Movies are listed in watch order

Is That Black Enough for You?!? 2022

Watched in preparation for Spike Lee’s Artist of the Year run, mostly to set context for the late 60s and through the 70s.

Bus Nut 2014

Shaft 1971

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One 1968

There are some (like Justin Simien) who seem eager to ascribe a mastermind-like brilliance to Greaves that I think is unfounded. This film seems to show more than anything the role of serendipity in making great art. And rather than detracting from his accomplishments, Greaves’s manufacturing of serendipity, of making it to see what it is, is exhilirating to watch unfold. The emergent qualities of the film are the message, and a reading of overriding intent undercuts the revolutionary aspirations of documenting organic self-organization in miniature.

Super Fly 1972

Interesting to compare to Shaft, which has far more interest in solidarity and collective action. This is brutally individualistic.

The best part was easily the montage (cinematically) of montage (photographically). Of course Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack is astounding in isolation, but even more as the voice of the film’s narrator.

Shots in the Dark with David Godlis 2020

Cotton Comes to Harlem 1970

Ajube Kete 2005

Dindo 2014

Mass of Images 1978

Aftersun 2022

The Spook Who Sat by the Door 1973

Didacticism gets a bad rap. There’s something nice about watching this, and being knowingly preached at. I am the choir and I love it! What hurts, if anything, is that it’s been 50 years, and so much of the messaging in activist/revolutionary corners is the same, because so many of these problems have gotten worse.

It’s alien seeing police equipped with less for a riot than I now see for a protest. To imagine a world where I’m not on multiple continuous feed cameras at all times when in a public space.

離騷幻覺-序 Dragon's Delusion : Preface (2020)

Tea 4 Two 2006

Intermittent Delight 2007

Thomasine & Bushrod 1974

Spencer Bell, Nobody Knows My Name 2021

Pusong Bato Stone Heart (2014)

Low Tide: DLC 2022

Cooley High 1975

Skinamarink 2023

As a sequence of (largely) still images, this is quite lovely. There’s an hourglass-like composition that the film returns to often that I thought powerful, and the legos photograph well. This captures the shifting, uncertain form that items take late at night in the dark.

As an object of thematic or narrative meaning, it didn’t work for me. The ideas never cohere into much. They’re also too few in number and depth to carry 100 minutes.

Even so, I would have respected this as a piece of visual art if not for the jump scares. They cheapen the quiet tension, and reveal how bereft of real horror the film is.

Possessor Uncut 2020

タンポポ Tampopo (1985)

살인의 추억 Memories of Murder (2003)

The Killing Floor 1984

Cornbread, Earl and Me 1975

Weird tensions present here, where the police are candidly presented as engaging in blackmail, framing, and a broader cover-up in order to protect their own, BUT ALSO the cops learn a lesson in the end.

There’s also an emphasis on Cornbread being “one of the good ones” in a way that I ascribe, perhaps naively, to the time. Would Cornbread’s life have been worth less if he was in fact “unemployed”, as the coroner insists on calling him, despite being a student? Though perhaps it’s a demonstration that even the most unimpeachable are still as likely to be smeared by those in power.

Infinity Pool 2023

Several Friends 1969

There’s something delightful about the way these characters talk to one another, their mocking and disparagement of one another speaking more to the duration and depth of their friendships than any frustration about missing a party because the stove got stuck in the doorway.

Killer of Sheep 1978

千禧曼波 Millennium Mambo (2001)

She's Gotta Have It 1986

While used to quite different effect, the still photography (by Spike’s brother David) has echoes of the still sequences in Gordon Parks Jr.’s work.

Exciting in its visual confidence, via conspicous lighting, framing, and lens selection. Structurally too, with the faux-documentary confessionals. Politically there is something weird about Spike Lee’s stated interest in the defense of black men with this film simultaneous with the flattened portrayal of black women.

bell hooks: Cultural Criticism & Transformation 1997

Within Our Gates 1920

Remarkable that, over 100 years later, the cinematic language of cross cutting in the flashback sequence is as potent and terrifying as any I’ve seen. Perhaps contributed to by the unpredictability of what might show up on screen, given my unfamiliarity with film in this era.

Illusions 1982

The writing felt awkward at times, but all of that is forgiven by the studio recording booth sequence. An exhilirating demonstration of the paradoxical independence and dependence of the video and audio tracks, and a perfect depiction of the erasure of Black America’s contributions (to the war, to cinema, to…)

Sampung Mga Kerida Ten Little Mistresses (2023)

Ronin 1998

The Horse 1973

My Brother's Wedding 1983

Minstrel Man 1977

It’s never obvious what kind of quality’s in store when watching a made-for-tv movie. Where The Killing Floor had stellar performances (esp. Moses Gunn), this managed to have some hard to forget imagery.

I’m watching a bootleg on youtube, scanned from a VHS copy that’s missing the first dozen seconds or so. This isn’t a “pristine transfer”. Even through that, the confrontation in Cairo looks as if it’s from another film entirely. When I close my eyes and think of the film, I see the image of Rennie walking through the crowd in whiteface. Haunting.

Also, some shots that feel like they were copied by Bamboozled.

Weather Forecast 2022

Ikwé 2009

Losing Ground 1982

Disconcerted by how much I saw myself reflected in both Sara and Victor.

It was unfortunate that the creative aspects of research and writing are downplayed in favor of the more cinematically suited outlet of acting, since Sara is still motivated by that same creative ecstacy. But I get it, the typewriter scenes aren’t riveting.

苏州河 Suzhou River (2000)

Less than the sum of its parts, but some of its parts are superb. Everything before the POV switch could be repackaged into my new favorite short film. The later fairy tale parts are also stellar (the tattoo application scene). The purely Mardar segment in the middle isn’t terribly compelling, even if the setup is necessary for the things I liked.

