Why I’m Wrong

Have I insulted your favorite film? Praised a picture you just can't stand? Here's your chance to set me straight. E-mail your opinion to comments@larsenonfilm.com and they'll be posted on this page.

Chi-Raq unravels Spike Lee’s legacy

Chi-Raq marks a low point for Spike Lee in a career that I didn’t think could get much lower. After a series of disappointing films (Red Hook SummerOldboy, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus), I had hope that Chi-Raq might be a return to form for a director who cut his teeth on stories about contemporary Black America. Unfortunately, I didn’t just find Chi-Raq to be abysmal, but this film made me call into question Lee’s entire back catalog.

I realized, in the days after viewing Chi-Raq, that Lee has never created fully realized female characters. His films routinely reduce women to sexual objects. In fact, the only female characters with a hint of depth or humanity are those played by his sister, as if he can only see humanity in a woman of his same lineage. In his greatest triumphs like Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and School Daze, we (myself included) glossed over his tacit misogyny in order to focus on the exquisite filmmaking. There is no such filmmaking here, and the lack of even a hint of cinematic quality reveals Chi-Raq as a repository of racist and sexist attitudes.

In Chi-Raq, Lee doesn’t even bother to give his female characters jobs, interests or, in several cases, names. The women here are reduced to walking vaginas and wailing mothers. In Lee’s view of Chicago, all black people are interested in two things: f*#!ing and killing. Lee perpetuates negative stereotypes about black people and leans into them with such ferocity that it seems like there must be a twist coming. I mean, he can’t possibly make the climax (pun intended) of the film … a sex off? In a comedy bereft of humor, the joke is on us.

Joel Coen has described directing as “tone management.” I’m not sure I fully agree, but if that is the case, Lee fails miserably as Chi-Raq ping pongs between a child’s funeral, a cartoon, Confederate-obsessed general, an over-the-top horndog mayor and a supposedly heartfelt plea to pray for a city that is drowning in violence.  I actually felt embarrassed for the actors at times, particularly in the closing scenes, where the characters have decided to put on what looks like a school assembly to resolve all of Chicago’s issues in one fell swoop.

There are many egregious sins in Chi-Raq, but perhaps the most damning is the fact that young black men and boys, the ones who are in equal measure the victims and perpetrators of this horrific violence, are nowhere to be found. Nick Cannon is 35 and Wesley Snipes is old enough to be his dad. The people Lee is supposedly trying to reach with this film aren’t even represented. I don’t expect a film to solve deep issues of race and class that have crippled our country for centuries, but I do expect a filmmaker who once had vision to bring more humanity to his own people than Spike Lee has in Chi-Raq.

From: Destiny Lilly

Crimson Peak suffers from saggy second half

I’m a big del Toro fan (since The Devil’s Backbone), so I walked into this movie very positively inclined. And there was so much enjoyable in this film, I wondered why it left me lukewarm. When I saw the red mud oozing up through the floorboards, I giggled in the theater, and I thought, “OK, del Toro is making a satire on the genre.” But even though the performances were big, the movie didn’t go over the top ENOUGH to commit to a satirical, gonzo version of itself. So it was too silly for me to take seriously, and too serious for me to enjoy its extremes.
After further discussion with my husband, we think the real problem is in the saggy second half of the movie, after they get to the house but before the climactic ending. There’s a lot of repetition – “this is spooky, Edith discovers something, here is a scary ghost.” We were both glancing at our watches during this section. With judicious editing taking about 20 minutes out of this section, del Toro could have cranked up the tension and kept us anxiously building to the climax of the end. I really think everything else could have stayed the same and the movie would have been much better.
From: Jen Small

Goddard screenplay fails The Martian

There was one thing that I think was actively wrong with The Martian: the writing. I’ve liked Drew Goddard’s screenplays in the past, even if I’ve never loved them (Cloverfield, some of his work on the Daredevil television show). But this one was hard to sit through. The humor made my friend and me cringe, the pop culture references felt tired and the lack of philosophical/existential investigation felt less like a calculated move and more like laziness. The one scene where the script really does indulge the existential issues of being the “only man on a deserted planet” is a short scene that merely explains that the idea is interesting. In the hands of a better writer (and a better, more art house-leaning director) this film could have taken some fascinating directions with a really rich concept.

From: Jesse Capobianco