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USA, 2000, 135 min, Dir. Spike Lee
Bamboozled is an inspired satire about how Black people and culture are viewed in modern day media. Dissatisfied with his job as a TV producer, the Harvard-educated "Buppy" Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) develops a modern-day minstrel show, expecting that he'll be fired by his higher-ups and free to live on severance for a bit. Recruiting two Black, homeless tap dancers who perform outside their work, Pierre and his assistant Sloane (Jada Pinkett Smith) cook up an extremely racist and offensive pitch, which their white boss, to their horror, eats up. As does the audience and the world, turning the racist minstrel show into a smash hit, making the Black creators and actors morally diverge on making a profit off of the dehumanization of their own people.
Although the script gets away from Lee in certain parts, there are several delicious, hilarious, and thought-provoking layers to the story that continue to resonate. "The network does not want to see Negroes on television unless they are buffoons," Pierre says to Sloane at one point in the movie. The line makes me think about this tweet concerning the roles that Black actresses are nominated for—slaves, maids, impoverished women. The breadth of roles for Black actors has certainly gotten better in the last 20 years, but all I've got to do is remember that fucking Green Book won the 2019 Oscar for Best Picture to make me think, This is what white people think of us? Our stories? Our culture? Yes! And it's unlikely to get better.
It was recently announced that the Criterion Collection will be releasing Bamboozled in March of this year, featuring a bunch of extra goodies, including a conversation between Lee and writer Ashley Clark who wrote a book about the film. I'm preordering right now. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Japan, 2007, 98 min, Dir. Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki
I'm late to the Neon Genesis Evangelion series, which is regularly considered to be one of the greatest animes of all time. Centered around epic battles between "Evangelion" (giant robot mechas built by humans) and "Angels" (alien beings who descend from the heavens), the original 26-episode series ran between 1995 and 1996 and spawned two films (Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion) in 1997. The series features lots of symbolism and imagery from Christianity, Judaism, and Kabbalah, and its fans tend to obsess over its minute details. Rumor has it the creators just think crosses look cool, but people get deep with this shit.
In the late 2000s, a decade after the original films were released, the Evangelion team started releasing theatrical films as a part of an ambitious "rebuild" of the original anime using "new methods of expression." You Are (Not) Alone is the first of these films, released in 2007, and also my introduction to the series. It obviously moves at a much quicker pace than the anime, for better and for worse, but the final battle between a giant floating crystal pyramid and a sexy purple mecha with a supergun is enough to hook even the anime-phobic. The fourth and last film of the "rebuild" series will release in Japan this year.
The original anime is now on Netflix. "Rebuild" remains unstreamable. CHASE BURNS
USA, 1991, 132 min, Dir. Spike Lee
Made two years after Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever has all the familiar flourishes of a Spike Lee Joint—a swelling soundtrack, floating walking sequences, a warm filter. But, here, Lee looks to a thorny, nebulous topic: interracial relationships. Specifically between Black men and white women. More specifically between a well-educated, middle class Black man and a working class Italian-American woman. The happily-married-to-a-Black-woman Flipper (Wesley Snipes), an architect, meets Angie (Annabella Sciorra) when she's hired as a temp at his firm. Though initially hostile to his workplace hiring a white woman and not a person of color, Flipper begins an intense love affair with Angie that eventually tears their worlds apart due to the racism and prejudice from both their communities.
In the production notes, Lee says that the film is "an effort to uncover the motivation" behind interracial relationships. Weird. Today, the conversations in the film surrounding the myths and realities of a Black/white relationship are antiquated and lean more into stereotype rather than an interesting, nuanced reflection on desiring someone of a different racial background. It reads paranoid. But, look, I'm a mixed kid so I'm bringing a lot of FIRST-HAND experience/trauma to this party, so I'm both the best and worst person to ask about this.
Jungle Fever is also notable for featuring Samuel L. Jackson in a breakout role. He plays Flipper's brother, Gator, a man struggling with a crack addiction and homelessness. Jackson was actually fresh out of rehab for an addiction to crack himself, giving his performance a real, raw edge. He'd go on to become one of the most profitable movie stars alive, with the combined gross of his films reaching $7.1 billion. JASMYNE KEIMIG
Hong Kong, 1983, 84 min, Dir. Hung-Chuen Lau
I've initiated my descent into Scarecrow's Hong Kong horror section. I should've started sooner because it's truly awesome.
My first pick, Devil Fetus, isn't concerned with its plot—as one of its few reviews reads: "Go ahead; try and find a plot...You can't." But if you had to pin down a plot it would read something like this: A hot girl buys a jade vase at an auction. The vase, unfortunately, contains a horny devil. They fuck. Her lover destroys the vase. Hell literally breaks loose and faces melt off. Shamans get involved. Eagles must be sacrificed. It makes sense if you squint.
Personally, I think a person who is preoccupied with plot is a little like a kid breathlessly telling their mom what happened at school that day. A then B then C. Then D. Wow! Sometimes, aesthetics win out. That's the case here. Picture: Devil dogs slashed by swords. Eagle blood pooling across a floor. Heads flying! More heads flying! Another head! High-pitched shrieking. A maggot-filled face. An evil, evil, flying cat. Little blue magic beams shooting from a precious sword. Loose neck flesh! What more could you want!!! CHASE BURNS