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

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ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]
Director: Dan Klores
Genre: Documentary/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

A couple of weeks ago Amazon had an awesome Father’s Day sale going on for the ESPN Films 30 for 30 Limited Edition Collector Set. Basically the set was on sale for 1/3 of the regular price, and it included all 30 documentaries as well as a vintage ESPN hat. It was a hell of a deal, and I couldn’t help but treat myself to it.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, 30 for 30 is a collection of 30 documentaries that aired on ESPN and its sister networks from 2009 to 2010. Sportswriter Bill Simmons came up with the idea to have a wide variety of filmmakers reflect on the sports stories/events/people that mattered to them, and had them create an hour long documentary about them. There are some pretty big names attached to the project, including Spike Jonze, NBA star Steve Nash and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“), and the various films cover a number of different sports.

The first feature I decided to watch was Dan Klores’ “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”, partly because I had heard nothing but good things about it, and also because I grew up watching 1990s NBA basketball. I remember the epic rivalries back then, including the Pacers vs. the Knicks. This is a rivalry that heated up and kicked into high gear during the two years Michael Jordan was on hiatus playing baseball. Without the Bulls dominating the league, there was a huge opportunity open for another team to take their place. Both Indiana and New York felt they could be the best, and they met in the playoffs both years.

While the documentary is entirely about the rivalry, it focuses heavily on Reggie Miller and the memorable moments involving him in their battles. These are truly classic moments from 90s basketball:

1) John Starks’ infamous headbutt and Miller’s dramatic overselling of it. Miller is a notorious trash talker and it grew to be too much for his New York arch rival, who attacked Reggie and got himself kicked out of the game. Looking back at the footage, it looked like teammates Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing were going to beat the shit out of Starks, and that’s a scary sight.

2) Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Diehard Knicks fan Spike Lee was sitting courtside and kept antagonizing Reggie as the Knicks were in control of the game. All of a sudden, something clicked with Miller and he went nuts and started draining shot after shot, eventually ending the game with 39 points (24 in the 4th quarter) and leading the Pacers to victory. Spike Lee was immediately chosen as the scapegoat for his team’s loss.

3) Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. One of the most incredible feats ever accomplished in NBA history. The Pacers were down by six points with 18.7 seconds left. Miller hits a 3, steals the inbound pass, dribbles back and hits another 3, then seals the game with two free throws. Eight points in nine seconds. It’s remarkable to see this, even to this day.

ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks [2010]

The documentary touches on all three of these classic moments, and includes some awesome rare footage including a lot of the trash talk between Miller and Lee. There are also details of other elements of the rivalry including the whole “Hicks vs. Knicks” region battle, and issues with racism. Klores really does a great job piecing everything together and getting input from all of those involved, even getting soundbites from Patrick Ewing and John Starks about their devastating last-second shot misses.

You don’t have to be a Knicks or Pacers fan to enjoy Winning Time. NBA fans will get the most out of this, but even non-fans can appreciate the story behind this rivalry. Hell, my girlfriend who can’t stand professional basketball even got a kick out of the little bit she saw. Winning Time is an excellent documentary that had me feeling nostalgic for the days of my youth. I can only hope that all of the 30 for 30 documentaries are even half this good.

9/10