Review: ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman and Mélanie Thierry

June 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters and Jonathan Majors in “Da 5 Bloods” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Da 5 Bloods”

Directed by Spike Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Vietnam, the drama “Da 5 Bloods” has a racially diverse cast (African American, Asian and white) portraying the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: Four African American men who are Vietnam War veterans return to Vietnam with one of the men’s sons to find a hidden stash of gold bars, and they confront issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), loyalty, greed and the cultural wounds left by the war.

Culture Audience: “Da 5 Bloods” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted dramas about friendships bound by trauma, but sensitive viewers might be disturbed by the film’s significant level of bloody violence.

Johnny Trí Nguyên, Clarke Peters and Delroy Lindo in “Da 5 Bloods” (Photo by David Lee/Netflix)

Spike Lee’s sprawling epic drama “Da 5 Bloods” takes viewers on a thrilling, heartbreaking and absorbing ride that will reel you in, shake you up, and leave you feeling uplifted and solemn at the same time by the end of the movie. Simply put: “Da 5 Bloods” is one of writer/director Lee’s best films of the 21st century. Delroy Lindo gives a masterful performance that will stay with people long after watching “Da 5 Bloods.”

The plot to “Da 5 Bloods” is pretty simple, but there are many complexities that weave the story together. It’s the type of movie that people might feel compelled to see more than once to revisit all the story’s layers. The movie clocks in at 155 minutes (or two hours and 35 minutes), but every minute is worth it.

In “Da 5 Bloods,” four African American men who were Army buddies in the Vietnam War return to Vietnam to find the hidden treasure they left behind back in 1971—a safe filled with gold bars that they were entrusted to deliver on behalf of the U.S. government but the pals decided to keep the gold for themselves. The safe got lost in a plane crash and a mudslide, but there’s a chance that they could find the gold again.

The four men are Paul (played by Lindo), a politically conservative curmudgeon who’s suffering from PTSD and refuses to get treatment for it; Otis (played by Clarke Peters), a friendly medic who has a possible addiction to Oxycontin pills; Melvin (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a fun-loving jokester who’s married but has an eye for other women; and Eddie (played by Norm Lewis), a well-to-do businessman who’s made his money through several car dealerships.

All four men are haunted by the Vietnam War death of their squad leader Stormin’ Norman (played by Chadwick Boseman, who appears in the movie’s flashback scenes), who was the fifth member of their group and the one who inspired them the most. The five men called themselves Da 5 Bloods. The surviving members all say that they have dreams about Stormin’ Norman, who died a hero in the plane crash. The four surviving members of the group are hoping to find the remains of Stormin’ Norman, so that he can get a proper burial.

Soon after they arrive at their hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s clear that Paul is the most emotionally volatile one of the group. He makes racist and dismissive comments about the local Vietnamese people, and he has a quick temper. While having dinner at the hotel, a boy with one leg wanders in and goes over to their table to beg for money. Paul tries to shoo the boy away, but Otis compassionately gives $20 to the boy.

Paul, who is a unabashed supporter of Donald Trump, gripes: “It’s time we got those freeloading immigrants off of our backs and build that wall.” Otis, Eddie and Melvin don’t like Trump at all, but their political differences with Paul don’t drive a wedge between the four friends. Paul likes to wears a red Make America Great Again baseball cap (which was the Trump campaign’s signature apparel item for the 2016 U.S. presidential election), and that cap is used as a metaphor in different parts of the story.

After the four friends spend the night partying at a nightclub and drinking at a bar, Paul goes back to his hotel room to find a surprise: His son David (played by Jonathan Majors), an African American studies teacher, has unexpectedly shown up, and Paul is furious about it. Paul makes it clear that not only does he not want David there, but he also doesn’t want David in his life at all.

“You ain’t been nothing but an anchor around my neck since the day you were born,” Paul cruelly tells David. Why does Paul dislike David so much? That answer is revealed later in the movie. Majors gives an outstanding performance as David, who is desperate for his father’s love but is trying to hold on to his masculine dignity in seeking his dad’s love and approval.

