Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy 60th Spike Lee

Today is the 60th birthday of Shelton Jackson Lee, better known as Spike Lee. His early works influenced me to become a filmmaker and I am a huge fan of his overall body of work.

I wrote more about his impact on me personally in the post Why I Donated to Spike Lee’s Fundraising Campaign

Aside from his film work what I think is great about Spike was that he has also made a career out of being a teacher. In 1993 he began to teach at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the Graduate Film Program. It was there that he received his Master of Fine Arts and in 2002 was appointed Artistic Director.

Before then he first started teaching with his books. In many of his early films Spike has written books about them and what it took to make them. I've read several and below are list of the books.

Spike Lee's Gotta Have It: Inside Guerilla Filmmaking by Spike Lee

Spike Lee wrote, directed and starred in She's Gotta Have It, the independent-film success story of 1986. Shot on a shoe-string budget of $175,000 in black-and-white 16mm, the film was made with Spike Lee's persistence and talent plus the help of family and friends. It grossed $8 million at the box office and proved to be a major hit with both critics and audiences. Now Spike Lee reveals how he did it, mapping out the entire creative and production processes-from early notebook jottings to film festival awards. Spike Lee's Gotta Have It is a unique document in film literature - it's funny, absorbing, and fresh as the hit film itself. (Goodreads)

Published October 1, 1987 by Fireside Books. I read this book, but then stopped. Read why via my Goodreads updates below

December 7, 2013 – Finished Reading
November 9, 2013 –
page 82

 22.28% "I think I'm stopping at page 100. This book is a WEALTH of information. I got this copy from the library. Must BUY a copy!"
November 9, 2013 –
page 76

 20.65% "I can't remember where I left off at so I'll start after the survey"
September 14, 2013 –
page 75

 20.38% ""At the beginning of Spike's Journal on 'She's Gotta Have It'. Very intriguing. I've never kept a journal while developing a film, but I do keep extensive notes. This is the page where he shares his Survey for women to flesh out his script and make it as accurate as possible." (page 75 of 231)"
September 1, 2013 –
page 20

 5.43% "After a long Foreword this page starts The Interview: Spike Lee with Nelson George November 21, 1986"

September 1, 2013 – Started Reading

Uplift the Race: The Construction of School Daze by Spike Lee, Lisa Jones

Spike Lee rises again. This time, he and Lisa Jones document his transition from struggling independent to mainstream filmmaker with the making of the Columbia Pictures film, School Daze. No longer working with a small cast and a painfully tight budget, Spike Lee and his crew find themselves working in a swirl of university politics, a cast of thousands, big musical production numbers and the not-insignificant pressures of coming up with a hit in the majors. He "uplifts the race" by demystifying the process of producing an entertaining commercial film that, at the same time, delivers a stinging - yet funny - critique on American culture. (Goodreads)

Published February 15,1988 by Fireside Books 

Do the Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint
 by Spike Lee

The phenomenon of Spike Lee continues with this revealing and engaging look at his outstanding career, his creative process, and the screenplay for his dynamic movie Do The Right Thing. Spike Lee burst full formed into the screen world with his award-winning, commercially successful independent film She's Gotta Have It. In the few short years following this stellar debut he has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the film industry and in American popular culture. This book reveals Spike Lee as a Hollywood iconoclast and gifted visionary and takes us though the dramatic sequence of events that brought the movie Do The Right Thing to fruition. It is a testimonial to his developing genius, written in the stingingly funny and informed language of Spike Lee. (Goodreads)

Published 1989 by Fireside Books. I read this book. Read my review below. 
 Do the Right Thing: A Spike Lee JointDo the Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint by Spike Lee   My rating: 4 of 5 stars
‘Do the Right Thing’ is my FAVORITE “Spike Lee Joint”. Don’t know why it took me so long to get this book, but it did. Probably because I owned, and poured over all of the extras on the 2 Disc DVD. What more could I learn right? Turns out a lot more. Yes the DVD was very detailed, but much insight is to be gained in this book mostly curated from his journals while making DTRT.

