“The Boy”- (Movie Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ** out of *****.

The fourth William Brent Bell (2012’s The Devil Inside, 2013’s Wer) directed horror effort, The Boy, is too reliant on the tried and true to be effective. It spends seventy-seven of its ninety-seven minutes trying to subtly build an ominous atmosphere. Yet, it only creates tedium. It also falls back on stock scares far too frequently. This is utilized with a particular affinity for dream sequences that have little baring on the actual narrative. These are languidly utilized to provide a quick startle amid the endless barrage of chitchat that takes up the bulk of the picture. This only heightens the sense of a potentially intriguing story bogged by Stacy Menear’s watered down, strictly functional screenplay. Menear has given us a piece of writing that is too safe, mirrored more after a stagy soap opera than a nail-biting scarefest, uneventful and molasses paced to be anything more than another mediocre genre offering. This is expressly dispiriting because the steady progression of events could’ve worked. Such could’ve occurred if the picture concerned itself less with melodramatic bits from our lead, Greta Evans (well played by Lauren Cohan of “The Walking Dead”), and her personal life. Additionally, it could’ve used its hour plus of dialogue to delve further into the strange, and gradually fascinating, mother/ child relationship (which provides several terrific bits) that forms between Evans and an ominous doll named Brahms.

To its credit, the isolated manor most of this account occurs is large, beautiful and offers a Gothic touch to it that is perfect for a labor such as this. Also, much in line with this old-fashioned characteristic is a bare minimum of gore and light use of special effects (credited to Paul Benjamin). Sadly, these go from solid to another lazy exhibition of computer generated imagery when the story finally shifts into gear in its rollickingly entertaining final twenty minutes. Its climax is also complete with a certainly intriguing twist. This is one which will leave patrons wishing, more than ever, that Menear’s script allowed us to learn more about the mysterious Brahms. Likewise, the cinematography by Daniel Pearl compliments the above attributes well. It adds to its timeless sensibility. Pearl does this by casting all we see in an appropriately ominous and bleak, but darkly beautiful, veneer. He has impeccably recreated the look of classic slow-burn supernatural thrillers; particularly those Hammer Films erected by the bundle in the 60’s and 70’s. Bear McCreary’s original music, James Steuart’s art direction and Brian Berdan’s sharp editing all further evoke this general impression.

The Boy chronicles Evans, an American Nanny, who is hired to watch after what she initially thinks will be a young lad. This is done as a service to the parents, known only as Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire (brilliantly and sophisticatedly performed by Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), so they can go on a long overdue holiday. Soon after her entrance at The Heelshire’s English manor she finds out that the parents’ so called ‘son’ is actually a life-sized, inanimate model of a child. He is, in a testament to one of the many captivating ways The Heelshire’s treat this large figurine as their own progeny, adorned in one of his many suits and a tie when Evans first sees him. When the duo, who are just as enigmatic and hair-raising as Brahms himself, go on vacation Evans blatantly ignores the daily schedule Mr. Heelshire demanded her to follow with Brahms. After The Heelshire’s real intentions are exposed, in a segment which is generally surprising and among the most successful flashes in this on-screen affair, she finds herself questioning her sanity. This transpires as she begins to believe, much like The Heelshires, that Brahms is alive.

What is most disheartening about this experience is that Brahms, who is phenomenal model of design, is just as fitting into the delightful mold of timeless terror compositions from the past. His general appearance is unnerving. He seems to slide all too well along the likes of Chucky from the Child’s Play features and the multitudes of his unearthly cinematic  brethren. With a cold, pale, expression-less countenance, quietly calculating brown and green speckled eyes and a stare you can almost feel lurking beneath his immobile porcelain it is all too easy to find yourself seeing him coming to life when someone’s back is turned. Because of this we await such an instant through the various lulls before the surprisingly rousing finale. This anticipation becomes one of the few genuinely victorious tension building instants herein. This expectant sensation is also most palpable when Brahms is doing nothing more than sitting on a chair and blasting classical music or simply lying in his bed (as he does throughout most of the duration). These simple, blood chilling touches are far more accomplished than the endless others orchestrated herein where the fear factor appears constructed as if via exclamation points. For example, a wonderfully underplayed third act scene involving Brahms being outlined in chalk and watched for movement is genuinely potent. Yet, these instances are so rare they ultimately feel like an unfulfilled promise. This realization is almost unavoidable as the majority of the production becomes another assortment of long-exhausted haunted house/ killer on the loose clichés.

