Film Review: Malcolm X (1992)

Also known as: X (poster title)
Release Date: November 18th, 1992
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Arnold Perl, Spike Lee
Based on: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Theresa Randle, Kate Vernon, Christopher Plummer, Lonette McKee, Giancarlo Esposito, Wendell Pierce, Roger Guenveur Smith, Debi Mazar, Karen Allen, Peter Boyle, David Patrick Kelly, Mary Alice, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Imperioli, John David Washington, Ossie Davis

Largo International, JVC Entertainment Networks, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Warner Bros., 202 Minutes

Review:

“[Witnessing Malcolm’s control over a mob] That’s too much power for one man to have.” – Captain Green

Every great director has their magnum opus and this is Spike Lee’s.

Malcolm X is pretty perfect from top-to-bottom and for a film that is nearly three and a half hours, it mostly moves at a really good pace. I thought that the first act was too drawn out but it takes up less than an hour of running time and the film really finds its groove once Malcolm goes to prison and first encounters the lessons and ideas around The Nation of Islam.

From that point forward, this is a truly exceptional motion picture that is bolstered by the legendary performance of Denzel Washington. In fact, despite him winning the Academy Award for Training Day, I would say that this is the best performance of his career.

Beyond Washington, everyone else in this film is superb from the smallest parts to the largest. There really isn’t a weak link in the entire cast and Lee did a phenomenal job in picking who he did for each role.

This also boasts the best cinematography out of all of Spike Lee’s movies. Sure, he has a stupendous eye and employs wonderful visuals in every film but this felt so genuine and rich. It was like a true time capsule back to the 1940s through 1960s and nothing about it felt staged or inauthentic.

Having read the book, years ago, I’ve always seen this as the most perfect interpretation of it. In fact, if anyone were to try and attempt a Malcolm X biopic in the future, I don’t know how they could really make anything better or even as close to great as this is. As far as I know, it’s never been attempted and frankly, it shouldn’t be.

Watching this, it was hard not having my mind try to compare the incidents and the social climate in the 1960s to today. A lot of people love quoting Malcom X and for good reason. However, I think that a lot of people who cite him don’t fully grasp the context and cherry pick what fits their narrative. I think it’s important to understand the man’s full journey and to see what he went through, what he learned and how he applied all of that to his actions and his message.

Unfortunately, Malcolm was gunned down in the prime of his life and we never got to see how he would’ve continue to evolve and how he would’ve worked together with other black leaders and leaders of all races in the following decades.

Malcolm’s death was an absolute tragedy but his life is certainly worth knowing and celebrating. With that, this film is really special in how it captured the man, his personal struggles and growth. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington made a biographical picture that is as good as they get.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Spike Lee’s other films of the late ’80s and into the ’90s.

TV Review: Ray Donovan (2013-2020)

Original Run: June 30th, 2013 – January 19th, 2020
Created by: Ann Biderman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson, Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Steven Bauer, Katherine Moennig, Pooch Hall, Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby, Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, Graham Rogers, Susan Sarandon, Elliott Gould, Peter Jacobson, Denise Crosby, Frank Whaley, Hank Azaria, James Woods, Rosanna Arquette, Sherilyn Fenn, Wendell Pierce, Ian McShane, Katie Holmes, Leland Orser, Aaron Staton, Fairuza Balk, Embeth Davidtz, Richard Brake, Lisa Bonet, Stacy Keach, Tara Buck, Ted Levine, C. Thomas Howell, Donald Faison, Lili Simmons, James Keach, Adina Porter, Jake Busey, Sandy Martin, Zach Grenier, Alan Alda, Lola Glaudini, Kerry Condon, Kevin Corrigan

David Hollander Productions, The Mark Gordon Company, Ann Biderman Co., Bider Sweet Productions, CBS, Showtime, 82 Episodes, 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Lots of people talked this show up for years like it was the second coming of The Sopranos. I wanted to wait for it to end, as I typically binge things in their entirety. With this show, that was probably the best way to view it, as so many things happen with so many characters, that it would’ve been hard remembering all the details over seven years.

I wouldn’t say that this is anywhere near as good as The Sopranos and I also don’t have as high of an opinion of that show as most people do. Granted, I did still like it quite a bit when it was current.

Ray Donovan follows Ray Donovan, a badass uber masculine guy that works as a Hollywood fixer. However, his entire family is complex and interesting and this isn’t so much about Ray being a fixer, as it is about his family’s criminal behavior and their turbulent personal lives.

The show does a remarkable job of pushing its characters to the point of you hating them but then finds a way to make you realize you love them. It’s a show that actually has a lot of mini redemption arcs but it also shows, within that, that people tend to surrender to their nature even if they want to work on themselves.

Ray is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen on television but that can also be said about several other core characters, here

I think in the end, my favorite character ended up being Eddie Marsan’s Terry, the eldest Donovan brother, as he was always trying to do the right thing by his family, even if they often times found themselves doing really shitty things.

I also liked Bunchy a lot but by the end, his constant bad luck and terrible decisions became exhausting.

The first five seasons are really solid, even if the fourth was a bit weak. The show kind of lost me in season six, where it moved from Los Angeles to New York City and didn’t feel like it had much of a point. Plus, there are things that happened in season six that made the show jump the shark for me.

