Tag Archive: Do the Right Thing


Review by C.J. Bunce

When Oscar gets it right, it highlights something about the current zeitgeist, not necessarily a mirror image of the social, literary, artistic, political, or technological achievements of the day, but at least a taste of it.  Do many of the nominees for the Academy Awards have that this year?  Ford v Ferrari, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Parasite, or The Irishman?  Did they last year?  How about a story about a person trying to make a name for himself, barely getting by, trying to pay his bills, experiencing a tough go at it before he realizes his dream?  Perhaps the biggest miss of this year’s ballot is one of those timeless stories of self-made success: Dolemite is My Name.

Dolemite is My Name is a biopic and a classic underdog story.  The seemingly ageless Eddie Murphy has his best leading role and best performance of his career, playing comedian, singer, actor, and film producer Rudy Ray Moore, who found his niche in cinema in the 1970s.  Murphy as Moore is like Richard Pryor at his best.  Murphy plays Moore as Everyman, pulling together his own outgoing nature from his 1980s stand-up performances and finessing them with the benefit of years of experience into a real, believable, even heroic character.  This is the same character type we saw resonate so expertly last year with Brent Jenning’s lead character struggling to succeed after putting years into a failed career in TV’s Lodge 49.  Murphy’s range of emotion, his subtlety, his depth of struggle and effort in every look and word is exactly why you have awards for acting in the first place.  This film is a smartly scripted drama with comedy notes, written by dynamic writing duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Man on the Moon, Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt).  It’s backed up with costumes, hairdos, music, cars, language, and an all-around fashion fest of 1975.  If you didn’t know better you’d think this was a Quentin Tarentino film, because it gets the retro production design just right, as he has been able to do so well.  Instead it’s Craig Brewer directing, the director of Hustle & Flow, the Footloose remake, and Empire series.

Supporting Murphy is a fantastic cast, beginning with Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, as an immensely entertaining and sympathetic single mom, brushing off her ex as Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore watches and learns.  Moore invites her into his partnership.  He and his friends go to the movies for laughs and walk out nonplussed.  Moore knows he can do better.  So he tries to get financing and make a movie.  His selected production staff, and the actors behind them, makes for a dream assemblage.  Keegan-Michael Key (The Predator, Tomorrowland), Craig Robinson (Mr. Robot, Hot Tub Time Machine), Mike Epps (Resident Evil, The Hangover), Tituss Burgess (The Addams Family, 30 Rock), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Let Me In), plus familiar faces Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, and Snoop Dogg make for a top tier cast.  When these people are working together in an old abandoned hotel converted to a film set, you witness the same kind of camaraderie as audiences witnessed in those barber shops in Do the Right Thing and Marvel’s Luke Cage. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you look at that great Paul Mann cover art for Blood Sugar, would you ever guess the following describes what is inside?  A modern-day look at the struggles of a teenager in a broken home and broken society in the vein of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (or any of her early books, for that matter).  It has the gritty street life from Attack the Block, Do the Right Thing, or Car Wash, the “being different” of Lucas (the film with Corey Haim) and the coming of age confusion and angst of Stephen King’s Stand By Me aka The Body and issues kids worry about like in Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  What?

In one way Blood Sugar is the worst written novel you’ll ever read.  And in another way, it’s the kind of story that should already be optioned to become an independent film.  That “bad writing” is tricky, because the story is told in an experimental manner through the voice of a young teenager named Jody, a boy whose life is a mess and whose street sense surpasses any “book learning” he passed up in his life so far.  Author Daniel Kraus, through the voice of Jody, speaks in rambling sentences, stream of conscience thoughts, and with little punctuation and grammar (no apostrophes, etc.).  It’s distracting at first to the point a reader may just walk away, but it doesn’t take too long to realize Kraus’s characters are real if not disturbingly so.  Yes, they are a mess, but this book might be worthwhile in the hands of the right kid.  Kraus is a screenplay writer, known for his script to The Shape of Water and his young adult works.  It no doubt takes some commitment to write an entire story in this strange manner.  His novel reads like a screenplay, and it’s far more a young adult novel than anything you’ve read before in the Hard Case Crime series.  It’s not a fun read–it’s dark, and desperate, and dire–the kids have no good path ahead, and their plight is like that of the doomed kids in Bless the Beasts and Children.  But it’s one heckuva thought-provoking drama.