Even though Paul doesn’t seem to want anything to do with his son, David isn’t going to leave. David tells Paul that he found out about the treasure hunt and that he wants to help. As the story unfolds, it’s clear that for David, this trip isn’t about finding the gold. It’s about trying to connect with his father, who goes out of his way to express his animosity toward David. This stressful father-son relationship is truly one of the most compelling aspects of “Da 5 Bloods,” and it will leave many viewers in tears during certain scenes.

Meanwhile, Otis has taken on the role of a surrogate father figure to David, as well as the group’s peacemaker when conflicts inevitably happen. Otis is also the one who leads the planning of the treasure hunt, since he has figured out the coordinates of where the plane might be, based on satellite photos.

Otis has enlisted the help of an ex-lover named Tiên (played by Lê Y Lan), a former prostitute who now works in international exports. Tiên has assisted Otis in arranging a meeting with one of her contacts: a shady businessman named Desroche (played by Jean Reno), who promises that he can give the treasure hunters a way to convert the gold to American funds without them getting caught. In exchange, Desroche will get a percentage of the money as his fee.

It’s a deal that has to be made on trust, because none of Da 5 Bloods knows Desroche personally, since he was recommended by Tiên. Paul is the most suspicious of Desroche, because he thinks it’s possible that Desroche will try to double-cross them and steal the money for himself. Paul also tells Otis that he doesn’t really trust Tiên either. During an argument with Otis, Paul also accuses Otis of the possibility that Otis and Tiên are secretly in cahoots with each other to steal the money.

And what about that gold treasure? A flashback scene shows when Da 5 Bloods decided to keep the gold, Stormin’ Norman made a pledge to donate the money to the Black Liberation movement: “We repossess this gold for every black boot that never made it home, for every brother and sister stolen from mother Africa to Jamestown, Virginia, way back in 1619.”

“Da 5 Bloods” makes an unusual and bold artistic move for the flashback scenes. Instead of having younger actors portraying the young Paul, Otis, Melvin and Eddie, the movie keeps the same actors for these roles in which they have to portray the characters as their younger selves. There are also no visual effects that de-age the actors in the flashback scenes. By not changing the physical age of the actors in the flashback scenes, it actually creates the sense that although they have physically aged when they remember this time in their lives, there’s a part of them that is still mentally trapped in their Vietnam War days.

But in the present day, the surviving members of the group have mixed feelings about that pledge. Paul is the one who unapologetically says that he wants to keep his share of the money for himself, while Eddie still wants to hold true to the promise that they made with Stormin’ Norman to donate the money toward causes that empower African Americans. The dilemma of greed versus philanthropy causes major friction with the characters during different parts of the story. If people want to read more into it, the gold and what to do with it are metaphors for the conflicting ideals of capitalism and socialism.

Before their big trip to the jungle, the five men spend some time in a restaurant/bar. While there, David meets a French woman named Hedy Bouvier (played by Mélanie Thierry), who works for nonprofit organization called Love Against Mines and Bombs (LAMB). As part of her job, she looks for old land mines and detonates them. Two of her co-workers—an American named Scott (played by Paul Walter Hauser) and a Finnish man named Seppo (played by Jasper Pääkkönen)—are also in the bar.

David and Hedy are immediately attracted to each other and they begin flirting and talking about their lives. Hedy says that she and Seppo “occasionally use each other for sex,” but she makes it clear that she’s single and available. And so is David.

For the treasure hunters’ trip to the jungle, they have a local guide named Vinh Tran (played by Johnny Trí Nguyên), who is easygoing and knowledgeable, but  Vinh isn’t told the real reason for the trip. During a boat ride, a middle-aged Vietnamese man tries to sell Paul a live chickens and refuses to take no for answer. Paul gets so angry that he begins yelling and threatening the man, who accuses Paul of killing his parents because African American men in Vietnam are assumed to be American military men.

The accusation triggers Paul into an emotional meltdown, where his PTSD is on full display. It’s during this breakdown that he confesses that his dreams about Stormin’ Norman are really nightmares. There are several scenes in “Da 5 Bloods” that are disturbing close-ups of Paul’s mental deterioration. And his relationship with estranged son David also takes viewers on an emotional roller coaster.