Der Himmel über Berlin Wings of Desire (1987)

A man tells a stranger on the bus that on the east coast they get to see the sun rise, but here on the west coast, we only get to see it set.

For days afterward I repeated to family, friends, and coworkers just how wonderful life is. I want to observe and record. Mostly I never want to forget the awe and wonder of existence.

Cocaine Bear 2023

Ethnic Notions 1986

School Daze 1988

Just so full of stuff, so much so that everything gets rather thin. In doing so, becomes a document of all the forms of Blackness Spike can make fit in two hours. Which then makes the absences (e.g. homosexuality) particularly interesting.

Killing Time 1979

Tongues Untied 1990

Watched in response to School Daze, which I knew was commented upon. What I didn’t expect, but perhaps should’ve, was also a dissection of the Whiteness of the Castro.

Essex Hemphill’s poetry here is stunning, and helps further complicate the genre of Tongues Untied as not-documentary, not-diary film.

Зеркало Mirror (1975)

Pleasure 2021

皇家戰士 Royal Warriors (1986)

First Cow 2020

Screening followed by a Q&A with Reichardt

So much to love about this. To focus on just one thing, the dread established by the opening was almost enough for me to struggle to find pleasure in the joyous moments of King Lu’s and Cookie’s relationship. I was almost convinced that perhaps things wouldn’t turn out how I expected. Despite confirming my fears, the final sequence is so generous to them, ending on an image that let’s us leave in a moment of beauty than grief.

John Wick: Chapter 4 2023

Book of Days 1989

千年女優 Millennium Actress (2002)

Rewatched with an eye toward this as “multiverse” cinema.

I think this better delivers on the narrative and (especially) visual promises of multiversal storytelling than EEAAO or other recent examples. Perhaps this is just animation being a more flexible form for those tricks.

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka 1988

The good joke density was too low, with lots of time spent in a “barely amusing” register. But when it hits, it hits. Bernie Casey is delivering an excellent, almost Police Squad-ish performance as the straight man in an absurd world. The Inter-military Administrator scene is a perfect 60 seconds of cinema.

അനന്തരം Anantaram (1987)

Grease 1978

Watched the sing along version in theater

Also probably got COVID here

お早よう Good Morning (1959)

I’d talked to a friend about Ozu as this film “master”, and then the movie ends up being 90 minutes of fart jokes. Incredible.

Isamu was the perfect child character in a film. Endearing (“I love you”) and entertaining (any of his fist pump moments) in equal measure.

Coming to America 1988

Far less funny than I expected. The film carries a legacy as a comedy when it’s actually a much sweeter romantic comedy than anything else.

Some weird morals and arcs in this. John Amos’s character craven pursuit of a rich son in law is delivered upon successfully. His indignity at being looked down upon by the King grates against his own condescension toward Akeem. Akeem and Lisa end the movie still without total agency in their marriage. And in the end, despite Lisa falling in love thinking he’s a goat farmer, she is “rewarded” with a future-queen’s life, reinforcing riches as a worthwhile goal.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 2023

Game Night 2018

The Road to Magnasanti 2017

Do the Right Thing 1989

Struck by the opening. Visually exuberant. Also gratuitous in length and objectifying of Rosie Perez. Spike is a phenomenal visual artist with some obvious bad tendencies.

On rewatch, so much easier to pay attention to and appreciate the density of named characters in the background of scenes where they’re not the focus. Really sells the one-block, one-day setting.

Much warmer colors than I remember than the 35mm print I saw.

Do the Right Thing 1989

Rewatched with the 1995 commentary from by Spike & Joie Lee, Ernest Dickerson, and Wynn Thomas.

Two surprises: Smiley wasn’t included until late drafts, despite being a really crucial character, in my view. The best scene (Sal & Pino chatting) was largely improvised once Smiley appears.

Both more fuel for my cinema as art of contingency and coincidence platform.

日本製造 Made in Japan (2018)

Spike Lee & Company: Do It a Cappella 1990

Bound 1996

Discovering that I no longer (or never did) have a stomach for plan-goes-wrong movies

警察故事 III:超級警察 Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992)

Dick Tracy 1990

To Sleep with Anger 1990

I seriously considered picking Danny Glover as my Artist of the Year, and performances like this are a big reason why.

I love how at first I wasn’t sure if Harry was pretending to be who he was, and then eventually I wasn’t sure if Harry and his “resurrected” pals were, in fact, ghosts. Each was plausible at any given moment.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline 2023

Mo' Better Blues 1990

I didn’t enjoy it, but setting that aside, it’s still a delightfully rich text.

Particularly, I read this through the lens of Spike Lee’s relationship to Black Capitalism. There’s been plenty written that Lee is a shitty boss like other studio bosses, but Black. Bleek embodies a lot of that, stifling the careers of his employees, being capricious.

But Bleek is also framed as a put-upon worker, not getting his due from the club owners. Lee’s always remarkably even-handed in the treatment of his characters, so it can be hard to glean personal positions.

Showing Up 2023

Mo' Better Blues 1990

Rewatched with commentary by K. Austin Collins

Something interesting in here about the way black middle-class professionals remain tethered to not-so-professional past or family that produces vulnerability. In Jungle Fever, too.

Also, just some gorgeous shots. The rotating dolly is inspired, but the double dolly shots are wack.

Daughters of the Dust 1991

Beau Is Afraid 2023

Pier Kids: The Life 2019

The Five Heartbeats 1991

Planet X 2006

アルプススタンドのはしの方 On the Edge of Their Seats (2020)

Jungle Fever 1991

The movie ultimately doesn’t care about interracial relationships. This shouldn’t surprise, given Lee’s lack of experience, and noted opposition at the time (and maybe still?). Instead, the film cares far more about how the existence of these relationships provokes anxieties and insecurities in others.

Flipper and, especially, Angie don’t share what they really think about their relationship. Flipper says things (Angie isn’t afforded even that), but those statements aren’t really backed up or reinforced in any other way. Because Lee has nothing to say here.