Moreover, it is the predictable, and unnecessary, subplot involving Evans fleeing her domineering ex-boyfriend, Cole (Ben Robson), a just as inconsequential relationship between grocery clerk Malcolm (a fair, generic portrayal by Rupert Evans), appearances by James (James Russell) and friend, Sandy (in an enactment by Stephanie Lemlin which is on par with Robson and Evans’ portrayals) that makes this such a pedestrian misfire. Cole, Malcom, James and Sandy seem to exist for no other reason than to pad the runtime. They appear included simply to give our protagonist someone to talk to and express her growing catalogue of uncertainties and concerns in a garden variety fashion indistinguishable from similar genre offerings. These characteristics only remind us how primarily plot-serving these characters are in retrospect. The suspense would’ve been much tighter, and the tale infinitely more intriguing, if it revolved solely around Evans, Brahms and their increasingly strange bond after The Heelshires depart.

But, more than anything it is the filmmakers’ penchant for cheaply executed jump scares which sinks the flick. It makes the endeavor all the more frustrating as we wonder why they couldn’t have went the route suggested by the aforementioned elements and built shocks organically. What is just as underwhelming is how it goes into Brahms’ backstory. This is done in an equally rote and conventional manner. Malcolm’s flat, gradual filling in of such details makes one think that Bell and Menear saw the backstory as more of a task than another chance to build curiosity.

This makes The Boy a desperate, often dull and forgettable trek. It is one that we have seen in various forms on uncountable instances beforehand. Bell wants to respect the traditions of both bygone and current attempts at producing trepidation. Yet, more than anything, it feels like more of the same. This results in a big-screen exertion which is more than suitably deemed as ‘serviceable’. It is more than content to give the audience almost exactly what Bell and his crew think they want to see. That is the most gaping problem here. There a few unexpected revelations sprinkled throughout and several well-done scenes. Still, it does little to conceal the fact that most of what we witness here is anything but ground-breaking. Fellow horror aficionados will be more than content to watch it once just to say they have seen it. All others may want to skip it completely.

“Here Lies Joe”- (Short Film Review)

here lies poster

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****

From the opening moments of director Mark Battle and Sweven Films’ hauntingly beautiful twenty-three minute short, “Here Lies Joe”, a riveting tonal balance of melancholy, peppered with effective humor and an ebbing sense of optimism, is brilliantly established. We watch our lead, whose name is referenced in the title of the piece (rivetingly played by Dean Temple in a performance that is always watchable, absolutely perfect for the material and showcases his incredible abilities by speaking volumes through frequently sorrowful facial gestures) taping up the windows of his beat-up car, full of books and family photographs, in an attempt at ending his life. This sequence lasts but a minute. Regardless, it immediately pulls us into Joe’s world. This early bit is so triumphant at doing so that we instantly care for and desperately want to learn more about this lonely soul.

This segment is just the first of many such smart moves on Battle’s behalf. Such decisions result in a towering achievement. It is one which reaches its sentimental zeniths through the lens of credibility and realism. Such is presented through its continued emphasis on sheer subtlety. This occurs in both characterization and in the way the entire endeavor is crafted. These factors, thanks to the gorgeous and perfectly suited for the overall atmosphere attributes of Battle’s superb cinematography, ravishingly compliment the atmosphere and the narrative impeccably well.