One of the striking technical aspects of “Da 5 Bloods” is how the flashback scenes are filmed by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. The scenes are shot as if they’re news film from the late 1960s/early 1970s, with 16mm and 4:3 aspect ratio. When the movie switches back to the present day, the scenes are in 2:40 aspect ratio before they go to the jungle. And for the scenes in the jungle, the film is in a 1:85 aspect ratio, to portray an environment which is wide open to the possibilities of the unknown.

It wouldn’t be a Spike Lee film without social commentary as part of the story. Lee and Kevin Willmott (who both won adapted screenplay Oscars for “BlacKkKlansman”) wrote “Da 5 Bloods” screenplay with Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo. The movie has plenty to say about race relations, colonialism and civil rights, not just in the United States but also in Vietnam.

“Da 5 Bloods” also makes blistering observations about how the Vietnam War was the first American war fought with a fully racially integrated military, which meant that more African Americans were on the front lines to die, compared to previous American wars. And although Vietnam War veterans of all races experienced divisive and painful reactions when they returned home, African American veterans had the added burden of racism in trying to adjust back to civilian society.

Throughout the film, there are snippets of African American history lessons to put much of the movie’s story in context. The beginning of the film opens with a montage of archival footage of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Angela Davis and Bobby Seale talking about the Vietnam War and/or the American government. And there’s mention of war hero Milton Olive III (who died in 1965 at the age of 18),  the first African American man to be award the Medal of Honor for the Vietnam War.

Lee’s best movies are known for their memorable soundtracks. “Da 5 Bloods” is no exception. Marvin Gaye’s classic 1971 album “What’s Going On” is prominently featured. And so is the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today,” which seems to be a staple in movies that have themes of African American empowerment, just like the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” seems to be in a lot of mobster movies. Music composer Terence Blanchard, a longtime collaborator of Lee’s, once again does a great score that enhances the essence of each scene.

“Da 5 Bloods” also includes striking and often brutal archival photos and videos to show the horrors and controversies of the Vietnam War, such as the American protests against the war; combat footage; and disturbing photos of people being murdered and children’s bloody corpses. The last half of the film, which primarily takes place in the jungle, is especially gruesome with gun shootouts and other bloody mayhem.

However, whatever violence is in the film is a manifestation of the emotional horrors the characters feel in trying to face personal demons. That psychological turmoil is the biggest gut-punch in “Da 5 Bloods.” People can try to avoid bullets and bombs, but they can’t run away from themselves.

Netflix premiered “Da 5 Bloods” on June 12, 2020.

2020 Cannes Film Festival postponed due to coronavirus pandemic

March 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

 

Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie at the world premiere of “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 21, 2019. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/REX/Shutterstock)

The 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, has been postponed until further notice. The event had been scheduled to take place May 12 to 23, 2020. The news should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows about the worldwide cancellations/postponements of events since the coronavirus outbreak was classified as a pandemic in March 2020. France is one of the countries that has been hardest hit, with movie theaters, restaurants and many other businesses ordered to be shut down.

Although a statement on the Cannes Film Festival website says that the event will hopefully be rescheduled for June or July 2020, those months seem very unrealistic, considering that it will take France several months to recover from the pandemic. Many other events around that world that are taking place in June and July 2020 are being postponed or cancelled.

A Cannes Film Festival press conference to announce the movies selected for the 2020 festival was scheduled to take place on April 16, 2020, but that press conference has also been postponed.

The Cannes Film Festival has long been considered the most prestigious film festival in the world. Many of the films that win prizes at Cannes go on to win or get nominated for Oscars. The South Korean film “Parasite,” directed by Bong Joo Ho, won the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize (the Palme d’Or) in 2019, and the movie went on to win four Oscars, including Best Picture.