One False Move 1992

Body Heat 1981

Vanishing Chinatown: The World of the May’s Photo Studio 2020

Juice 1992

Polite Society 2023

In Arthur episodes that focus on Muffy, she, due to her bratty nature, inevitably makes a mess of things. But rather than letting her live with and learn from the harm she causes, the episode finds some way of making her faults positive in some way, and she never has to actually learn a lesson.

Ria is a Muffy.

阿金 The Stunt Woman (1996)

Boyz n the Hood 1991

I don’t think I’d seen this movie from start to finish before, but certain beats, especially Ricky being dragged up on the couch, were baked into me and are felt in a more primordial part of my brain as a result of seeing them so young.

Dressed to Kill 1980

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse 2023

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. 1993

Teenagers make dumb decisions and non-decisions all the time. Having been one doesn’t make observing it less frustrating. That feeling boiled over at the end, with the garbage bag. I get what I think the film’s going for around agency and self-authorship, but still.

I compare this to Never Rarely Sometimes Always, whose protagonist spoke very little. Both Autumn and Chantel are trapped in their circumstances and trying to do something about it. Our empathy for Chantel is assumed to derive from confessional direct address, but I don’t think that works for me. Autumn’s is achieved largely through visual means.

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) 1992

Phantom of the Paradise 1974

World War Z 2013

だってしょうがないじゃない What Can You Do About It (2019)

Color Adjustment 1992

Deep Cover 1992

Strapped 1993

Suffers from some PSA-level sonic and visual choices. Set that aside though, and its construction is pretty wonderful.

The film elicits empathy for Diquan despite being a former drug dealer (and then gun dealer), in contrast to Boyz’s straight Tre. Better conveys how precarity dulls the risks of criminality than Menace, without dipping into its near-nihilism. These characters are never served well by “doing the right thing”, and we understand why. Also has a proto-The Wire attention to the brutal inertia of our systems (in the projects, in the precinct, and across state borders).

The Phantom of the Opera 2004

Menace II Society 1993

There’s lots to be said about how Menace does what it does, but for the moment I’m focusing on what it does.

Given the film is a direct response to Boyz and its sentimentality, what is this really doing differently? In pursuit of being more “real”, I’m reminded of the essay But Compared To What. What does Menace hope to achieve in being the authoritative voice of the hood film? Perhaps at best it’s trying to reach those turned off by aspects of Boyz’s presentation, but is this so different? Maybe that’s its successful sleight of hand.

Shinjuku Boys 1995

Basic Instinct 1992

Past Lives 2023

Independence Day 1996

Malcolm X 1992

I’m not fond of biopics. So this was already at a disadvantage.

Lee’s characters often operate primarily on a symbolic level, so seeing Malcolm so developed, constantly evolving, is a nice change. It helps, of course, that he was a real man. But no man’s life can be compressed into the length of a feature film without omission, abbreviation, and untruth.

The most powerful image comes at the end, the glimpse of Malcolm, in color, behind a video camera, smiling, filming himself. In that moment, it becomes easy to forgive the previous myth-making, and recognize that he was just (in all the complexity that entails) a man.

Black Is … Black Ain’t 1994

Chameleon Street 1991

Joy Ride 2023

Opens up a number of weighty topics (Audrey’s cultural “whiteness”), with apparently no plan or interest in resolving them. Then slaps on a death scene/revelation that didn’t feel necessary for any of the preceding or proceeding material. I was angry that I teared up.

Otemba 1988

Living on Tokyo Time 1987

Tunnel Vision: An Unauthorized BART Ride 2023

Crooklyn 1994

A rewatch. I just loved spending time with this family. As one of four children, with one sister among us, there’s so much in the kids’ dynamic that stirs up memories of summer of the four of us at home.

Drop Squad 1994

Walking in the Time of Uncertainty 2023

Higher Learning 1995

Four years later, Columbine ushered in the modern era of school shootings. This movie clearly evokes Kent State, but it’s hard to read it now outside of our current context. From the earliest scenes with Remy, I had the sensation “this is gonna end is a school shooting”. I’m curious how contemporaneous students felt.

The cops repeatedly targeting the wrong guy, letting the (eventual) shooter get away, and then trying to take the shooter in peacefully, and all infuriating in their now- (and possibly then-) well-documented truth.

Clockers 1995

Challenging to watch this after Strapped. While Clockers has almost all the artistry, the story itself, of a man caught between the hood and the cops, I find far superior in Strapped.

It’s also interesting that both films began as works (Clockers the book, Strapped’s original screenplay) that centered the cop, and the director actively re-centered the narrative. Strike just has a lot less stuff going on than Diquan. He’s an object in the actions of other subjects, rarely a subject himself.

THE FIRST SLAM DUNK The First Slam Dunk (2022)

路边野餐 Kaili Blues (2016)

Waiting to Exhale 1995

Late in the movie, Whitney Houston is telling her mother that she has other hobbies, and interests, and facets of her personality beyond men that her mother never asks about. And nowhere in the film do we get to see those.

One Week 1920

My first Keaton film watched in full. Shocked to realize during watching that because of the cultural continuity between Looney Tunes and silent comedies, I had a kind of intuitive understanding of the types of gags used. I literally hooted when Keaton uses the patio fence as a ladder. Here I was watching a human Bugs Bunny.

I’m curious how this reads or feels for those who didn’t grow up with syndicated Looney Tunes.

The Boat 1921

Roter Himmel Afire (2023)

Get on the Bus 1996

I was excited for this, because of the way it embodied a “black polyvocality” I’ve been thinking about lately. And on a surface level it does, but unfortunately so many of the worldviews expressed by these characters remain surface level.

