Movie Project #8: Do the Right Thing [1989]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

Do the Right Thing [1989]
Director: Spike Lee
Screenplay: Spike Lee
Country: USA
Genre: Drama
Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro
Running Time: 120 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had only seen one Spike Lee film (25th Hour), and had heard nothing but praise for Do the Right Thing.

Accolades: Two Oscar nominations, four Golden Globe nominations, #96 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films, National Film Registry

“Always do the right thing.”

So says Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) to Mookie (Spike Lee), offering some simple advice that we could all certainly follow. Yet it’s not easy to always do what’s right. By the end of Do the Right Thing, this is especially apparent, as we are introduced to over a dozen characters who have all struggled with this concept.

Set during a sweltering summer day in the predominantly African American Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, the film shows little semblance of a plot for the first 90 minutes or so. Numerous individuals are introduced, occasionally running into each other, and there is no central figure. It could be argued that Mookie is the main character of the film, but he is just part of a large ensemble. In the wrong hands, this many characters could present major issues in terms of development, but Spike Lee has managed to introduce and provide depth for every single person on screen.

There’s Mookie, a delivery boy for Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, the corner pizza shop that’s been there for 25 years. Sal (Danny Aiello) is the owner, and he is waiting to pass the reigns to his two sons, Vito (Richard Edson) and Pino (John Turturro). The fact that their neighborhood has become a mostly black community has been bothering the two sons, but not so much Sal, who has taken pride in the kids in the neighborhood growing up on his food.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

Tensions arise when Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) inquires about Sal’s “Wall of Fame” in which there are photos of a number of famous Italian Americans (i.e. Al Pacino, Joe DiMaggio, etc.). Buggin’ Out wants to know why there aren’t any black people on the wall, to which Sal replies that he is proud of his Italian American heritage and will only show Italians in his shop. This escalates into a heated argument, and Buggin’ Out threatens to start a boycott of the pizzeria.

Most neighbors just laugh at the boycott threats — after all, Sal’s has been there forever. Who’s business is it to tell him what to put up in his own restaurant? Yet there is one other supporter, Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), a strong young man who always carries around a large boombox blasting Public Enemy. Raheem had his own altercation with Sal, who refused to serve him food unless he turned off his stereo.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

These types of confrontations and verbal spats are everywhere in the neighborhood. Much of this is due to racial tension, and it simmers for most of the film before finally reaching a boil in the tragically violent conclusion.

Without giving anything away, the film’s ending is one that raises a million questions. Who was right? Who was wrong? Why did it have to come to this? Did anyone “do the right thing”? Every character in the film has their own negative traits, just as we as humans are inherently flawed. Most try not to let their prejudices get the best of them, but in the scorching heat, it may be just a little easier to lose control.

Do the Right Thing [1989]

In order to really emphasize the record-breaking Brooklyn heat (which undoubtedly helped escalate these conflicts), Lee opted to use copious amounts of red and orange colors in his backdrops. This gives the film an especially unique feel. Lee also nailed the neighborhood setting, as it truly seems we are watching a day in the life of this particular area.

Do the Right Thing is an astonishing piece of filmmaking that still manages to feel fresh today. It elects not to choose a side, instead allowing you to make the decision for yourself. I am writing this post a day after viewing the film, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. This is a film that will linger and linger, and I can’t imagine it will ever go away.

9/10

Movie Project #21: Shadows [1959]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Shadows [1959]

Shadows [1959]
Director: John Cassavetes
Genre: Drama
Starring: Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni and Hugh Hurd
Runtime: 81 minutes

Shadows, director John Cassavetes’ first film, is widely considered to be a landmark in independent film making. Shot entirely with a 16mm handheld camera on the streets of New York City, Shadows was funded on a meager $40,000 budget. There was no script; instead, the vast majority of the dialogue was improvised. The crew consisted of volunteers and fellow class members of Cassavetes. Essentially, the low budget helped more than anything to give the film an authentic documentary-style feel.

Shadows follows the lives of a trio of siblings. Hugh (Hugh Hurd), is a talented but struggling jazz singer who is currently resorted to opening for girl go-go dancers. Ben (Ben Carruthers) is a hipster musician who has little direction in his life. Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) is an aspiring writer who is also emotionally vulnerable. They are, in a nutshell, very much members of the Beat Generation.

Shadows [1959]

Shadows is remembered especially for its brave portrayal of sensitive issues from its time period. Interracial relationships are examined, as Lelia’s new fling, Tony (Anthony Ray) freaks out when discovering that she is African-American (her light complexion is quite a bit different than her brothers). There was also a bit of a controversy when Lelia and Tony were shown in a post-coital position — how dare a young woman have sex before marriage??

Given the rough look and nature of the film, it feels like we are right there on the streets of 1950s New York. The narrative moves along as it desires, never really settling down into a general plot. Sure, issues are brought up, but the film has more of a “day in the life” approach before it reaches its anticlimactic conclusion. With its improv dialogue and jazzy soundtrack, Shadows is an interesting relic of its time. Its importance to independent film making is undeniable, but it doesn’t pack quite the same punch today.

7/10

Video Game Review: Crysis 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Crytek Frankfurt
Release Date: March 22, 2011

The original Crysis gained a tough reputation due to its demanding PC hardware requirements. It was deemed to be “unplayable” on consoles, and it took four years before it was finally able to be ported over. Apparently Crytek realized that it would be better to have multi-platform releases, so the inevitable Crysis 2 was designed with consoles in mind. The new CryEngine 3 graphics system has made all of this possible, and the end results are stunning. This is one of the best-looking games on the Xbox 360.