Jody is a funny, dumb, impressionable kid.  He hasn’t read much but he knows The Lord of the Rings movies backward and forward.  He rarely swears, instead using goofy swapped words for profanity, which drops the serious and sometimes violent nature of the content into something that should pass for a PG-13 rating, something like I would have read in eighth grade.  This is a dark story of drugs and living in a rat-infested, inner-city project, of mental health issues, bad parenting, of youth gone amok, all in that same theme–but in an updated 21st century way–as Rebel Without a Cause, or any of the books referenced above.  And everything in Jody’s life hits a turning point on Halloween.  This is not your typical crime novel.

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cage

In comic books featuring decades old characters, years of monthly stories stack up, build up to allow characters to get fleshed out, defining plots ironed out and redone until they are synonymous with the characters, and those stories sculpt characters and worlds that fans feel they know very well.  Well enough to defend the characters if a modern adaptation doesn’t get it quite right.  Although Marvel Studios adaptations have done well at the movies, its television shows haven’t measured up so well.  Until now.  The Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage is full of so many elements that make it a quality series you can expect it to be a contender at next year’s Emmy Awards.  And the successful 13-episode Season One of the famous Power Man of Marvel Comics’ past is readying us for the next Marvel series, featuring Luke Cage’s martial arts partner Iron Fist.  We’re previewing the first trailer for Marvel’s Iron Fist here at borg.com below.

Marvel’s Luke Cage succeeds in two unique ways.  First, Luke Cage is completely loyal to its 1970s origin.  Carl Lucas, played by Mike Colter (reprising the role he began in Marvel’s Jessica Jones), is a man from Harlem, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  A very Stan Lee-style, comic book experiment gone bad much like that found in the origins of The Incredible Hulk, Spider-man, and Deadpool results in Carl gaining incredible physical strength, cellular changes in organs that allow his skin to deflect bullets, and rapid body repairing, all thanks to a mad scientist named Dr. Noah Burstein (played in the series by Michael Kostroff).  Lucas escapes and changes his name to Luke Cage.  Key characters from the comic books fill in the blanks of his life, including Dr. Claire Temple (a role reprised from the other Netflix Marvel series by Rosario Dawson), Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley), Misty Knight (played brilliantly by Simone Missick), nemesis Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey), and a mobster named Shades (played by Theo Rossi).  The story hails from the Blaxploitation era, with Cage similar in cool toughness to Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft, and female characters that could all have been portrayed by Pam Grier if this were a contemporary adaptation.

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The other indicator of success for this adaptation is the ability to update the story to today, for today’s viewers, and to make the story timely.  Set in a New York City neighborhood with a gritty tale like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (with Harlem swapped for Bedford Stuyvesant), the rough-and-tumble Harlem of the series encounters the same class warfare, the same friction between police and minorities, and the same political corruption that is, as once professed by the original Law and Order series, “ripped from the headlines.”  Luke Cage is a mix of plenty of good genre moments we’ve seen before, yet, thanks to the likeable and believable series star Mike Colter, it succeeds on its own merits.  It is at once a mix of the M. Night Shyamalan hooded superhero played by Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, and yet its first season follows a modern mobster-based story much like that of Fox’s current DC Comics-inspired television series Gotham.  And it all starts with that local barber shop we see in so many inner-city-based stories-unlike the typical superhero story the hero is not trying to save the world, he’s trying to save his neighborhood.

