it's largely about the ending: https://www.rogerebert.com/features/real-treasure-the-reunion-at-the-heart-of-da-5-bloods

This subplot of the story brought, for me, the strongest affective reaction I experienced with the film in the reunion scene in the coda. Other aspects of the film impressed me; that scene moved me, and that the Spike Lee signature double dolly shot was reserved for that scene suggests to me that for all of Delroy Lindo's bluster as Paul, it's Otis's character arc that may be more significant.

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5 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

This subplot of the story brought, for me, the strongest affective reaction I experienced with the film in the reunion scene in the coda. Other aspects of the film impressed me; that scene moved me, and that the Spike Lee signature double dolly shot was reserved for that scene suggests to me that for all of Delroy Lindo's bluster as Paul, it's Otis's character arc that may be more significant.

I always remember David Bordwell's statement that the start and close of films are privileged places (I know, it's self-evident, but it made an impression when I read it 18 or so years ago).  Based on that, and the dolly shot, I'd have to say you're right.

OTOH, I was deeply moved by the father/son dynamic between Lindo and Majors, as well as the inner demons that Lindo battled with.  His two jungle monologues are powerful cinema.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I am not going to be able to make chat tonight probably, but I am following your discussion and look forward to hearing how (if at all) the Zoom helps.

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So, on the chat the other night and in his Letterboxd review, Jeffrey suggested that it felt like Lindo's Paul could have been played by Denzel Washington. Well, you're right Jeff! In this interview Giancarlo Esposito says that was the original intent, with John David Washington as David (the Jonathan Majors character) and Giancarlo as Eddie, and Samuel L. Jackson too! As good as Lindo is, I'm kinda bummed we didn't get to see that.

https://collider.com/da-5-bloods-original-cast-denzel-washington/


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I dunno, great as Denzel indisputably is, I'm relieved it was not an iconic actor playing Paul, 'cuz I suspect it would've been inevitably Denzel-playing-Paul.  And dang, Lindo carried the anger of that part so compellingly.

On another note, have any of y'all seen Viet Thanh Nguyen's essay on Lee's film?  I'll read anything by Nguyen after his superb debut novel, and I want to be sensitive to his critique of the film, but I feel he's asking Da 5 Bloods to be something it isn't.  Lee's film is primarily about the black man's experience of Vietnam and America in the 60s and 70s, not about the effect of the American War on the Vietnamese, though his sprawling film certainly touches on this point.  However, Nguyen's comment - that American visitors don't encounter the venom that Paul did in the floating market - resonates with my experiences during two visits to Vietnam.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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20 hours ago, Andrew said:

I

On another note, have any of y'all seen Viet Thanh Nguyen's essay on Lee's film?  I'll read anything by Nguyen after his superb debut novel, and I want to be sensitive to his critique of the film, but I feel he's asking Da 5 Bloods to be something it isn't.  Lee's film is primarily about the black man's experience of Vietnam and America in the 60s and 70s, not about the effect of the American War on the Vietnamese, though his sprawling film certainly touches on this point.  However, Nguyen's comment - that American visitors don't encounter the venom that Paul did in the floating market - resonates with my experiences during two visits to Vietnam.

I did read it, and I think it's a fair point, even if I ultimately like Lee's film. It echoes my main discomfort with the film, that while it's as you say primarily about the black American experience of the Vietnam War, it still has a tendency to flatten the Vietnamese (or short shrift their experiences when it does gesture at them) and make it about an internal American struggle, with Paul's soul as the site of that battle, rather than fully grapple with why the Americans were there or the legacy of American imperialism. Though, my brother raised a good point in our discussion about how even the Treasure of Sierra Madre plot gestures towards American greed and "soft imperialism," just as the Huston-Bogey film does.