Set three years after the original, Crysis 2 takes place in New York City, which has become a warzone thanks to both a nasty virus outbreak and an alien invasion. Yes, those Ceph bastards are back, and they are wreaking havoc on the city. The main protagonist this time is a soldier codenamed Alcatraz, who survives a brutal submarine accident upon deploying NYC. With little other options available, Alcatraz is essentially selected as the “Chosen One” and he receives the same Nanosuit that Prophet wore in the first game. From this point on, his goal is to rid the planet of those nasty aliens while also fighting off U.S. Military personnel that are hellbent on destroying the Nanosuit.

The Nanosuit is the centerpiece of the Crysis series, and it is at its best here. There is no question that Alcatraz has the holy grail of armor, and it makes him out to be a huge badass. All of the suit’s capabilities return from the first game, including cloaking and advanced defensive mechanisms, but everything is intensified. Even better is the fact that the Nanosuit can be customized and upgraded over time. As aliens are killed, their technology can be collected and used to bolster four different areas: Armor, Power, Tactical and Stealth. This essentially allows the game to be played in different ways, as an emphasis can be placed on stealth, gunplay or a mix of both.

I love that the game offers this ability, as it is a great thrill to sneak past a group of aliens and then open up and let them have it in the next area. As the game can be completed in different ways, this adds to the overall replay value.

One thing that I enjoyed from the first Crysis was that most of the game took place in a large, open world. This is not the case here in the sequel, as Crytek have opted to make this a more linear shooter. It’s not quite on the levels of Modern Warfare’s strictly on-rails gameplay, for example, but there is little to explore on the streets of New York. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, it’s just different.

The game’s campaign has been stated to be close to ten hours, but I finished it in less than seven. I used a mix of stealth/action combat techniques, so the time length may vary depending on what style of gameplay is used. In comparison to the first game, the campaign is notably easier with a seemingly endless supply of ammunition available. I had a hard time finishing Crysis on “normal” mode, but here it was almost too simple. While Crysis 2’s campaign is certainly a lot of fun to play through, it has less “holy shit” moments than the original, and the final “boss” is a bit of a letdown. In this department, it is slightly disappointing, even though the Nanosuit is much more powerful.

Crysis 2 has an advantage in that it includes a deep multiplayer mode. This uses a leveling-up system similar to that of Modern Warfare, complete with killstreaks and custom classes, but it differentiates itself with the use of cloaking/armor abilities. Unfortunately, the online community is very, very small at the moment, so it may take some work to get a good session going. However, when that happens, the multiplayer aspect is a real treat and offers a nice alternative to other online shooters.

Crysis 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

I would be remiss not to discuss more of the game’s visuals. This is simply one of the best looking shooters available on a home console, and it is a huge step forward from the original’s recent port (which wasn’t too shabby itself). New York City, despite being utterly war-torn, is beautiful, and much of the game is based on real locations. To really show off its graphical power, there is an obligatory level that takes place in the rain — truly a work of beauty.

While I prefer the open-world nature of the original, Crysis 2 still has a lot going for it. The mix of gameplay tactics is brilliant, the campaign is a fun ride, and the game itself is a technical marvel. I wish there were more memorable moments like its predecessor, but this is still one of the more underrated releases from 2011. Fans of FPS and action titles should definitely look into picking this up, especially as it can be found for as low as $9.99 these days.

8/10

Movie Project #17: Annie Hall [1977]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Annie Hall [1977]

Annie Hall [1977]
Directors: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Language: English
Country: USA

Why I Chose This:
Woody Allen has 40+ movies to his name, yet I have only seen a few of his most recent films. What better way to dig deeper into his filmography than to start with 1977’s Best Picture Oscar winner?

What It’s About:
Woody Allen stars as Alvy Singer, a neurotic comedian in New York City who struggles to maintain a relationship with his scatterbrained lover, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The movie follows the tumultuous relationship over the course of the 1970s.

What I Liked:
The New York setting. One thing I have noticed with Woody Allen movies is that the man knows how to make great use of cities. New York is the perfect backdrop for Alvy and Annie’s up-and-down relationship.

The breaking of the fourth wall. I loved how Alvy would randomly start talking to the camera to explain certain things happening on screen. I also enjoyed the random visual changes, such as the inexplicable transition to cartoon animation for a brief scene.

Annie Hall [1977]

Some truly classic lines.
“Hey, don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.”
“I don’t want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.”
“Honey, there’s a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick.”

Brief cameos from Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum. Both guys are in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles, but both are amusing.

What I Didn’t Like:
Some of the rapid fire dialogue felt forced. This is a film that focuses heavily on talking, and rarely slows down enough to catch its breath. While I found myself laughing at some of Alvy’s wisecracks, there were just as many that fell flat.

Alvy Singer. Allen’s character’s full-of-himself shtick became grating as the movie progressed. He found a way to complain about EVERYTHING, with these quips only sometimes being amusing. He wasn’t as enjoyable as neurotic characters like, say, George Costanza on Seinfeld or Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

My Verdict:
It’s a bit startling to think that this beat out Star Wars for Best Picture (though I am not a huge fan of that either). I like Annie Hall, but I feel like the film lacks the same punch it had upon its initial release. The movie has obviously been influential — I had no idea this is where the aforementioned masturbation line came from — and I enjoyed it more than the recent Allen films I have seen, but it didn’t resonate with me in the way it seemingly has for others. Woody Allen sure has a distinct style, though, doesn’t he?

7/10

* I would love to hear your thoughts on this new “review” format. I will only be using it for Movie Project posts, but I feel it works better for some of these older titles. What do you think?