Even with the prestige, the festival has been at the center of controversy in recent years. The controversies include the festival’s low percentage of films from female directors; a policy instituted in 2018 that bans people from taking selfies on the red carpet; and the festival’s refusal to allow films to compete unless they can be released theatrically in France at least three months before they’re available on home video or streaming services. This latter policy has resulted in Netflix no longer participating in the Cannes Film Festival, as of 2018. Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux, who has held the position since 2007, has gotten the majority of the criticism for these controversies.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee is serving as president of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival grand jury. It’s the first time a black person has been president of the jury. Lee’s movies “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986), “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) all had their world premieres at Cannes. “BlacKkKlansman” won the Grand Prix (second place) at Cannes in 2018. The movie went on to win an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, an award that was shared by Lee and his fellow “BlacKkKlansman” screenplay co-writers Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz and Charlie Wachtel.

In an interview with Variety, Lee commented on the 2020 Cannes Film Festival being postponed: “I agree 100% with Thierry and the Cannes Film Festival. The world has changed and it’s changing every day. People are dying and France’s president has said, several times—I’m paraphrasing—‘We are at war.’ We are in a war-like time.”

Lee continued, “The stuff that we love has to take a back seat: movies, TV, sports, the NBA is a global sport, baseball. So many things have been postponed, and I agree with this move.”

Click here for an updated list of other corona virus-related cancellations and postponements in the entertainment industry.

Coach has Kate Moss, Spike Lee, Yara Shahidi, Megan Thee Stallion and more in ‘Wonder for All’ holiday 2019 campaign

November 4, 2019

Kate Moss in Coach’s “Wonder for All” Holiday 2019 campaign (Photo courtesy of Coach)

The following is a press release from Coach:

Coach unveils “Wonder For All,” its campaign for the 2019 holiday season. Starring a fun, diverse cast that includes actress Yara Shahidi, model Kate Moss, rapper Megan Thee Stallion in her first-ever fashion campaign, Spike and Tonya Lee, and more friends of Coach, the campaign follows the band of revelers as they gather at an impromptu party at a New York brownstone. Capturing the magical mood of the season, it champions the belief of coming together for the holidays and the inclusive, authentic spirit of New York.

Kate Moss in Coach’s “Wonder for All” Holiday 2019 campaign (Photo by Juergen Teller for Coach)

Photographed by Juergen Teller, who debuted his first campaign for Coach this fall, the colorful, irreverent print campaign highlights the individuality of the campaign’s cast members. Set on the Upper West Side and featuring Shahidi, Moss, Megan Thee Stallion as well as model Fernanda Ly, actor Miles Heizer and an unexpected feathered friend, it sees the cast in joyful, unfiltered scenes that highlight the house’s spirit of playfulness and the authentic self-expression that defines New York City.

The campaign also introduces the house’s new Horse and Carriage collection. Seen on Kate Moss and a new version of the Kat Saddle Bag, the collection reimagines Coach’s iconic Horse and Carriage motif as a cool, colorful pattern on bags and ready-to-wear. First introduced in the 1950s, the Horse and Carriage is a symbol of Coach’s legacy of leathercraft and New York heritage, and the house’s first-ever code.

“Wonder For All” is also a series of short films written and directed by Bunny Kinney. Featuring Spike and Tonya Lee, actress Camila Morrone, winner of Season 8 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race Bob the Drag Queen, and writer, actor and producer Ben Sinclair, as well as special appearances by the Shahidi family and the Newark Boys Choir, the films celebrate the magic and spontaneous fun of being together during the most festive time of year.

Coach customers in Japan will be able to play a limited-edition Rexy holiday video game where the house’s beloved mascot snowboards through animated Coach worlds with the goal of reaching the holiday party.

ABOUT COACH
Coach is a global design house of modern luxury leather goods, apparel, footwear, fragrance, eyewear and a full range of lifestyle accessories.  Founded in 1941, Coach has a longstanding reputation built on quality craftsmanship and is defined by its confident New York style.  The brand approaches design with a modern vision, reimagining luxury for today with an authenticity and innovation that is uniquely Coach.  Coach products are available in approximately 55 countries through its network of directly operated stores, travel retail shops and sales to wholesale customers and independent third party distributors, as well as through coach.com.

