Spike Lee is for real. And he always seems to keep it real.
Ever since he burst onto the stage with the indie film success “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1986, the NYU Film School grad (now NYU Film School professor and Masterclass expert) has had a stream of films that speak to the truth. True to the times. True to his voice. True to his cause.
“Do The Right Thing” (1989), “Mo’ Better Blues” (1990), “Malcolm X” (1992), “Chi-Raq” (2015), “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall” (2016) and six-time Oscar-nominated “BlacKkKlansman” (2018), to name just a few, have catapulted Lee to being known as one of the most successful and recognizable directors of our era. (Watch all of these films.) Set to head the Cannes Film Festival jury this year (which was canceled, so he will do it next year), he is poised to be the first black person to lead the jury in its 73-year history.
His latest film “Da 5 Bloods” is a story about four African-American veterans
— Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — who bond as they fight side by side during the Vietnam war, returning decades later to find the remains of their fallen squad leader (Chadwick Boseman) and a fortune in gold he helped them hide. Starting with photos and footage confronting America’s prejudiced past (think the last few minutes of “BlacKkKlansman”), Lee proves again his ability to powerfully move an audience with an unequaled gift of storytelling and editing. (In addition to being a talented creative genius, Lee has proven his works to be based on what is historically factual, as well as being recognized as a huge voice for social justice.) “I’m a big historian,” Lee said. “I was taught that African-Americans fought for this country from day one.”
Co-written by Lee with Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo and Kevin Willmott, the film, shot on location in the cities of Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, is set to premiere on Netflix June 12.
Drawing inspiration from war-themed classics like “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “Apocalypse Now,” Lee used a distinctly different approach.
“No disrespect to any film that’s been done before about the Vietnam War, but we wanted to do this through the perspective of the black soldiers … we knew that we had not seen brothers like this in a Vietnam film.”
The film offers a powerful and emotional narrative, confronting America’s racist history while celebrating the patriotism of African-American soldiers on the frontlines of the Vietnam War with relatable, imperfect heroes. Six songs from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album are also featured in the film.
Lee’s past contributions have also included less serious television commercials, most famously with Michael Jordan in Nike’s Air Jordan campaign (“Is it the shoes?”) as well as commercials for Converse, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry’s. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, is located in Fort Greene, Lee’s childhood neighborhood in Brooklyn. R; 2h 34m.
Here are a few more fresh-to-streaming selections for consideration:
¦ “Spelling the Dream”
Directed by Sarasota native and filmmaker Sam Rega, this film played at the Denver and Cleveland film festivals in 2018. It follows four students as they compete to realize their dream of winning the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee. Follow their journey with perspectives from CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, comedian Hari Kondabolu, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi (1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee winner), and more as the doc set to stream on Netflix June 3 explores the reasons why the competition has been won by Indian-Americans for the last 12 years. 1h 22m.
Having played Seattle, Stockholm, Berlin and Gold Coast Film Festivals, “2040” is a documentary that takes an inspirational look at what a journey to the future might look like — if we embraced smart solutions for our planet today. Directed, written and starring Damon Gameau, the film looks at how environmental concerns could be addressed to provide the filmmaker’s daughter a more hopeful future. Releasing in virtual theaters on June 5. 1h 32m.
¦ “You Don’t Nomi”
Some say “Showgirls,” an erotic drama film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Elizabeth Berkley, was one of the worst movies ever made. Total trash even. Despite being the biggest NC-17 movie ever released, it was nominated for 13 Razzie Awards. Film critic Roger Ebert may have summed up the public and professional sentiment in one of the more positive reviews when he said, “The film is not, in short, quite unredeemably bad.” Still, after the wild outpouring of cult adoration and some kind of redemption soon following, director Jeffrey McHale takes a hard look as to why “Showgirls” may now be considered a masterpiece in the movie “You Don’t Nomi,” complete with archival footage from the original picture, interviews with the bigger players involved in its creation and conversations with cinephiles regarding the raw appeal. After taking the film festival route in 2019, including the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival, the doc’s premiere to streaming is planned for June 9. 1h 32m.
¦ “The Last Days of American Crime”
How could America ever part with crime? In this Netflix action thriller slated to stream June 10, the U.S. government has managed to devise the broadcast of an invisible signal, which makes it impossible to do anything unlawful or illegal. Enter Graham Bricke (played by Edgar Ramírez), a career criminal who teams up with gangster Kevin Cash (Michael C. Pitt) and Shelby Dupree (Anna Brewster) to journey to commit the last, and largest, criminal heist before the signal goes live. Directed by Olivier Megaton and based on the “Radical Publishing Graphic Novel” created by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini, it also co-stars Patrick Bergin and Sharlto Copley. 2h 20m.
¦ “Artemis Fowl”
Disney+ brings “Artemis Fowl” to streaming June 12. Based on the book by Eoin Colfer, the film follows 12-year-old boy genius Artemis Fowl on a spellbinding journey through underground civilizations, fairy lands and ultimately the Aculos, a powerful magical device, to save his father, who has been kidnapped. The adventure climaxes in a war of the wits with the most powerful fairies around. The family fantasy film directed by Kenneth Branagh stars Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh McGuire and Nikesh Patel, with Adrian Scarborough, Colin Farrell and Judi Dench. PG. 1h 55m.
¦ “The King of Staten Island”
Originally set to open the 2020 SXSW Film Festival (which was cancelled) and also slated for a public celebration at Tribeca (also cancelled), this film from director Judd Apatow (“Trainwreck,” “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year- Old Virgin”) stars Saturday Night Live breakout Pete Davidson. “The King of Staten Island,” a comedy about love, loss, mental health and laughter on Staten Island, will now premiere on VOD June 12. In a story very close to the life of Davidson, his character Scott, who lost his firefighter father when he was seven, has reached his mid-20s, achieving little but dreaming of starting a tattoo restaurant. Living with his exhausted ER nurse mother (Marisa Tomei) and spending most days hanging with the guys smoking weed, his life changes when a firefighter named Ray (Bill Burr) enters his life. Also starring Steve Buscemi as Papa, a veteran firefighter who takes Scott under his wing, Bel Powley and Pamela Adlon. The film’s executive producers are Pete Davidson, Michael Bederman and Judah Miller. R; 2h 16m. ¦
— Eric Raddatz is the Presentation Editor at Florida Weekly, host of the indie film series T. G. I. M. and the founder of Fort Myers Film Festival.