As an example: a passenger, raised by his white mother in a white milieu, has his blackness questioned; a cousin of a question I’ve grappled with my whole life. Rather than engaging with it, the question is posed by a fool who gets details of slavery wrong, and so his provocation is dismissed. There is a stronger version of this debate that’s hidden, like so many of the other conflicts on the bus.

Filipiñana 2020

Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight 1995

Set It Off 1996

Dead Presidents 1995

Oppenheimer 2023

Disintegration 93-96 2017

Distancing 2019

Girl 6 1996

Wild that Tarantino is in this in this way. Especially knowing Rapaport’s character in Bamboozled.

Along with Crooklyn, a strong contrast of Lee’s handling of female characters when he’s not the writer.

Seems at its most alive when transplanting the protagonist into historical roles/films, which permits a formal playfulness. There’s also some nice use of digital video when we see the callers, a nice prelude to Bamboozled.

4 Little Girls 1997

I was shocked at the actual usage/depiction of the girls’ bodies. It’s handled respectfully, and very briefly, but still.

Continues some of the effectiveness with the archive that I mentioned in Malcolm X, and given the different crews, I have to imagine that that’s Spike.

Rear Window 1954

Talk to Me 2023

One Week 1920

The Watermelon Woman 1996

Has parallels with Girl 6, in these women finding themselves, and power, in performers of the past.

Also has so much more to say about interracial relationships than Jungle Fever could ever dream of, through Cheryl’s relationship, The Watermelon Woman’s, and the metatextual relationship of Dunye’s (director, not character) with her white cinematographer.

I adored the still photography and all of the constructed historical documents of The Watermelon Woman. I was convinced, up until the end titles which explained otherwise, that she might have been real.

Alma's Rainbow 1994

Janine 1990

The Final Insult 1998

He Got Game 1998

Uncharacteristically high concept for Spike Lee films I’ve seen. And I have to admit, the concept is quite compelling.

There’s a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work: Ray Allen can’t act, Mila Jovovich’s character doesn’t really go anywhere. But then, there’s the absolutely riveting climactic 1 on 1, and I forgive almost everything else.

A History of the World According to Getty Images 2022

Art production as political praxis. It’s remarkable that the ending of a video essay can excite such an impassioned celebration of its own consequences.

On a purely visual level, the device with the fixed watermark against rapidly changing “backgrounds” was a stunning highlighting of that ubiquitous mark, usually just perceptible enough to spoil the image, without necessarily obscuring it.

Sidewalk Stories 1989

Belly 1998

I’ve been thinking about this more since watching Aggro Drift. But even before that, the opening minutes are mesmerizing, creating both an alien environment for our protagonists to storm into, and an adrenaline intoxicated view of the world, before fleeing and having the browner colors of the world flood back in as they come down from the heist high.

One frustration is the apparent arbitrariness of camera placement and lens choice. I get that things (often) look cooler this way, but there isn’t a consistent set of sensations evoked by these choices, a flaw less noticeable in 120 second music videos.

The Best Man 1999

The moral compass of this movie was a challenge, as Morris Chestnut’s character definitely seems like the shittiest person, but the camera, and the characters, aren’t agreeing with me.

The greatest sensation I have watching this is that I probably just needed to be there, similar to Waiting To Exhale. And for several independent reasons, I wasn’t, and never could’ve.

올드보이 Oldboy (2003)

I must’ve seen Oldboy for the first time close to its release, and being almost 20 years older now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I responded totally differently, but I wasn’t expecting to dislike it as I did.

There’s a bit too much interest in its own mystery, it’s clockwork plot mechanisms, and the mystery of what’s just around the corner. I suppose this is my first rewatch, and knowing what’s around the corner, there just isn’t a whole lot for me to grasp on to anymore. Individual scenes stand out as excellent, but I don’t feel anything watching it. And I mourn that loss now.

I Like Movies 2023

Son Hasat The Reeds (2023)

There’s always a weird pressure on the first film of TIFF for me. I haven’t seen anything else, so my baseline for quality is a bit undefined, and I’m also encouraged to convince myself that these expensive films are worth it.

This was fine. Some lovely long lens photography, particularly when the pollen from the reeds is choking the air around the workers at the merchant’s shop.

Might have benefited narratively from leaning more into the mysticism around the lake. The stories of boiling surfaces and men swallowed up are compelling, and a missed opportunity when treated as just stories.

Sira 2023

Needlessly makes one of the villains gay, and really agonizes over it.

This was almost structured like a rape-revenge film, but it trades away any cathartic thrills for a “the police are doing a great job” conclusion in which Sira is saved by a man rather than saving herself.

君たちはどう生きるか The Boy and the Heron (2023)

What a sudden ending!

Ultimately just didn’t work for me. Teleportation and parallel universes are challenging, and without consistent locations to really grasp on to to ground the rest of the action, I’m just pelted with spectacle after spectacle. Probably better on a rewatch, but I’m just not compelled to revisit it.

Moon in Earthlight 2021

I walk into an empty, brightly lit movie theater. As I sidle towards a seat in the center of the center row, the lights begin to dim, as if it were waiting for me. I sit in the dark room for a few beats too long, illuminated only by the wobbling false-black projected onto the screen. Finally, the show begins.

Dispararon Al Pianista They Shot the Piano Player (2023)

To see this immediately after The Boy And The Heron unflatteringly highlights the unrefined animation.

This was repetitive in a way that became easier to forgive as the film concluded, and the director spoke of all the figures who’d died before the film was released, many of whom were speaking publicly about this for the first time. Less a film than an elegy, and so I forgive the overstuffed nature.

Trueba also demonstrated a verbal aikido in throwing great answers out in response to poor questions.

Nu Aștepta Prea Mult de la Sfârșitul Lumii Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (2023)

Hilarious, but I wondered if my audience didn’t understand the gallows humor at play, as there was far less laughing than I expected. It produced a number of quotable vignettes that my friends and I kept recalling throughout the festival.