Coach is a Tapestry, Inc. brand.  Tapestry is publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker TPR.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘See You Yesterday’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Eden Duncan-Smith and Danté Crichlow in “See You Yesterday” (Photo by Linda Kallerus/Netflix)

“See You Yesterday”

Directed by Stefon Bristol

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on May 3, 2019.

“Back to the Future” meets “Black Lives Matter” could be a superficial way to describe “See You Yesterday,” a time-traveling drama about a teenage girl who goes back in time to prevent the police-shooting death of her older brother. But “See You Yesterday” is not a “Back to the Future” ripoff—it’s a compelling social commentary seen through the eyes of intelligent African American teenagers who are the central characters in the movie.

“See You Yesterday,” the first feature film from Spike Lee protégé Stefon Bristol, is a longer version of Bristol’s short film of the same name, and the movie has the same two lead actors from the short film. Eden Duncan-Smith is Claudette “CJ” Walker and Danté Crichlow is Sebastian Thomas, CJ’s best friend—two high-school students who live in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush neighborhood in New York City. Both teens are aspiring scientists who have been working on a time-traveling machine that can be worn in a backpack. CJ is the type of student who likes to read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” in class, and she’s essentially the brains behind the time machine.

As with most scientific experiments, things are done with trial and error. The movie begins with CJ and Sebastian’s botched attempts to get the time-traveling invention to work. It’s only a matter of time before they broach the subject of time traveling with their science teacher Mr. Lockhart (played by “Back to the Future” star Michael J. Fox, in a brilliantly cast cameo), who tells them that if time travel were possible, it would be one of the greatest ethical conundrums that people would face, before declaring, “Time travel. Great Scott!” Fans of “Back to the Future” will get this inside joke. (In a Q&A after one of the Tribeca Film Festival screenings of “See You Yesterday,” Bristol said that Fox agreed to be in the movie after Bristol wrote him a letter, and Fox hadn’t even seen the script yet. Before filming was set to begin, Fox broke his hand, but they were able to reschedule filming for Fox several weeks later after he recovered from his injury.)

On their fourth attempt at time travel, CJ and Sebastian succeed on June 29, 2019, and go back in time and then back to the present day. The date that they begin to time travel is significant because of what will happen less than a month later. For now, the two budding scientists decide to keep their time-traveling secret to themselves.

Being a science nerd in tough East Flatbush isn’t easy. CJ and Sebastian constantly have to dodge the crime and street fights that plague their neighborhood. Her 19-year-old older brother Calvin (played by Brian Bradley, also known as Astro or Stro) is a bit of a rebel, but he’s very protective of CJ.  She is also dealing with moving on from ex-boyfriend Jared (played by Rayshawn Richardson), a bully who flaunts his new girlfriend in front of CJ. It’s clear that when Jared and CJ were together, he did not treat her well, and their relationship ended badly. But Jared keeps doing things to irritate CJ, so it isn’t long before big brother Calvin gets involved. When police arrive, an unarmed Calvin reaches for his cell phone, and gets shot to death by a cop. The date is July 14, 2019.

After going through this devastating loss, CJ comes up with the idea to go back in time to prevent Calvin from dying. Sebastian is extremely reluctant at first, but he goes along with the plan when he sees that there’s no talking CJ out of it. What happens next in the movie can’t be described without giving away spoilers, but it’s enough to say that “See You Yesterday”—like other stories about time travel—does treat the issue of changing the past in order to alter the future as a serious ethical dilemma that can have unexpected consequences. The movie also has a message that unnecessary police brutality is not going away anytime soon.

Bristol, who co-wrote the screenplay with Frederica Bailey, authentically captures modern-day Brooklyn, with the young characters talking like how real teenagers would talk, including a fair amount of cursing. If you watch “See You Yesterday” closely, there’s also a scene in the movie that’s a nod to Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” It’s refreshing that the inventor of the time machine in this story is a teenager, because an adult would be more likely to seek fame, riches and/or glory from such an invention, whereas a teenager would be more likely to keep it a secret from adults. Above all, “See You Yesterday” shows people, no matter what their age, that life is not about changing the past but how we move forward.

Netflix will premiere “See You Yesterday” on May 17, 2019.

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