For most of all of his early films, Spike Lee published an accompanying book. This was also mostly before DVDs with all of their commentaries and extras. Even back then it seems that Mr. Lee knew that other filmmakers like me were interested not only in his films, but the stories behind them as well.
Mo' Better Blues by Spike Lee, Lisa Jones

Documents the making of the movie Mo' Better Blues, a film that captures the lives and traditions of the great jazz musicians, in a volume that includes the film's script and production notes. (Goodreads)

Published August 15, 1990 by Fireside Books

By Any Means Necessary: Trials And Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X by Spike Lee, Ralph Wiley

The director of Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever describes the troubles he encountered while making Malcolm X, a film based on the life of the slain African-American leader. (Goodreads)

Published December 1,1992 by Hyperion. I read this book, read my review below.

By Any Means Necessary: Trials And Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm XBy Any Means Necessary: Trials And Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X by Spike Lee  My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t even know why I bought this book about the film ‘Malcolm X’ (1992) but if you ever want to know how hard it is to get a film made in Hollywood ESPECIALLY a period piece epic, this is the book you should read. Even if you’re not that interested in how a movie is made, it is STILL an interesting read as a tale of “Trials and Tribulations”.

By Any Means Necessary is not just a means to piggyback on brother Malcolm’s famous phrase, but it crystallizes exactly the mentality Mr. Lee had in mind when making this film. To me the narratives in this book were just as engrossing as the film itself.

PS: For the record the famous quote is-
"We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary. ” — Malcolm X, 1965


Read more of my posts about Spike Lee here

Monday, March 13, 2017

Get Out - Review


Written & Directed by Jordan Peele

Produced by Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr., Sean McKittrick and Jordan Peele

Daniel Kaluuya
Allison Williams
Bradley Whitford
Catherine Keener
Caleb Landry Jones
Marcus Henderson
Betty Gabriel
Stephen Root
LaKeith Stanfield

Cinematography by Toby Oliver

Release date: February 24, 2017 (United States)

Summary:  When Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes home with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), he is apprehensive as she hasn't told her parents that he is black. Once they get there things turn creepy.

Review: The brilliance of this film is that it captures that "black face in a white space" feeling and manages to turn into what it is—a horror show. Ok it might not in reality be a horror show, but as depicted in most of the film, it can get it a bit—odd.

It's not often you get to see black folk at the center of a horror movie that doesn't involve voodoo or something like that, but this film does—while also weaving in issues of race. In other words, Chris' blackness. It just doesn’t deal with it in the way you think. Not in an overt way. Everything is dealt with as it is in life—with subtlety.

Before Chris and Rose even get to the parents house they have to deal with Chris' blackness in a simple incident that deals with it in a very real way.  As soon as the couple gets to her parents house things become creepy as hell, especially as Chris meets the black employees at the parents home.

Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener
The parents are played to perfection by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener (pictured above) as is their creepy ass employees played by Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel (pictured below).

Things continue to descend into creepiness as his girlfriend's brother (Caleb Landry Jones) shows up to the family dinner and seems more fascinated with Chris than her Obama loving father. The whole time there you can feel that there’s something creepy underfoot and none of it good.

After a creepy ass first day and night, things only get creepier at the annual get together Rose’s parents have the next day with their white friends. The party scenes expertly depicts that "black face in a white space" feeling and what's it like to bite your tongue when a white person doesn't say something outright racist, but is definitely culturally insensitive.

The film does a great job at depicting everything in a creepy and surreal way especially through the performances of the cast. Every single one of the cast listed above knock their performances out of the park. Without giving anything away, they played their roles perfectly in accordance with the story. When everything is revealed, and it is, you’re still left guessing what’s going to happen until the end.

Great job by Writer/Director Jordan Peele, (pictured seated below) in his directorial debut, for maintaining the clever ambiguity of the story throughout. What makes this film great is that it is so layered with creepiness and racial undertones you really don't know what's going on—until you do.

I intentionally left a lot of things in my review vague because the mystery of the story is one of the best parts. For those of you who have seen the movie below is a great slideshow. I figured most of these out, but it's still a cool addendum to the film.

UPDATE: MAY 22, 2017
Live tweets of the Director's Feature Commentary by Jordan Peele @ 'Nother Brother on Twitter. Again I intentionally left out a lot of stuff to remain spoiler free and to not give away everything he said on the commentary which was really good. Check out the Twitter thread below.

WARNING: Major Spoilers 12 Revealing Details You May Have Missed In 'Get Out'