The story, dazzlingly constructed by both Pamela Conway and Battle, concerns Joe meeting an unpredictable young woman known as ‘Z’ (in a portrayal by Andi Morrow that is every bit as intriguing, well-honed and fantastic as Temple’s) at a Suicide Anonymous meeting. This is one headed by Bill (Timothy J. Cox in another of the many magnificent enactments herein). He is a self-proclaimed “suicide addict”. In this same sequence we also meet several other immediately gripping personalities. For instance, Joe is confronted by Carol (a presentation by Mary Hronicek that is both exceptional and charismatic) who believes her fish is clinically depressed. Even with the brief screen time Hronicek is given she makes Carol just as absorbing as the forerunners of the account. It proves the high-caliber of both the writing and the acting talent at hand.

hlj_z

Though Joe is quiet and introverted, and Z is more than happy to make her presence known to the entire group upon introduction, they inexplicably find a common bond with one another. The rest of the saga focuses sharply on this relationship. The friendship between Joe and Z demonstrates their unspoken dependence upon one another. Because of this the interest initially garnered when we first see each of these characters becomes unwavering. It also increases in its stalwart nature. Such is especially true with each new breathtaking scene.

Battle and Conway’s bold screenplay takes full advantage of the differences in personality between Joe and Z. This is largely evident up until the seventeen minute mark in the composition. It is utilized as a chance to provide phenomenal discussions between the two. These often relate these differences in either a direct or ancillary fashion. This works as entertaining character development. Yet, these instances are so well-written and immersive that we find ourselves even more captivated by these opposite personalities. What is just as mesmerizing is their semi-unlikely attachment and the strange fate which has pulled them together. This prior focus only makes the last six minutes, complete with elegiac and instantly memorable lines such as Z’s: “I am an ugly thing in a beautiful world”, all the more of an emotional knockout. It all comes together to create a certainly well-rounded and touching dramatic portrait as the endeavor becomes more sentimental and heart-wrenching in this conclusive stretch.

This attribute is punctuated by a final bit of dialogue, a reference between a shared interest among Joe and Z, which, in its context, calls back to mind all of the mournful, hilarious and poignant instances which came beforehand. It makes the endeavor all the more masterful as it finds the perfect climax for such a touching, intimate and relatable effort. This is done simply in its last touch of underplayed, but smirk-inducing, dialogue. Yet, the imprint it leaves lingers, much like the sum of the material itself, long afterwards.

From a technical standpoint this often unexpectedly exuberant affair is just as impressive. Battle’s editing is seamless. It is also spectacularly orchestrated. Robert Beal III and Sean Meehan’s sound is crisp, alive and continuously striking. Hair stylist and makeup artist Nicole Celso evokes a great contribution to the overall quality of the piece in her respective arenas. This makes this short picture all the more of deft and alive.

“Here Lies Joe” is an example of how much can be done, stated, examined, as well as the lasting impact conducted, in a brief span. Battle has an incredible aptitude in his respective fields. The same is true for the rest of his moviemaking crew. The proof of such a statement is illuminated in every second of this wonderful and often unexpectedly life- affirming tour de force. This is an intelligent, meditative affair. It is one with just the right balance of heart and laughter. Furthermore, every on-screen personage herein is highly likable. Every individual we encounter throughout seems deserving of being the principal of their own cinematic endeavor. This is an exhibition of moving art that audiences can grow with as the years pass and age and accruing wisdom inevitably takes further hold. This is a visual treasure trove. One destined to bring about new pearls of insight and continue to enthrall and move moviegoers with each viewing. Because of this Battle’s latest demands to be seen.

You can check out the website for the short here.

You can check out Sweven Films’ Facebook page here.

You can check out Timothy J. Cox’s web site here.

You can check out the IMDB page for “Here Lies Joe” here.

hi joe bottom

 

The Hateful Eight- (Movie Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Quentin Tarantino remains one of the most brilliant storytellers of our time. This is especially true with his eighth film, The Hateful Eight. His unbridled passion for his craft, the saga he is weaving and the respect for the patience, maturity and intelligence of his audience is ever-present here. It also gives him a pulpit to take uncountable risks. For example, Tarantino fills our ears with his endlessly engaging, beautifully written and snappy, often oddly poetic, dialogue. In this duration there is not a single shot fired, rarely an instant of action in its most accepted respect, until one hundred and one minutes in. Despite this, the threat of violence is always present. This adds various layers of gradually building intrigue and suspense to the banter. The set-up becomes akin to a bomb that we know will explode at any moment. The question is simply when this will occur. Such provides further proof that his Best Original Screenplay win for Django Unchained in 2012 was certainly merited. This makes the proceedings unfold in the manner of a great novel: confident, bold and meticulously mounted. It is also further testament to how well-orchestrated Tarantino’s writing, direction and narrative remain throughout.