Yes, I also didn't encounter anything like that floating market experience when I travelled in Vietnam. Also, i suspect the scene was filmed in the Bangkok floating market, just as the temple scene near the end confirmed my suspicion that it looked more Thai, since it was filmed near Chiang Mai where I used to live. The only scenes shot in Vietnam I believe are the Ho Chi Minh City ones.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Really wish I could have heard all your comments in real life, as the thread is sparse. I have not had a chance to read much about the film, but the more it settles in, the more grateful I am that it is a pretty sloppy mess of a film compared to the sharp focus of much of Lee's other work. It just keeps going, the gears keep turning, and a current keeps passing from scene to scene. A frequent topic of recent conversation in my house involves understanding how history means something different to black Americans than it does to white Americans, or Americans of other ethnic and racial heritage. The recent editorial, for example, from someone claiming "my body is a confederate monument" spun my entire childhood experience in the south of these networks of monuments and battlefields an entirely different direction (not in the sense that I have any shred of nostalgia for this "heritage," in that as a young transplant from the north all these Civil War shrines struck me as a bitter and violent. More that these monuments of Lee and Davis, etc... disembodied reconstruction era racism for me by freezing it in a historical past). As the film progresses, it takes an increasingly greater toll on these men's bodies, as if all the age and violence and trauma is catching up to them in their journey through the wilderness. And there is a son present to bear witness to this degradation of his father, whose entire psyche is a monument to the American War.

I guess this is being received as a more minor Lee work, but I could very much envision Da 5 Bloods as a major locus of critical discussion of Lee's cinema. That dolly shot, for example, is such a complex, haunting, and refined dose of black power. 


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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12 hours ago, M. Leary said:

I guess this is being received as a more minor Lee work, but I could very much envision Da 5 Bloods as a major locus of critical discussion of Lee's cinema. That dolly shot, for example, is such a complex, haunting, and refined dose of black power. 

Oh, it's clearly a major Lee film, although I've gotten some of the same sense you have that some consider it minor. Maybe because Netflix produced it? 

I, too, wish I'd heard the first half-hour of last week's call. I hadn't seen the film at that time. I now have. I flipped for it in a way I haven't flipped for a film in a very long time. I'm not sure if it's familiarity with Lee's directorial emphases/signatures, but this film felt like, if not a summation, a vehicle in which those things worked together in a way they haven't in other of his films. (I was, to put it mildly, not a fan of BlackKklansman.) Even the multiple endings and of-the-moment political tie-in felt, well, organic here - or simply less forced than it sometimes has in Lee's earlier films. 

There's a lot to dig into in this film, but I'm rather reluctant to do so, knowing discussion of the film's merits can result in only one outcome for me: to lessen the film's impact and appeal. I was completely knocked out by Da 5 Bloods, to the point where, although I keep telling myself not to do this, I'll regret it, I ended the film thinking there's no way another 2020 release is going to touch this one. 

For those who haven't seen it, here's my tweet storm, written right after the film concluded. I'm bad with pasting these things, so forgive the formatting.

 

 
 
Back from the pool. Kid's in bed. It's time for DA 5 BLOODS.
 
 
 
 
Stunning. STUNNING. This is top-tier Spike Lee, which means DA 5 BLOODS is an All-Timer.
 
 
 
 
I knew I loved this movie before the first hour was up. So I held my breath, waiting for it to fall off. It never did. I'm sure that, with time, the parts I deeply love will separate themselves from the parts I merely love, but for now, I'm going to enjoy this huge movie high.
 
 
 
I was in the tank even before the beautiful prayer, the forcefully recited Psalm 23, the big moment of forgiveness (I was moved in the moment but knew I wasn't going to cry; two seconds later, waterfalls). I've never been so surprised by Lee's spiritual content as I was here.
 
 
I'm even amazed at the lead character's political affiliation (which I don't share). Sure, he takes some heat, but Lee allows him much more dignity than I was expecting. The film is better for that.
 
