6. White Men Can’t Jump & Do the Right Thing
White Men Can’t Jump
“You are so stupid. It would take your mother 1, no, 2 hours to watch 60 minutes”.
Woody Harrelson plays Billy, a basketball hustler who, before a game, acts like a dorky, lame, uber-white, square, slow, stupid, cheesy bore of a chump. People take notice, they take on a challenge and Billy mops the floor with both them and their egos. One day he meets Sidney, (Wesley Snipes) one thing leads to another and they partner up.
The film features basketball, romance, comedy followed by a plethora of racial slurs. It’s energetic as few and very smartly written and directed by filmmaker Ron Shelton. Just to give another example of the brilliant screenplay:
“Oh man, shut your anorexic malnutrition tapeworm-having overdose on Dick Gregory Bahamian diet-drinking ass up. Leave me alone!”
Do the Right Thing
“It’s the hottest day of the summer. You can do nothing, you can do something, or you can…” watch Do the Right Thing.
Arguably Spike Lee’s definite masterpiece, a wonderful film that simply doesn’t take any prisoners. Not even for fun.
It follows a tremendous cast of characters as they live their lives in a racially charged Brooklyn. We see faces belonging to people like John Turturro, Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis and Samuel L. Jackson (who gives an awesome performance as a radio DJ).
The ending is not to be spoiled, but what one can state is the complexity of said ending. Lee doesn’t offer an easy explanation, nor does he take sides. It will shake and upset you, possibly leaving you in tears with the wanting of somebody to blame. But the truth is that Lee never gives you that option.
It is one of the greatest 80’s films, one of the most vibrantly alive films and one of the most important films. It is an absolute masterpiece “and that’s the double truth, Ruth!” Now go and see it.
What They Have in Common
Here are two films about racism (one from 89 the other from 92) that are filled with energy, comedy, ferocious anger and merciless hottness (they take place in the summer).
7. Three Extremes – Segments: Cut, Dumplings & The Box
This entry differs from the rest as it is all one film, containing three different segments from three different directors of three different countries.
We start off with the weakest segment, namely: Chan Wook Park’s darkly humorous stranger invasion/revenge/torture comedy Cut.
Byung-hun Lee plays a super talented, attractive, goodhearted and intelligent film director who really has it all: the fame, the house, the money, a beautiful wife and everybody, understandably, likes him. All except for one person. Here is a guy who’s operating in a world of shit. He cannot get out but what he can do is make sure that the one guy who has it all will share the ugliness of a life not worth living. It’s Interesting, entertaining and well worth seeing, and yet still, the weakest of the three.
Second segment of this review is Hong Kong horror director Fruit Chan’s Dumplings.
This is a fountain of youth kinda movie. We have a female lead, Ching, played by Miriam Yeung, who once found herself young and attractive and can’t stand the fact that her aging isn’t showing mercy of any kind. She befriends Mei, played by Bai Ling, a very attractive woman who is far older than what she’d have us guess. What’s her secret, whatever it is, it’s not for the squeamish.
Japanese master filmmaker and provocateur Takashi Miike brings us the finest of this anthology Segment The Box.
Miike felt comfortable in experimenting with this one because, and I’m paraphrasing: “If it turns out bad, at least I’ll make the other two segments look good.” It does look good, in fact, it turned out great.
I’ll skip describing the plot, all you have to know is that it’s surreal and slow – a puzzle movie, far more complex than the other two, with an ending image sure to put you in place for several days to come.
What They Have in Common
Here we have three expertly written and directed horror shorts, all from East-Asia, all reliant on atmosphere and tension rather than cheap jump scares and silly gore effects. Most (horror) films these days seem to be aiming for you not to think. These three extremes aims for the opposite. And they work, all three of them.
8. Spring Breakers & Gummo
We get to follow Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Faith (Selena Gomez), four girls all dressed in candy coloured bikinis. They start off with funding their Spring break trip by robbing a restaurant and straight after, with their financing being done, they head over to the beaches of Spring break to indulge themself’s in booze, sleeze, sweat and screams. And body substances.
They meet Alien (brilliantly played by an amazing James Franco) and his two brothers in arms: The ATL twins (fascinating short documentary about them by VICE). Alien takes them to his crib were he proudly boasts, repetively shouting: “Look at my shit”. His shit is a plethora of guns, decorating the walls.
In a ceremonial act they befriend Alien as he sucks on a pistol’s barrel. The barrel is being used as a phallic symbol in order to demasculate him – a very weird and strangely touching moment (improvised on set).
The director Harmony Korine talks about how he was aiming for a “liquid narrative”. This turns out to be both the strength and central flaw of the film. During some stretches it kinda drags. It gets repetitive and nonsensical. Being a liquid narrative, we swim around in this great cinematic lake but without ever bumping into something.
There is stuff in the lake with Franco being a massive anchor with far to little screen time. Skrillex can play the shark. Diagnose: To little Franco and Skrillex. The cure is self-evident.
The film is still highly watchable with a ridiculous IMDB score of 5.3. Guess the people were looking for a fun romanticized comedy, not an experimental, satirical, art-house gem from an exploitive, experimental avant garde skater. All that is missing is a Disney logo at the corner of the screen.
Harmony Korine’s first and best film to date, one of the best debut features of all time: Gummo – about a tornado stricken Xenia, Ohio with Korine presenting us to characters we normally wouldn’t want to be presented to.