Such a large portion of the runtime, dictated on-screen as the first three ‘chapters’, gets us to intimately know the motivations, the backstory and singular personages of each individual. Few directors could pull off the feat of entertaining us as much with mere speech, especially when most features are content to give audiences exactly what they expect as soon as they sit down in the theater, in such grand fashion. It all leads to a twist-filled, irony laced and inevitably brutal succession of segments which pose well over the last hour of the endeavor. This climactic bit is just as amusing as what came before it for wholly new reasons.

There is not a moment in its one hundred and sixty-seven minutes (with the exclusive 70 millimeter roadside shows running one hundred and eighty-seven minutes and including a musical overture and intermission to add to its wonderfully vintage impression) where we are not purely entertained. Whether this arises from Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography (which takes full advantage of the natural beauty of the many moments illustrating snowfall to alluring effect), Fred Raskin’s proficient editing or Ennio Morricone’s appropriately tense and haunting score this attribute is undeniable. But, the trait that lingers with the audience the longest is the vividly developed, darkly charismatic, compulsively watchable characters themselves. These title individuals are all despicable in their own right. There is no false advertising here. Despite this, the performances are all so incredible (Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, Kurt Russell as the bounty hunter, John Ruth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the prisoner, Daisy Domergue, are especially astonishing) that we find ourselves enraptured, even caring, for at least a handful of these brash beings in some way. These personalities, as well as the piece itself, is sheer Tarantino. These elements provide further proof that he is a maestro performing at the height of his talent.

Another successful endeavor in risk- taking unveiled here is setting approximately 4/5 of this three hour epic inside the cramped confines of Minnie’s Habadashery. At first glance the setting seems quaint and sparse. It would give even the most imaginative of directors little to do after the hour and a half marker. This is when most productions, particularly the plethora of low budget horror exertions which take place in a single setting, would gracefully bow out. Yet, with Tarantino at the wheel the movie is far from long enough. Here he spins and erects one fresh idea after another. This is done to keep our interest continually blooming to new peaks. Most astonishingly, he finds ways to build up tension from everyday elements. Often this manifests itself in the form of a chair or a cup.

As this small setting becomes the stage for this post- Civil-War narrative, we find the eight assembling in this claustrophobic expanse after a fantastically done and riveting half hour long sequence exhibiting travel via stagecoach. This early bit immediately captures our attention. Moreover, it also sets the tone for the dialogue heavy emphasis of much of the picture.

Afterwards we find Ruth, alongside Warren, continuing his mission to bring Domergue to Red Rock’s hangman, who happens to be on the premises in the form of Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), is thrown off course by the wintry weather and the stay. The slimy self-proclaimed sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who we also meet during this aforementioned opening segment, finds himself in the same situation. Here we meet Bob (Damien Bichir), who claims to be watching the place for Minnie. We are also introduced to the confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and the “cowboy” Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Soon secrets are revealed, prejudices rise and these individuals turn on one another.

Tarantino adds elements of mystery, action, bloodshed, dismemberment and drama to this far from traditional take on the western. It makes this genre stew all the more varied, unpredictable and savory as we watch it unravel. The secondary cast, mostly seen in flashback, of Sweet Dave (Gene Jones), the unusually upbeat Six-Horse Judy (Zoe Bell), and Jody (Channing Tatum) all add to this blend. This is done with tremendously rich performances. Furthermore, it is enhanced with characters that are all much their own entity.