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Luke Cage is dark, darker than other Marvel properties, just as it was when the comic book first appeared.  This New York City is not a sparkly comic book Metropolis or even a Batman-grim Gotham City.  It was rough like real life is rough.  And where this adaptation could otherwise land in the PG-13 realm since it lacks the volley of F-bombs from most pay channel series, because of some nudity, Deadpool-level violence, and prevalence of the N-word in street talk, this is one for the adult audience.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t some great fun here, to be found in the viewers’ empathy for this anti-hero/vigilante as he takes his lumps and their subsequent cheers as he “gains justice” from those who wrong both him and those he cares about.  The throwbacks to the original are also quite fun, throwbacks like those used in the G.I. Joe movies, like Cage’s tagline profanity replacement “Sweet Christmas,” a phrase Colter gets exactly right and somehow makes work completely in 2016, plus references to his “Power Man” comic book title as well as his “hero for hire” tagline, and in one scene he disparages his outfit when he finds himself in one of his comic book era outfits.  Woven into the series are Easter eggs to listen for, including many indirect cross-references to Netflix’s previous Marvel series Daredevil and Jessica Jones that are relevant to this story.  This adaptation of a 1970s comic book series reveals the producers can stick to the original elements and still make this story relevant in 2016.

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Django Unchained - Still A

By C.J. Bunce

How does a Western get nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in 2013? As recently as two years ago the remake of True Grit was nominated for Best Picture and nine other nominations—but did not net a single win.  But would it have been nominated if it hadn’t been directed by the quirky directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen?  Five years earlier Brokeback Mountain, a film with a Western—or at least a cowboy– theme was also nominated for Best Picture, winning three of eight nominations.  It took director Ang Lee and a completely non-Western plot for that to happen.  Then you have to go back to Unforgiven in 1992, which actually won Best Picture and four of nine of its nominations, to find the last major, critically acclaimed Western.

What made Unforgiven win?  Certainly by supplying one of the two most popular Western actors of all time as the film’s lead helped, even if it was one of his more bland performances, with Clint Eastwood also serving as director. (Yes, John Wayne still remains the #1 most popular Western actor ever).  But more importantly, like the few notable Westerns since, it had a very non-standard plot for a Western.  With its gunfighter-turns-farmer-turns-gunfighter-one-last-time story, it was basically a dark sequel to John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman.  You could keep going—back to Dances with Wolves in 1990, an example of the “epic Western” which seemed to reward the director and acting efforts of rising star Kevin Costner more than the movie as a Western genre masterpiece.  Or back to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid in 1969, probably the last classic era Western to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, winning five awards, including a key win for the script by William Goldman.  Then go back to the also-quirky Cat Ballou in 1965 starring Jane Fonda—the rare Western notable for featuring a female lead.

Going back even further gets you into the classic era of Westerns, and throws you into the strange era of “epic Westerns” getting recognized by the Academy.  These were movies that in hindsight are really not as well done as many smaller pictures of the period, but their huge all-star casts and expensive sets made the films hard to ignore, such as How the West Was Won, The Alamo, and Giant.  Surprisingly you have to look back to the adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s Hondo starring John Wayne in 1953 to get back to the era of the “hero Western” as recipient of an Academy nod, a film up there with Shane and High Noon as successful and admired Westerns receiving acclaim by the Academy.

Schultz and Django

But if you put aside the classic Western and look at what has been selected by the Academy since the 1960s it makes a lot of sense that Quentin Tarentino’s Django Unchained is not only a Best Picture nominee this year, but a real contender for the win.  Set in the South two years before the Civil War, the film follows a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) whose past owners lead him to meet up with German-born, dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Schultz’s next target is the wanted-dead-or-alive Brittle brothers, and only Django can help him literally recognize his bounty.  Schultz serves as mentor in survival and pursuit skills for Django who is squarely focused on rescuing long-lost wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  The search ultimately leads to a more complicated than necessary scheme to buy Broomhilda from infamous plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), if only his loyal house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) will not stand in the way.

So what is the formula for a successful Western in the 21st century and why should Django Unchained make the cut?

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