To what extent will the humor continue to feel fresh as the years pass, I don’t know. But now, no longer festival-drunk, I can say this was one of the best of the year.

Dream Scenario 2023

A fun, light first half gives way to overbroad swipes at cancel culture or zoomer sensitivity lacking any real novel insight. I guess the kids are too soft or something? Squanders an otherwise interesting premise and an excellent Cage performance.

Dear Jassi 2023

I am fascinated by "“accented cinema”":accent, so the film, and Jassi’s character, drew me to this.

I wasn’t sold by the intensity of their love when they first parted, but everything after that was enthralling until the very end, which felt self-consciously provocative. I’m left wondering: How can one be a good steward of a stranger’s tragedy? Is it disrespectful to the victim of a shocking act to shock the audience with their tale?

Four Daughters would later show me how to approach this in a more convincingly considerate way.

怪物 Monster (2023)

I’m sitting in my seat, sobbing. The credits begin to roll. My neighbor turns and shouts. SO WHAT’D YOU THINK?

The degree of polish and palatability almost threatens the film’s memorability. We see what Koreeda is doing. We understand the “shrewd attentiveness” conversation, and the structural implementation thereof. It lacks the rough edges of a Return To Seoul, that help lodge itself into my brain, still there a year later.

And yet, these images! A teary-eyed Ando obscured behind the backs of faceless apologizers. Mud closing over an up-facing window faster than it can be peeled away.

The Zone of Interest 2023

Ugly. Not thematically, but in terms of image quality. I thought it was a projection issue until I read similar judgments during NYFF.

Few aesthetic maneuvers worked for me. The one that did, where powerful montage implies the future haunting the past, was excellent. But, solid blocks of color drawn from the German flag? Uhh, ok. Disconnected infrared vignettes of food smuggling? So what? The film operates too much in a cerebral register, where I comprehended what was being done, but leaving me feeling nothing. And that’s a dangerous place be when thinking about Auschwitz.

Aggro Dr1ft 2023

A bad time at the movies. Punishingly boring. One and a half ideas, wasted on a bunch of guys standing around with toy guns.

Left me thinking of Belly, another movie featuring rappers, which is even connected to Korine in invoking Gummo, which has a stellar sequence using UV light. We live in a world where Hype William’s couldn’t make another film after Belly, but Korine is out here getting festival mileage out of a fart.

La Bête The Beast (2024)

I love formal playfulness. The green screen at the beginning was promising! The visual glitches were promising! Unfortunately, these gestures never managed to evoke feelings that complemented the drama. Even so, I liked this walking out the theater, and feel warmer about it as time passes.

It does feel like there was a missed opportunity in visually conveying the past lives/repeated encounters, maybe by decoupling the actors from the (green screened) background. But ultimately, I have to admire a beautiful swing, even when it doesn’t make contact. There’s enough here that does work that I can forgive, or even grow fond of, those parts that don’t.

ほかげ Shadow of Fire (2023)

Writing two months after the screening, I can remember very few details about this, other than holding the emotional equivalent of a shrug. I turned to my notes from the day after the screening to review how I felt then:

“…Ultimately, I’m left struggling to remember anything of consequence.”

بنات ألفة Four Daughters (2023)

An exorcism on film. Not long after I thought that, it featured a reenacted, play-acted, one too.

I love blending of documentary and fiction, and while this is far more documentary than I like in my blends, the fact that there’s effectively no visual (or temporal) distinctions between the two help strengthen both. The highlight probably being Eya, holding a knife over an uncomfortable actor standing in for her sexual abuser. The actor leaves the set, unconvinced that Eya is able to keep the worlds separate, as her younger sister watches the reenactment and sobs.

Kuru Otlar Üstüne About Dry Grasses (2023)

Making an enjoyable 3+ hour film about an unpleasant man is a challenge. This ultimately doesn’t succeed, but there are moments where I reconsidered. Contrasting Samet’s miserableness with all those around him works, because we enjoy spending time with Nuray and Kenan together, just as we enjoy contrasting almost anyone else with him. The opening paints a delightful world that we don’t get to inhabit.

But the central accusation of the film causes it to drag, and gives us no distraction from Samet’s self-centeredness, and I got nothing from it.

Great photography, though.

Laberint Sequences 2023

Gemini Man taught me that 3D could be incredible in the hands of someone who understood its possibilities, and this reinforces my stance. The treatment of water by Williams and Lee is similar, prompting the comparison.

The second and third sequences have a videogame logic (the camera turns to a location and then moves via a cut to that location) that once I understood it, made the escape sequence exhilirating.

I don’t know how the escape sequence really pairs with the later edited film, and the expression that there is no escape. But kudos for engaging with, and quoting, a historical stereoscopic 3D film.

He Thought He Died 2023

The Q&A helped crystallize my issues. The film’s dialogue repeats that reality has “an excess of meaning” and that art exists to whittle it down into comprehendable units. The film, too, seems to be burdened with an excess of meaning, unavailable to the audience due to poor communication.

This poor communication was echoed in the Q&A, such as when Medina takes a shot (I think) at Aggro Dr1ft. The fact that I don’t know for certain exemplifies the problem. The presence of ideas, without a mechanism for their effective conveyance, is indistinguishable from a work with no ideas.

The Dead Don't Hurt 2023

I added this to my list after seeing Viggo in another screening, sitting in bad seats, chatting with his neighbors, and eating popcorn like an absolute mad man. I was charmed.

The movie was fine! But what was far better was listening to him, able to speak during the SAG strikes because he’s there as director, discuss the making of the film. Listening to an artist talk passionately about their craft will never not be compelling, and his dissection of casting issues, dialogue rewrites, and location scouting was somehow riveting.

Music 2023

Can one tell a story near exclusively through montage? I have a selfish interest in the answer being “yes”, and while Music does quite a lot with that tool, I don’t know that it was successful for me.