The Hateful Eight is pure genius. It is a movie for movie lovers made by a man whose admiration for this particular venue pulsates through its every tremendously realized frame. Many may be put off by the effort’s almost blasé attitude toward contemporary ideologies of pace, characterization and its sheer length. But, this is what makes Tarantino and his compositions, especially this one, so special. When you purchase a ticket to a Tarantino feature it is the unknown, not the mechanisms of a mainstream product, which make his work a continual marvel; a vigorous breath of innovative fresh air to sit through. It is also the necessary reminder we all need of why so many have such an endlessly admiration and fascination with this particular creative form. Moreover, it recalls a motion picture’s ability to transport its audience to another time and place and to be enraptured in a great, well-told account. This is another sign of Tarantino as a true artist. The fact that reviews of this misunderstood masterpiece have been so largely divided only confirm this. Give Tarantino the Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture awards immediately. He sure has earned it. This is cinema at its finest.

Blood Moon- (Short Film Preview/ Review)

By Andrew Buckner

**** out of *****.

Director and screenwriter Nic Carcieri’s six minute short, Blood Moon, is a triumph of craft, storytelling and cinematic art. It is an intelligent, suspenseful, tightly paced horror endeavor credited with a sharp focus on captivating viewers through ever illusive mystery. This angle makes it immediately accessible for the audience to get into the mentality of its charismatic lead, Alex (Alexandra Cipolla in a wonderfully layered performance). Such is especially true as she finds that tragedy has befallen her husband, Zach (Topher Hansson in a strong and quietly compelling portrayal). Here the collective moments of this brief, yet sharp and undoubtedly proficient, piece come together. We feel every ounce of the increasing heart-break, sorrow and the pain Alex is going through. Moreover, this attribute heightens the intrigue.

Such is beautifully introduced in the opening seconds. During this time, Alex and Zach drive down a lonely and deserted road on their wedding night. They are blissful and visibly full of love for one another. It is the perfect set-up for the always gripping, and sentimentally varied, experience which follows. This also makes the proceedings, especially in retrospect, all the more grimly poetic, haunting and surreal.

This is just one of many wise moves on behalf of the moviemaking crew. There is also a flashback scene introduced around the two minute mark. It gorgeously illustrates Zach’s proposal to Alex. From this point the film flashes forward to exquisitely conceived glimpses into the couple’s wedding. Though this instance lasts approximately twenty seconds it succeeds as in-depth character development. This brief span is operative at getting us to know Zach and Alex. It is so efficient at this task that when she wakes up afterward, her white wedding dress covered in blood, to the unfortunate circumstances mentioned beforehand that the transition in tone becomes all the more riveting.

Carcieri lands the first of several unexpected blows here. This adds curiosity. It also brings to a zenith the evocative nature that the almost too idyllic segments that came before it seemed to hint at quietly. Furthermore, it becomes the centerpiece of the tale; an item which Carcieri utilizes to rapidly increase our concern for Alex and her situation. It is also sharply maneuvered to keep the intensity ever-mounting. This is a brilliant move. It proves a perfect example of how well-orchestrated the narrative, especially Carcieri’s spellbindingly written script, remains. Such impact comes again in a rousing finale that ends on an equally potent note. Characters we come to know as The Stranger (Michael Thurber in an ominous and commanding turn) and Kaine (Jose Gonsalves in an excellent portrayal) are especially terrific in this late section.

What also makes this composition so stalwart is that all technical facets are outstanding. The cinematography by James R. DeMello is crisp and vibrant. It perfectly captures the sunny disposition the recently wed individuals must be feeling in its early sections. When the account turns to terror in its last four minutes the veneer is endlessly atmospheric. It resonates ample beauty in both its joyous and frightening turns. The same can be said for the endeavor itself. This is further complimented by elegantly fashioned editing by DeMello. The make-up and visual effects by Christina Cook and Greg Easton are stellar. This production is further assisted by hypnotic title and end credit sequences by Marguerite Cass. Here a procession of endlessly imaginative images are summoned. This captures the enchanting, eerie and gothic impression of the exertion masterfully.