With Spring Breakers being a liquid narrative, Gummo works as a picture book. So there is no real story, no real effort on character development. There is no need for these things in this kind of movie.
Looking through this greatly shot (filmed with various different visual techniques) picture book, we find moments like: fighting skinheads. Kids torturing cats and hitting their dead bodies. A mentally challenged prostitute, a drunk Harmony Korine, a piece of fried bacon taped to the wall and more.
It is a film showing us beautifully disturbing parts of humanity, shot with a yellow-ish look. It somewhat poses the question: maybe nihilism isn’t completely empty after all? But most certainly nothing to be practiced outside of the silver screen.
What They Have in Common
These are Harmony Korine’s two best films, both breaking the rules and both being highly experimental. Next to Korine the most experimental filmmakers would include people such as Lars von Trier, Takashi Miike, David Lynch and Werner Herzog.
Speaking of Herzog, he called Korine, after watching Gummo, not only a warrior but “the future of American cinema.” He then proceeded to act in Korine’s second feature: The dogme film Julien Donkey-Boy.
9. Requiem for a Dream & Spun
Requiem for a Dream
Most people (most sane people) would agree with this being the greatest, most depressing, intense, explosive, agitating and disturbing piece of anti-drug cinema ever put on screen since the beginning of celluloid. The Citizen Kane of drug films.
The cast is being led by Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly & Marlon Wayans. They are all addicted/dependent on drugs. The drug effects are genius in their simplicity with director Darren Aronofsky illustrating the sensation of being high with super close-ups, enhanced sound effects and quick sudden cuts.
The plot is simple and the message is clear: Being addicted is never a good idea. This is its directors best work so far, with his greatest film(s) still ahead of him. Or one can only hope since failing to outdo this one is not only forgivable but somewhat expected.
“Spoof. Dope. Crank. Creep. Bomb. Spank. Shit. Bang. Zip. Tweak. Chard. Call it what you will. It’s all methamphetamine. That’s what I’m here for”.
Requiem might have had a simple plot but at least it has one. Spun is playfully giddy in its absence of plot, story and/or narrative structure. We are hanging out with a bunch of speedy meth heads, being played by Mickey Rourke, Jason Schwartzman, Brittany Murphy, John Leguizamo, Eric Roberts and Peter Stormare and that is the entire movie.
Do not be deterred by the 37% low rotten tomatoes rating, a lot of the critics are targeting the film for being style over substance, or nonsensical, or vulgar, vapid and/or stupid. They are looking for a reason/purpose/message while the film(makers) couldn’t care less.
There are anti-drug films (requiem), there are movies about drugs (Trainspotting) and in the middle we find Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun. Not against, not about but simply alive in a world filled with speed freaks, showing the audience that: “some live at a different pace…”
What They Have in Common
While Requiem for a Dream is decisively against drugs, Spun remains neutral. While Requiem shows us a nightmare involving hard drugs, Spun is like a hangout movie featuring meth addicts.
It is quite clear that the editing techniques and drug effects of Requiem for a Dream have been ripped and used in Spun which in turn made such an overkill usage of the style that it resulted in over 5000 edits, giving the film a spot in Guinness book of records.
10. A Clockwork Orange & The Warriors
A Clockwork Orange
1971 featured two earth-shatteringly good performances both ignored by the academy. Oliver Reed in Ken Russel’s masterpiece The Devils and Malcolm MacDowell in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (Reed and Russel were first thought to make Clockwork).
This is one of the greatest dystopian films of all time, with brilliant acting, directing and writing (author Anthony Burgess invented the street gang jargong called Nadsat).
We follow juvenile delinquent Alex DeLarge (MacDowell) accompanied by his droogs (gang members) as they scour the streets of future London in search of some of the old ultra-violence. He is a lover of rape, abuse, torment and damage – never without style, Alex is a showman, make no mistake, and he is also a fervent lover of Beethoven.
His raging madness goes on and on until he accidentally kills a woman and gets sent to jail. Here he is being aggressively brainwashed into conformity, Alex turns into a law abiding “good” citizen of society, an obedient dog of the state, a shell of who he once was – a man of dignity and respect. He has been cured. Or has he?
Walter Hill’s The Warriors remain to this day an undying classic with incendiary/hysterical quotes like: “I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle”. A line that you just can’t forget.
The Warriors (the gang of our protagonists) are framed for the murder of Cyrus, the leader of The Gramercy Riffs, and now they are on the run from all the other gangs and even the cops. They have to enter their safe haven, but not before getting through enemy territory.
All the different gangs are instantly recognisable and identifiable thanks to their distinct sense of wardrobe planning. As already stated, we are indeed being continuously punched straight on the jaw with quotes of undying nature. How can one not love The Warriors? Can you understand it? “Can you dig it?”
What They Have in Common
Both films caused real life distress. Gangs formed, mimicking the behaviour of those in the films and Kubrick even received death threats, causing him to ban Clockwork from showing in the UK (the ban was uplifted after Kubrick’s passing). Both are exploitive and controversial cult films with Clockwork being more of a classical masterpiece and Warriors being more of a popcorn flick (a great one still).
Author bio: John Berntsson is a film aficionado who spends his time watching movies, talking about movies, writing about movies, and making movies. He is also a martial artist with eight years’ worth of judo training under his belt. His films can be seen on his YouTube channel where he goes under the name of John Davidsson/MacaroniCombat. https://www.youtube.com/user/MacaroniCombat/videos.