An additional challenge was that I started to develop knee pain around this time (18 movies deep in a week), and watched half the movie standing up near the exit for comfort. But even before that, I found my mind wandering.

보통의 가족 A Normal Family (2023)

An unmotivated change of heart by one character really soured me on the whole thing.

A question I considered in the following days: was this film only compelling enough to check out due to its setting? If this took place in the Netherlands (like its source material), would I have even bothered to see it?

Here 2023

I was nodding off at the start, and that precipitously counscious state was perfect for the early portion concerned with insomnia and dreams.

A lovely ode to attention (both the characters’ and ours) and migration. The wind carries lots of seeds, we need to plant them to see what they are.

Even as an understated meet-cute romance it’s great. And short! Remarkable that all these little sequences and conversations occur in under 90 minutes.

Incredible shots of reflections of trains at night.

Bên trong vỏ kén vàng Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (2023)

Felt very Kaili Blues. When Thien started his bike and rode down a ditch, with the camera following, my heart fluttered as influence became homage. But there was plenty that was distinct. The buffalo! The magic! Reminiscing in the brick building!

From the Q&A, learning that the director is a cinephile, and filmed this in his home town with people who lived there, I returned to a quote of Spike Lee’s. He said that everyone has one story in them: their own. And what really differentiates artists is their ability to tell a second story. I’m curious to see if the director’s able to clear that chasm.

American Fiction 2023

Jeffrey Wright is incredible here, and if nothing else, it’s great to see him lead.

I still struggle with what this wants to say, and specifically, what to do about Issa Rae’s character. It all feel too conciliatory. And inevitably, I have to think about Bamboozled. What does this say about affected “blackness” for white audiences that Bamboozled didn’t say better, more forcefully, and 23 years earlier?

Riddle of Fire 2023

Nostalgia is a strange thing. The qualities that we associate with a moment are typically only so in hindsight. The reproduction of those qualities, later, intentionally, divorced from their original causes, can produce something interesting. But can it present something interesting enough that forty years later an artist might want to draw inspiration from it?

悪は存在しない Evil Does Not Exist (2023)

The opening scene reveals the film’s origins as a visual accompaniment to music. And the music suffuses the runtime with ill omens. This place is haunted, but we don’t know how.

For a foreign (or American) audience, the rural setting casts a curious spell. This mountain town is idyllic. Taste that udon! Of course people would want to visit. But as I consider comparable remote towns in the US, I can’t imagine wanting to venture there. US rural spaces carry the cinematic aura of Deliverance. Perhaps we city folk expect things to go awry when we intrude.

流浪地球2 The Wandering Earth II (2023)

Summer of Sam 1999

Perhaps would have been stronger with all of the actual Son of Sam parts removed. What’s interesting here is the portrait of this time, place, and the people living through it. Everything about the Son of Sam himself feels out of place, and detrimental, to that feeling.

This has grown on me in the weeks since watching, particularly the depiction of Ritchie and Ruby attempting to escape the (reductive and almost offensive) pathologies of their Italian-American enclave. There was a sensitivity in the portrayal of the sex work and general outsiderness that felt new within Lee’s work.

Love & Basketball 2000

Light It Up 1999

This movie has loomed large in my memory since its release. Something about the core conflict, students of an underfunded school occupying it (I didn’t recall the cop hostage), and the images of Usher and Robert Ri’chard sliding down the staircase gave this a kind of mythic status in my mind.

It’s fine! I do like that our heros going to prison isn’t regarded as a judgment on their character.

The Conjuring 2013

Watched in preparation for The Nun II, which is actually a sequel to the spinoff of the The Conjuring 2, so the studying didn’t really help.

The Nun II 2023

Worth it if only for the scene of the magazine rack. Too bad the trailers revealed it out of context.

Wake 2022

A Face in the Crowd 1957

Watched in preparation for a Bamboozled rewatch.

There’s a lot in here. Obviously, there are contemporary parallels in the ascent of charlatans masquerading as the every-man.

The aspect I think about most is my belief in the value of cultural production from lay people. It’s the underlying theory behind the titular A Face In The Crowd radio program that Marcia operates. I love the premise. leeroy lewin wrote, specifically about game creation, and a world where it’s mundane and (desirably) inconsequential. Beauty can still emerge from that mundanity, just like it can emerge from an Arkansas jail.

山中森林 Lost in Forest (2023)

I was on a plane, and saw this movie with Lee Kangsheng, who I’m only familiar with from Tsai Mingliang films, and figured this would be similar. Nope.

本日公休 Day Off (2023)

The Original Kings of Comedy 2000

Interesting seeing one of Spike Lee’s editing tics (the double cut) show up in a non-narrative setting. Using it here gives us the privilege of a joke both in close-up, along with the crowd reaction.

Outside of that, there’s an interesting pairing with Bamboozled here, in the presentation of an act on stage, in Bernie Mac’s reflections on white people in the audience signalling having made it, and in expanding on Paul Mooney’s arc in that movie. There’s a big world of black entertainment for black audiences in the modern Chitlin Circuit, as proven by this movie’s box office receipts.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island 2001

Hollywood Shuffle 1987

Casper 1995

Network 1976

A Haunting in Venice 2023

Bamboozled 2000

Third watch, thinking about the unfair treatment of the Mau Mau. While Big Blak Africa gets to feature in possibly my favorite (non-montage) scene with Sloane in her home, the Mau Mau are largely treated like a joke, which is strange.

Spike Lee has talked at length about his being raised in a culture of jazz, not hip hop, but still sought Public Enemy for Do The Right Thing, featuring Fight The Power in a number of sequences. And Public Enemy released Burn Hollywood Burn a decade before Bamboozled, covering some similar territory. But in isolation, Bamboozled is merciless towards their ilk.

A Huey P. Newton Story 2001

I’ve read a lot by, and about, Newton this year, so having this come up during my Spike Lee watch was serendipitous.