Blood Moon is genuinely effective. It gets its authoritative command as much from what it informs its spectators of as much as what it ultimately leaves unsaid. This is an example of the genre of fear working at its peak through nuance and proficient skill. There are many nods to the approach of similarly themed classics. Regardless, the effort is distinctly its own entity. It is a smart, character-driven, beautifully done and unsettling. In the tradition of the best horror works, the composition will have you mentally re-evaluating its chain of events. Most importantly, it will have you looking over your shoulder long after its shudder-inducing conclusion.

The Top 20 Best Films of 2015

At the commencement of every new year I am planning to post a list of my 20 favorite movies from the previous twelve months. Also, this will include at least one film I found to be deserving of more credit, even if it is far from a masterpiece, than it originally received. Completing this annual write-up will be the five worst features from the aforementioned time period. Included below is my entry for 2015.

Please note: I still haven’t seen The Hateful Eight. Regardless, I am making every effort to do so. This is not only because of the positive word of mouth but, primarily, because Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest, and purely cinematic, directors working today.

I also have heard great things about Trumbo, The Revenant, Spotlight and Michael Moore’s new documentary Where to Invade Next . Once I see these features this article may be altered accordingly.

Top 20 Best Films of 2015:

20. Sicario
19. Tangerine
18. Southpaw
17. Kingsman: The Secret Service
16. Bridge of Spies
15. A Most Violent Year
14. Beasts of No Nation
13. Dope
12. The Martian
11. The Good Dinosaur
10. Goodnight Mommy
9. It Follows
8. Gasper Noe’s Love
7. Crimson Peak
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
5. Ex Machina
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Chi-Raq
2. Straight Outta Compton
1. Jurassic World

Runner-up:

Inside Out, Nightmare Code

Most Underrated:

Jupiter Ascending

5 Worst Films of the Year:

5. Unfriended
4. Return to Sender
3. The Perfect Guy
2. No Escape
1. Fifty Shades of Grey

Runner-Up:

Taken 3.

“Chi-Raq”- (Movie Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

Spike Lee has created one the most ferociously original movies of the year with Chi-Raq. Lee utilizes the Greek comedic play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, first performed in 411 B.C., as inspiration for a full-bodied, robust, lively and ground-breaking cinematic opus. In its blisteringly unique and endlessly watchable one hundred and twenty-seven minutes, Lee’s latest informs, teaches (a haunting early bit fills our sights with terrifying statistics concerning gun violence), preaches and fills us with alternating bouts of love, heartache, drama, tragedy and sorrow.

True to many of Lee’s prior efforts, the composition is largely a musical. This is complimented by much of the dialogue being formulated in couplets (as was true with Aristophanes’ play which this is based upon). Such gives the already highly emotive proceedings a heightened sense of poetry. Yet, this exertion is also filled with genuinely effective humor, tragedy, smart writing from Kevin Willmott and an unbridled confidence in risk-taking from director and co-scripter Lee. This is the type of film you watch in sheer admiration, with mouth unhinged throughout, at the sheer genius, range, allegory and victoriously executed and novel ideas which fills every frame of the runtime.

The movie concerns itself with topics that are both timeless and pulled from front page news. Heightening the immediacy of what Lee is stating this often occurs simultaneously within the same second, passage or context. Lee addresses, in his trademark and always admirable no-holds barred manner, America’s increasing gun obsession, sex, death, politics and war. This approach makes the material all the more commanding and authoritative. Still, it takes time to intimately know every one of its characters. It never betrays the operatic stage-play roots of the source material. This transpires as various members peer into the camera, as if addressing their captive audience, and speak of their life, experience or personal beliefs. Sometimes they simply announce their own notions on what is transpiring in the plot at that particular second. This adds to the bravura style, singularity and genuine respect towards the perspective of Lee’s varied cast.

This is most evident in a large plot-point taken from Lysistrata. Here women withhold intimacy from the men in their lives in an endeavor to negotiate peace. The work radiantly uses this as a chance to discuss the differing viewpoints of males and females. Not only does this give us a chance to dig deeper into the minds, hearts and souls of those we follow on this harrowing journey, but it also uses the story as a pulpit for a plethora of themes many motion pictures are too timid to touch on. This is especially in the brazen fashion Lee does here. Elements such as these are employed in such a way that they also build upon and enhance other aspects of the narrative. It all comes together to make the endeavor as a whole all the more substantial and strong. Furthermore, this all helps make the effort consistently relatable, fresh and striking. It is guaranteed to bring about lively discussion afterward.