The only thing that really saved the last two seasons was how damn good Sandy Martin was once she entered the show.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this and if anything, it showcased incredible performances by stellar actors playing really fucked up but endearing characters.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Sopranos, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Justified.

TV Review: Treme (2010-2013)

Original Run: April 11th, 2010 – December 29th, 2013
Created by: David Simon, Eric Overmyer
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various, theme by John Boutté
Cast: Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Chris Coy, Kim Dickens, India Ennenga, John Goodman, Michiel Huisman, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, David Morse, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Jon Seda, Steve Zahn, Kermit Ruffins

Blown Deadline Productions, Warner Bros., HBO, 36 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

For my 100th TV review on Talking Pulp (formerly Cinespiria), I wanted to dip into the well and pull out an old review for one of my favortie shows of all-time. Something that I felt was completely underappreciated and overlooked by most.

*Written in 2015.

I may need to re-order my countdown of HBO shows (from an older blog), as after re-watching Treme and in its entirety for the first time, I would rank it among the top five HBO shows of all-time.

Created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, the great minds behind HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire, this show takes us to New Orleans months after Hurricane Katrina and shows us in intimate detail how the people of that ravaged city rebuilt their town, their homes, their businesses and their lives.

Starting out in a place of despair in a city full of corruption and ignored by the world outside, Treme triumphs in that it displays an unrelenting human spirit, focusing on the underlying morality of many of the characters and teaching the important lessons of appreciating what you have, holding on to what’s dear to you and to always strive for the right things in life. The characters in this show hit the hardest times of their lives but find ways to persevere and triumph. Treme in it’s three and a half seasons has more heart, soul and more morality than shows that have been on for years longer. It is a bright positive light in a medium overrun with negativity and darkness.

The ensemble cast is perfect. From Steve Zahn to Khandi Alexander to Kim Dickens to Wendell Pierce to John Goodman to Rob Brown to Melissa Leo to David Morse to Lucia Micarelli to the amazing Clarke Peters and multiple fantastic cameos by New Orleans jazz legend Kermit Ruffins, there isn’t a character that you don’t fall in love with. I know that I am missing some people but each character has such a dynamic story that truly evolves over the course of the three and a half seasons this show was on. Not a single character is boring or useless. None of them get lost in the shuffle. It is a well-balanced television series that maintained its focus and quality – doing every character and every plot thread justice.

The element that brings everything together so well is the emphasis on representing New Orleans culture in its full glory. The music, the art, the food, the language and the parties are all there. The sense of community and love for they neighbor is there. Everything that truly is New Orleans is embraced on this show and it is the most accurate portrayal I have ever seen of the city and its people, who are usually portrayed as backdrops to action flicks or voodoo horror movies.

Treme is one of those shows, now having seen it in its complete form, that I will probably re-watch almost annually. There aren’t a lot of episodes and it can be binge watched in a week or two. And if you love New Orleans, this show will always deliver that feeling you get when wandering Frenchman Street at night looking for amazing music, amazing food and a great experience.

Also, it is streaming on Amazon Prime. So if you have a Prime account, you can watch this show in its entirety.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The Wire and the Spike Lee HBO documentaries about New Orleans: When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts and If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise.

Film Review: Hackers (1995)

Release Date: September 15th, 1995
Directed by: Iain Softley
Written by: Rafael Moreu
Music by: Simon Boswell
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Penn Jillette, Wendell Pierce, Felicity Huffman

United Artists, 107 Minutes

hackersReview:

When I first saw Hackers in 1995, I thought it was enjoyable. I also thought it was really ridiculous in several ways.

At the time, I saw it as incredibly implausible and way too stylized and cartoony. Having now watched it for the first time in two decades, I enjoyed it more than I did when it first came out.

To start, I’m not sure if this film was meant to be taken seriously or if the director intended it to be some sort of fantasy world parody of the technological and cultural changes of the times. Seeing it now, I view it as similar to Walter Hill’s The Warriors. It deals with some real shit but ultimately it is presented in a sort of fantastical world different from the reality we live in – highly stylized with an abundance of visual embellishments. It also embraces all the things that were pretty annoying about mid-90s Gen X culture, which twenty years later, makes me feel like I’m trapped in a time capsule full of things I hated at the time. Having had two decades worth of distance, I’m more amused than annoyed now.

The film stars Angelina Jolie’s worst haircut, Matthew Lillard’s worst haircut, roller blades and some kid that Jolie married for a few years and then dumped. It also has Wendell Pierce as a special agent; I love him in everything he does. Then there is the villain, known as “The Plague”, who is a ridiculous prick and more annoying than cool. Also, Lorraine Bracco plays a villain character and she’s just as horrible as ever.

I did like the music for the time and it still plays great in the film. It fits the insane style of the movie and helps enhance its bizarre tone.

I’m glad I rewatched this though, after all these years and no fond memories of it. It is a very dated film nowadays but that also adds to its modern appeal, at least for me. And being that I saw this as a completely different film than I did when I was 16 years-old, makes me want to go back and watch some other films from that era that I haven’t seen in awhile.

This film is unique and that alone makes it worth a watch. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did on the second viewing. And I’m sure I’ll watch this again in less than twenty years time.

Rating: 6/10