There’s something offputting about embodying a recent historical figure, a still contested figure, and editorializing while cloaked in their persona. At moments, the comedic characters that Smith has played break the surface of an otherwise great performance, and you realize you’re looking at a puddle, not the sky. Newton could be goofy! But the character that I saw on stage in those moments seemed more out of Deep Cover than West Oakland.

25th Hour 2002

There wasn’t enough here for me. The post-9/11 aspect is easily the strongest element, contributing several powerful scenes, top among them being the conversation in front of the view from Frank’s condo. And there’s almost some connection that coalesces between pre-9/11 New York and choosing to remember someone a particular way. Or the life that almost didn’t happen. But I don’t think it manages it.

Instead, it feels like reheated Spike Lee. The double (triple! quadruple!) cuts at the start. The obligatory double dollies. Even the fuck monologue feels like a bad sequel to a similar scene in Do The Right Thing.

Angustia Anguish (1987)

So many signals seemed to be priming me to expect a fourth-wall breaking turn, and it never came. Instead of watching what was in front of me, I was focused on the non-existent movie I was anticipating, and it hindered the experience.

She Hate Me 2004

Tonally erratic, but never not a good time. It actually reminded me of Jungle Fever in its smashing together of two plots that have no business being together, but the lack of self-seriousness here means it works. The stakes for Jack never seem that high after the first 10 minutes, and that makes it easier to just ride along with Spike.

There’s one unfortunate kiss that didn’t need to exist. Setting it aside, I’m always excited to see unconventional families succeed on-screen.

A Self-Induced Hallucination 2019

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1920

Watched with live organ accompaniment by Dorothy Papadakos at Grace Cathedral

Hale County This Morning, This Evening 2018

New York New York 2020

Inside Man 2006

In the large, feels even less like a Spike Lee film than I remembered. One detail that stood out as noticeably “Spike” was the videogame the kid plays, echoing the embarrassing game (and politics around games) featured in Clockers.

This movie is still a lot of fun, even (especially?) on a rewatch.

Drylongso 1998

I’m sad I didn’t catch this at BAMPFA when it was screening with Smith in attendance. As an embedded photography project, I loved it. As a portrait of the nearby place, I loved it. As a slice of life friendship story, I loved it.

The film conveys something that feels “true” in a way that isn’t didactic, or conflictual with any other work’s assertion of “truth” (as has been the case with some of Spike Lee’s films I’ve been watching this year). Pica, Tobi, and Malik are people that I could conceivably have bumped into on BART.

T 2019

Watched as an impromptu double feature after Drylongso. Just felt thematically appropriate as a follow up.

Killers of the Flower Moon 2023

Centering the story around Burkhart is ultimately what kept me from connecting with this. The Irishman managed to evoke pity (but not sympathy!) from me in a way that this never managed. Instead I sat for 3+ hours with a guy whose ashes were “chucked […] over a bridge” by his son after his death. That kind of righteous anger felt missing.

Gladstone gets to do some nice work as Mollie, but there’s only so much one can do with “strong woman suffering silently”. We don’t get access to her thoughts and feelings. She, who perhaps would be our best guide to the events unfolding.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts 2006

Earns its 4 hour runtime by doing something perhaps unintentional with its two halves. The first half covers the story I already knew: the story as covered by the media for those of us far from it. By the end of Act 2, I asked myself “what is there left to tell?”.

Acts 3 and 4 were the story perhaps less known about what came, or didn’t come, next. There’s a shock when watching something on streaming, and thinking you’ve come to the conclusion of the story, only to discover upon pausing that you’re only about halfway through. This accomplishes something similar via two parts (though the runtime isn’t a surprise).

Five Nights at Freddy's 2023

Anatomie d'une chute Anatomy of a Fall (2023)

If God Is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise 2010

Unlike the first entry, this doesn’t earn its runtime. Where the first was focused, this has a few too many things to focus on. BP, FEMA trailer formaldeyde, the Super Bowl, hospitals. I appreciate returning to the scene, and continually following up on a story. But there are just too many stories to cover. A city is a complex beast, and attempting to capture its essence is perhaps folly.

Dog Day Afternoon 1975

Watched an IB Tech 35mm print.

Far funnier than I would imagine! Right off the bat we get to witness the incompetence as Pacino fumbles the gun, argues about getting the keys to the getaway vehicle, and has to grab a chair because he’s too short to reach the security camera.

Pair this with The Taking of Pelham One Two Three for hilarious heist movies is mid-70s New York.

Miracle at St. Anna 2008

Has a fantastic opening that’s ultimately let down by everything that followed. The payoffs for the mysteries established early on (and one late one) just don’t carry the weight that one could imagine. And the ending sequence is rather embarrassing.

Red Hook Summer 2012

Calling this a reverse Crooklyn invites a harsh comparison for these nonprofessional child actors. And they waste the stellar adult performances, namely Peters and Domingo (the best double dolly!).

Too much cranky-old-man Spike in the writing, particularly around the iPad and technology broadly, that’s unmotivated and irrelevant. This culminates in the final sequence, where Flik’s memories are shown with the language of nostalgia of Lee’s generation, not Flik’s. Would have been far better to show a sequence of Instagram-filtered photos, as if Chazz were looking at them herself.

The Marvels 2023

The stellar Aja/Fraction Hawkeye run begins: “This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger”. Ms. Marvel, conincidentally, had a similar contemporaneous run.

This movie excels when it’s exactly that: not being a superhero movie. But it’s saddled with poor action sequences and world-saving stakes that never actually feel real.

Lean into hanging out!

Passing Strange 2009

I’d been skeptical of filmed stage productions, as they’re designed around a distant audience, capable of directing attention anywhere on stage. And that calls for very different techniques that something shot with a camera.

Lee solves that by crafting filmic scenes with the stage production as raw material. Lens choices, color grading, and framing with impossible (audience) angles means we see something better than we might have on Broadway, by virtue of using cinematic language on top of stage language.