This is the definition of a well-rounded movie-going experience.
Lee tells the tale of Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris in a herculean and always gripping portrayal). She arranges a demonstration against the brutality in the streets of south-side Chicago after a young, innocent child is killed by a bullet. This eventually turns the men against the women. This, in turn, creates further divides among residents and political officials in the area. These components gradually become global. As Lysistrata fights for peace against the war zone she resides in, such is where the title comes into play, the world debates, follows or denies Lysistrata’s actions. It gives the proceedings even more of a news broadcast flare. This is illuminated by repeated instances. Here we watch reports of our characters’ actions and ideologies causing the world to ‘wake up’, as Lee informs us to do before the end credits here just as he did in his 1989 magnum opus Do the Right Thing, and let their own voices be collectively heard.

As can be easily recognized the chronicle is compelling, highly dramatically charged material. If this was done even in a straight-forward manner it would be immediate and masterful in its own right. Yet, among this Lee furthers the breadth and ambitious scope of the feature and adds lavish musical numbers aplenty. These owe as much to the adapted story’s stage roots as big-budget Hollywood productions of such an ilk from the 1940’s and 50’s. Every last one of these successions, whether portrayed for tears or for laughs (as is the case with one highly amusing satirical piece involving a Civil-War canon called “Whistling Dick”), are riveting and triumphantly done in their own right. One late scene where rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon in a beautifully done and convincing performance) and Lysistrata take their battle of the sexes onto a brass bed is especially memorable. It is also appropriately reserved for near the finale. This is because it seems to cumulate all the symbolism, uses addressed beforehand into one breathless experience. There is a gritty, poetic, watchable energy beneath this late sequence all that in many ways a mirror to an early part, a tuneful number in its own right, where Chi-Raq raps at a club. During this time, text message-like blurbs announcing his lyrics and comments from his spectators surround him. This is an imaginative image, one of many that are guaranteed to stay engraved in your psyche long after the feature has concluded, that is as aesthetically pleasing and artistic as it is entertaining. Both incidents are fascinating for both ear and eye. The same can be said for the film itself.

All the technical components are just as successful in transmitting Lee’s distinct vision to the screen. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is crisp, striking and gorgeous. Ryan Denmark and Hye Mee Na’s editing and Cynthia Anne Slagter and Kl Kenzie’s set decoration are just as remarkable. The special and visual effects and Ruth E. Carter’s costume design are also terrific. This is punctuated by a score from Terrence Blanchard that captures all of the strength in the emotions of the account. These high-quality factors contribute to the extra value of the piece tremendously.

Samuel L. Jackson, as Dolmedes, and John Cusack, as Father Mike Corridan, deliver fiery, charismatic performances. When we first meet Cusack’s character giving a speech to a congregation the sheer passion he radiates in his anti-gun violence message and in Cusack’s enactment evokes one of the best, fully-feeling moments in a movie wall to wall with one great section after another. Angela Bassett, as Miss Helen, Jennifer Hudson, as Irene, and Dave Chapelle, as Morris, are all phenomenal in roles which demonstrate stupendous range. Wesley Snipes, as Cyclops, and David Patrick Kelley, as General King Kong, all make their respective personages singular and full of life with equally memorable cast contributions.

Lee has crafted one of his best undertakings to date here. He continues to present subject matter that has been a constant in this visionary artist’s compositions since She’s Gotta Have It in 1986. Regardless, he continues to find fresh, new ways to communicate his message. These are clear and articulate yet, much unlike any way we have quite seen or heard them given to us before. He also goes in invigorating new avenues. It makes the joyous sum of this endeavor all the more liberating to be swept up in. This is cinema as a tool of education and engagement. Lee is a professor and Chi-Raq is a masterclass.