DA 5 BLOODS
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee
Vietnam War veteran buddies Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.) all go on a trip together to Ho Chi Minh City. Their personal mission was to bring home the remains of their squad leader Norman Holloway (Chadwick Boseman). Further on their agenda was to also locate the stash of gold bars from a crashed CIA plane in the area where Norman died. Also tagging along was Paul's son David (Jonathan Majors), who met landmines advocate Hedy (Mélanie Thierry) along the way.
The premise and intent of Spike Lee for this project was commendable. The strong message how the Vietnam War had victimized African-American young men in particular was effectively delivered. However, the final form of the script over-cooked the plot, and the execution was oddly amateurish, especially those clumsy action scenes. The acting ranged from glaringly hammy to awkwardly stilted, from supporting actors to the leads. Watching the same senior actor play both young and old versions of themselves was confusing, especially that their leader Boseman was obviously looked their junior. Boseman was cool as usual, but he was barely there. The treatment of Vietnamese characters could have been better.
Spike Lee is coming from a successful run at the Oscars last year with "BlackKklansman" where he won his first ever Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Therefore, expectations ran high for this follow-up project, which even made it to a list of strong contenders for the Best Picture Oscar next year. Despite all that hype, after sitting through its 157 very uneven minutes, I never got why this should get any awards buzz at all.
A FALL OF GRACE
Directed and written by Tyler Perry
Grace Waters (Crystal Fox) was pleading guilty to murdering her husband Shannon DeLong (Mechad Brooks). Boss of the public defenders office Rory (Tyler Perry) sent Jasmine Bryant (Bresha Webb) to arrange her plea deal to settle the case once and for all. However, when she got to hear Grace's story behind her supposed crime, as well as some corroborating testimony from Grace's best friend Sarah Miller (Phylicia Rashad), Jasmine felt she had enough reasonable doubt to actually bring the case to court.
This was supposed to have been a legal drama, but writer-director Tyler Perry had so much cheesy soap opera melodrama going on. On top of it all, there was another layer of implausibility the way the apparently straightforward plot suddenly developed an outrageous epilogue which threw all realistic logic out the window. The usually exciting court proceedings were all written and staged in an embarrassing manner. Really, what respectable lawyer would defy a judge and insist on calling a witness to the stand after both sides have rested their case?
Phylicia Rashad (from "The Cosby Show") and the revered Ms. Cicely Tyson were in the cast, but for some reason, acting felt terribly over-the-top across the board. There was nothing in Bresha Webb's voice and performance that made her credible as a lawyer, but then again she's not supposed to be a good lawyer in the first place. The absolute worst offender had to be Mechad Brooks and his ludicrous villain portrayal, complete with evil laughter and absurd behavior. His "Ashtray, b***h!" scene will definitely make you cringe. The over-wretched acting in this supposed tragedy was unintentionally humorous.
ALL DAY AND A NIGHT
Directed and written by Joe Robert Cole
An aspiring rapper named Jahkor Lincoln (Ashton Sanders) had a tough childhood with his addict father JD (Jeffrey Wright). From petty crimes with his friend TQ (Isaiah John), he eventually became a gangster under Big Stunna (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). While in prison serving a life sentence for murdering drug pusher Malcolm (Stephen Barrington), Jahkor's girlfriend Shantaye (Shakira Ja’nai Paye) gave birth to their son Zion.
Ashton Sanders showed off more of his raw acting talent which we all first saw firsthand in his breakthrough lead role in the Oscar-winning film "Moonlight" (2016). Jeffrey Wright gave another marked performance as JD, as he consistently did in the past. The rest of the generally unknown young cast were all very natural actors, as if they have really lived this tough life on the streets. This realistic casting had a very authentic effect on the story that writer-director Joe Robert Cole (noted for co-writing the screenplay of "Black Panther") was trying to tell.
With its slick visual style and infectious rap soundtrack, this certainly had the feel of a very good movie. However, the only problem with this was that the story really had nothing new to say. There was a protagonist who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks to an abusive drug addict father, and later grew up to be a gangster himself. When he had a child of his own, he promised that his son will not be like him. Then we see a flashback of his father making the same promise when he was born. The vicious cycle of life in a black gangster just went full circle, just threatening to turn the same way all over again.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."