Oldboy 2013

Pointedly not a “Spike Lee Joint”, as indicated by the credits, and that probably tells us all we need to know. An uninspired remake of a movie I’ve already soured on.

Napoleon 2023

My brother was disappointed that the battle sequences spent so much time out of focus as we observe Napoleon being a pathetic dude. Alternatively, I found the battle sequences largely uninteresting, and wish there was more focus on Napoleon being a horny little weirdo. Who’s the audience that’ll enjoy both flavors in this proportion and structure?

A four hour cut would also probably exacerbate this. The only thing I can imagine it helping is more connective tissue between the scenes we do see to explain some of the historical context. Without it, I understand the consequence of very little.

Ganja & Hess 1973

For all it’s lovely dream-like imagery, it’s the sound that makes the film otherworldly. Unrelenting and unnerving. I’m someone who generally struggles to recall any auditory details, bu tthese stuck with me.

Outwardly from Earth's Center 2007

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus 2014

Ganja & Hess bled of its visual poetry and eroticism. On that second point, it was actually sexually regressive.

Where this does add of deviate from the original, it’s almost uniformly worse for the change.

Kuolleet lehdet Fallen Leaves (2023)

Cute and clever. It just didn’t have enough density of elements of interest for me.

Rest Stop 2022

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt 2023

Like Faya Dayi and Tree of Life, a film with arresting photography that nevertheless failed to move me.

The shot of mud clouds moving in the pond, to the sound of thunder, was electrifying. I may have gasped. But the seemingly intentionally obtuse images only activate my conscious brain. I could feel myself analyzing rather that feeling. I want these to jostle my subconscious, and it didn’t happen here.

Chi-Raq 2015

I admire its audacity. And the first ten to fifteen minutes were promising.

But then it degrades into moments of stilted didacticism. They’re politically obvious and patronizing, and lack any of the even-handedness that characterizes much of Spike’s earlier writing, and earlier adaptations like Clockers.

Throw Like A Girl 2014

A delightful detail in this, that shows up in Lee’s other documentaries, too, is his casual shouting of questions. There’s this sense of an easy interaction between interviewer and subject that’s touching. Like when he ribs Mo’ne’s step-dad for not encouraging sports sooner.

The Muppet Christmas Carol 1992

Rodney King 2017

A powerful performance in service of modest material. There’s a strange meanspiritedness toward King, particularly around his lack of formal education. There’s a story to be told about King, those two days of his life, and his death. But this can’t focus on that. The Latasha Harlins digression, for example, isn’t really part of King’s story. It’s context for the uprising, sure, but it doesn’t contribute to the story here.

Finally, closing with “I can’t breathe” connects King to Eric Garner, who was killed earlier that year (the show is from 2014, but the filmed version is 2017). That connection, apt, becomes concerning with the “he was no angel” framing of the earlier 50 minutes.

BlacKkKlansman 2018

Jarring to hear Blanchard’s score from When The Levees Broke in the final narrative sequence.

Flirts with some interesting/provocative juxtapositions (klan and cop, black power and white power) but the genre material, undercover police thriller, doesn’t engage those themes the way e.g. Deep Cover manages the same.

As a political object of its moment, it’s admirable. The closing non-fiction footage does make the subtext text in a way that perhaps wasn’t essential, but adds to its urgency.

What an opening!

Pass Over 2018

Feels almost like an apology for Chi-Raq, given its location, and Kitch’s Chance hat (Chance was a vocal critic of the film).

There’s a vagueness to the events that primes you for an allegorical reading, but the cop is pure literalness. There’s a risk with this material that it lacks enough specifics to convey anything effectively, or that that vagueness is the sign of an unsure author. The fact that there’ve been at least two script revisions since draws more attention to that last possibility.

Regardless, it affected me in the moment.

Da 5 Bloods 2020

There are moments where Delroy Lindo’s performance triggers bad memories of folks in my life dealing with some shit, and I’m wowed (e.g. the fruit boats). But then there are moments where I have no comprehension of who this character is, changing with the narrative needs of the moment. And maybe that has some purpose, but it’s frustrating.

Similar confusion appears in other places, over whether or not there’s any solidarity between the Vietnamese and Black soldiers, or if service is honorable or not. This doesn’t so much pose questions to debate, so much as point and shrug

君たちはどう生きるか The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Rewatched on an invitation from friends, and as I suspected, it was better on a rewatch!

If my first watch was colored by expecting it to be prose, this time I engaged with it as a poem. And on that level, it works much better. So much better, that the abrupt ending from before now feels apt, following the heron’s imploring to forget.

I was also curious about the reading of the granduncle as Miyazaki, and while interesting, I remain unconvinced by it. I don’t doubt there’s some resonance there, but everything else surrounding the blocks strains the reading.

A Thousand and One 2023

Víctimas del pecado Victims of Sin (1951)

The Store 1983

Watched in anticipation of Menus Plaisirs.

Somewhat frustrated by the neutral-ish presentation, which allows a viewer to see in this depiction what they want. Sure, the pre-open stretches and business blabber are mockable, but other scenes straddle this line where one can find either desirable glamour, or despicable excess.

That permits this to be a useful document of the past, and perhaps remain relevant across time, but does it impede the communication of some specific sensation? In Ex Libris there was a more apparent appreciation that seemed evident throughout.

Pusong Wazak: Isa Na Namang Kwento Ng Pag-ibig Sa Pagitan Ng Puta At Kriminal Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore (2014)

Medicine for Melancholy 2008

I’m a sucker for San Francisco movies, and am so glad for the Criterion re-release.

How does it feel to watch this and not recognize, or know intimately, many of these places? Does it even make sense?

Menus Plaisirs – Les Troisgros 2023

They Cloned Tyrone 2023

In the Mouth of Madness 1995