Archive for Clockers

da 5 bloods [film review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2020 by xi'an

I was most excited to see the new Spike Lee’s film, Da 5 Bloods, available on Netflix. As I had liked very much his much earlier films like She’s gotta have it, Do the right thing or Clockers. (Although I feel the original book had more impact, I felt.) But I was rather disappointed by this one. (Although I related with the few pictures taken at the War Remnants Museum in Ho-Chi-Minh City, which I visited in 2013!) As I felt it was wasting most of the story for the allegory… The heist story was implausible from start to end (which is admittedly an usual feature of heist stories), with the five guys going into the Vietnamese jungle on their own, 50 years later!, which makes them 70 years old at the very least, with a small back-pack each but enough to carry a complete metal detector, and finding gold and bones (not a true spoiler I think!), not worrying about mines (until it is too late). Some of the actors are terrific, especially the (PTSD) out-of-control Delroy Lindo who essentially carries the film and keeps it alive. But other characters remain dreadfully under-exploited, counter-productively for the story. Which (literally) implodes with too many divergent threads. All unraveling into botched conclusions and ending up into a mess of the movie, the message eventually shooting the messenger…

On top of this I also think the film is presenting a very one-dimensional view of Vietnam, from a postcard idyllic vision with buffaloes in rice paddies, to thugs working for a French crook. With the overused tropes of the faithful prostitute and the cigarette smoking femme fatale. Except the later is a propaganda speaker on the Vietcong radio and unlikely to smoke American cigarettes… And the 1950’s (pre-Điện Biên Phủ) attitude of the said French crook (including the “bad guy” Luger gun!) does not fit either. Of course, these anachronisms and clichés could be understood as a second degré choice, i.e. as a pastiche of earlier American Vietnam war movies, from Apocalypse Now (explicitly referenced at the beginning of the movie, copter, river boat trip and Khmer temple included) to The Deer Hunter (especially the Vietnamese xenophobia), to Rambo (with cartoonesque shooting scenes). Collating epoch newsreels with blurry and dreamlike recalls of the actual experience of the 4 veterans looking their present age is a stylistic choice, obviously, but its repetition does not help in creating structure or credence in the movie. Especially when the current day battles in the movie are not any further realistic, although intended to be so…

Clockers [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2014 by xi'an

Throughout my recent trip to Canada, I read bits and pieces of Clockers by Richard Price and I finished reading it last Sunday. It is an impressive piece of literature and I am surprised I was not aware of its existence until suggested it to me (as I was checking for recent books by another Richard, Richard Morgan!). Guessing from the summary it could be of interest and from comments it was sort of a classic, I ordered it more or less on a whim (given a comfortable balance on my account, thanks to ‘Og’s readers!) It took me a few pages to realise the plot was deeply set in the 1990’s, not only because this was the high of the crack epidemics, but also since the characters (drug dealers and policemen) therein are all using beepers, instead of cellphones, and street phone booths).

“It’s like a math problem. Juan got whacked at point X, he drove away losing blood at the rate of a pint every ninety seconds. He was driving forty-five miles an hour and he bought the farm two miles inside the tunnel (…) So for ten points, [who] in what New Jersey town did Juan?” Clockers (p.272)

The plot of Clockers is vaguely a detective story as an aging and depressed homicide officer, Rosso, hunts the murderer of a drug dealer, being convinced from the start that the self-declared murderer Victor did not do it. In parallel, and somewhat more closely, the book follows the miserable plight and thoughts and desires of Victor’s brother, Strike, who is head of a local crack dealing network, under the domination of the charismatic and berserk Rodney Little… But the resolution of the crime matters very little, much less than the exposure of the deadly economics of the drug traffic in inner cities (years before Freakonomics!), of the constant fight of single mothers to bring food and structure to their dysfunctional families, to the widespread recourse to moonlighting, and above all to the almost physical impossibility to escape one’s environment (even for smart and decent kids like Victor and, paradoxically enough, the drug-dealing Strike) by lack of prospect and exposure to anything or anywhere else, as well as social pressure, early pregnancies and gang-related micro-partitioning of cities.

When I mentioned Clockers to Andrew, he told me that he also liked it very much but that the characters were not quite “real”. I somewhat agree in that, while the economics, the sociology and the practice of drug-dealing sound very accurately reproduced (for all I know!), the characters are more caricaturesque or picturesque than natural. The stomach disease of Strike sounds too much like an allegory of both his schizophrenic split between running the drug trade and looking for a definitive quit, while the sacrifice of his brother makes little sense, except as a form either of suicide or of escape from an environment he can no longer stand. What is most surprising is that Richard Price (just like Michael Crichton) is  a practised screenwriter (who collaborated to Spike Lee’s 1995 Clockers). So he knows how to run an efficient story with convincing characters and plot(s). Hence my little theory of a picaresque novel… (Here is Jim Shepard’s enthusiastic review of Clockers. With the definitely accurate title of “Sympathy for the dealer”.)

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