 
 
I love Spike Lee's movie-a-year (or thereabouts) output, but it's resulted in a lot of undercooked films. This is one of his masterpieces. Didn't expect it. I'm ecstatic!
Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Is this as great as Do the Right Thing or When the Levees Broke?  Not in my book, at least.  But second-tier Spike Lee is still damn splendid, and I'm with you, Christian, this is my favorite film of the year so far.  And there are three sequences that are absolutely GREAT in this film, that I will happily re-watch over and over:  the joyous dance entry into "Apocalypse Now," Lindo's monologue, and the double dolly shot.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I loved those three sequences, too, Andrew. The Lindo monologue is the one where he's walking through the jungle, toward the camera, eventually (or maybe throughout) directly addressing it, right? I have that image, or those images, in my mind, but I already feel like I should watch the film to make sure I haven't seared into my brain images that I haven't somehow distorted in my memory.

Also, was there a second Lindo monologue? Maybe I'm thinking of him singing just before ... well, that would be a spoiler, assuming, again, that I haven't misremembered the scene in question.

That Apocalypse Now nightclub scene is really something special - the movie/bar logo in the background while the four friends walk and dance, side by side. But I admit to spending a good amount of the first hour thinking the cinematography, while serviceable (I'd clearly underrated it), wasn't Dickerson-level work (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X). And yet, by the end of that hour, those long shots of mountains/terrain, which I found undistinguished, gave way to closer shots of the men and their circumstances. Maybe the setting simply had to be established before the camera could draw closer. Seems obvious in retrospect; I just wanted more memorable vistas, with stronger focal points, in some of those shots. 

What didn't I like in Da 5 Bloods? There were one or two things, lest you think my enthusiasm  means I was completely blinded to certain flaws. The lack of de-aging in the earlier sequences might have thrown me off more had I not read about it before seeing the film, so that wasn't a big hang-up. It was clear from the shifted aspect ratio when we were in the "past" in the film. Indeed, I found the transitions much easier to follow in Da 5 Bloods than the transitions in the beloved Little Women remake, but that's just me. And I liked Little Women in any case. More irritating were a couple of plotting elements - things I don't notice unless they're screamingly absurd. So, when a man walks alone down a hillside and just happens to see some gold half-buried in the hillside - that's a little too easy, no? And when he steps on a mine that will detonate as soon as he lifts his foot, and the bomb defusers he met earlier just happen to be passing by at that exact moment - ridiculous!

But aren't those great scenes - especially the latter? I loved the suspense, got very caught up in the character's fate. And by then I was hooked by the film. Those moments didn't derail me, although I recognize they might be bigger hang-ups for others.

 

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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2 hours ago, Christian said:

The Lindo monologue is the one where he's walking through the jungle, toward the camera, eventually (or maybe throughout) directly addressing it, right?

Also, was there a second Lindo monologue? Maybe I'm thinking of him singing just before ... well, that would be a spoiler, assuming, again, that I haven't misremembered the scene in question.

Yes, that's the one.  I'm remembering it as a single monologue, but they may have cut away from him to a scene with the other characters in between.

2 hours ago, Christian said:

What didn't I like in Da 5 Bloods? There were one or two things, lest you think my enthusiasm  means I was completely blinded to certain flaws. The lack of de-aging in the earlier sequences might have thrown me off more had I not read about it before seeing the film, so that wasn't a big hang-up. It was clear from the shifted aspect ratio when we were in the "past" in the film. Indeed, I found the transitions much easier to follow in Da 5 Bloods than the transitions in the beloved Little Women remake, but that's just me. And I liked Little Women in any case. More irritating were a couple of plotting elements - things I don't notice unless they're screamingly absurd. So, when a man walks alone down a hillside and just happens to see some gold half-buried in the hillside - that's a little too easy, no? And when he steps on a mine that will detonate as soon as he lifts his foot, and the bomb defusers he met earlier just happen to be passing by at that exact moment - ridiculous!

But aren't those great scenes - especially the latter? I loved the suspense, got very caught up in the character's fate. And by then I was hooked by the film. Those moments didn't derail me, although I recognize they might be bigger hang-ups for others.

The lack of de-aging was a plus in my book, fitting thematically with the notion that trauma memories stay evergreen as our bodies age.  And the temporal transitions didn't throw me here, as they did in Little Women.  And I'm with you on those plotting elements - and the imminent land mine peril was too clearly telegraphed for my liking - together, they led me to give this 4.5 instead of 5 stars. 


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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