Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

Starring Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Robin Harris, Joie Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Dick Anthony Williams, Cynda Williams, Nicholas Turturro

Directed by Spike Lee

Expectations: Moderate. I like jazz, I like Spike Lee.


Hot off of Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee delivered Mo’ Better Blues, a film about a jazz musician trying to juggle his artistic pursuits and his relationships. It’s not nearly as succinct and riveting as the previous film, but as a huge jazz fan, it held my attention fully throughout. I generally shy away from music biopics, and while this isn’t really a biopic, it’s enough of a story about a young musician to be potentially troubled waters for me. Thank God Spike Lee isn’t one for clichés and conventions, though, as Mo’ Better Blues takes a much different route to its conclusion than the plot might initially suggest.

The film opens in a New York neighborhood as the tortured sounds of a kid practicing trumpet scales can be heard coming from an upstairs window. A group of kids yell up to the window for their friend, but Bleek’s mother refuses to allow him to go play with his “hoodlum friends.” Instead, Bleek is to practice his scales and only after his lesson will he be allowed to go outside. Even the soft-spoken words of his father are not enough to sway his strong-willed mother. When Bleek resigns himself to this fact, the film cuts ahead 20 years and we rejoin Bleek (now played by Denzel Washington) playing with his quintet in a jazz club drenched in deep red light.

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New Jack City (1991)

Starring Wesley Snipes, Ice T, Allen Payne, Chris Rock, Mario Van Peebles, Michael Michele, Bill Nunn, Russell Wong, Bill Cobbs, Christopher Williams, Judd Nelson

Directed by Mario Van Peebles

Expectations: Moderate. I’ve always wanted to see this.


I think if I had seen New Jack City back in 1991, I would have loved it. It’s an interesting tale filled with sex, drugs and hip hop, but coming at it now it seems a little dated. Not that the tale itself is no longer relevant, it’s just so steeped in ’90s hip hop and fashion that it’s impossible not to notice it. For me, this is a good thing as I grew up in and remember the ’90s vividly, but for others it might be a different story entirely. But fuck all that, it’s Ice Fest baby, and we’re ringin’ in the event with a very enjoyable, modern Blaxploitation film.

New Jack City was Ice T’s first major role, and here he plays a reckless cop who’s out to bust the city’s crime lord played by Wesley Snipes. Snipes has taken over the Carter Apartments, creating a fortress to house his crack empire, and it’s up to Ice and his cop buddies to infiltrate it any way they can. New Jack City tells a layered story, more disjointed than the traditional narrative elements might suggest. Much of the story here is told through editing, and the audience is never treated as if they’re stupid. When we inexplicably cut to a wedding attended by Snipes and his troop, the next cut informs us who’s getting married and eventually why the scene is important. It’s hard to tell a compelling story this way, but New Jack City does a relatively good job at it.

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Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Starring Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Steve Park, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Rosie Perez, Paul Benjamin, Frankie Faison, Robin Harris, Joie Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Roger Guenveur Smith, Martin Lawrence

Directed by Spike Lee

Expectations: I’ve seen this a few times so I know what I’m getting into.


Do the Right Thing is one hell of a challenging film. I first saw it fairly close after its release, when I was a pre-teen. I had no way to process the feelings it brought up and I don’t remember liking it very much or understanding why it was so popular. I saw it twice more as I aged, coming to appreciate it much more over time. Rewatching it again now, I found it to be even better than I remembered. Backing up a bit, in the months before I started this site I began a personal project to work through Spike Lee’s filmography, much like I’ve been doing with Sam Fuller’s on this website. Watching Do the Right Thing with a knowledge of what Lee’s first two films were informs the viewing experience greatly, as it contains heavy doses of the theatrical style, narrative structure and distinct characters that permeated his first two films.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Def by Temptation (1990)

Def by Temptation (1990)
AKA Black Vampires

Starring James Bond III, Kadeem Hardison, Bill Nunn, Cynthia Bond, Samuel L. Jackson

Directed By James Bond III


While Def by Temptation is relatively tame in comparison to most Troma offerings, it packs a substantial amount of meat behind its kitschy, B-vampire veneer. I was pleasantly surprised by the end of the film, and despite its heavy-handed sexuality vs. morality theme, it ultimately works due to solid, likeable performances and some well-placed humor that doesn’t deter from or belittle itself.

Writer, director, producer, and lead actor James Bond III must have been burned or completely disgusted by his turn in Hollywood though because this film stands alone in his filmography. He literally has not been heard from since its release 20 years ago. That’s a shame because genuine talent is evident here and even though his acting chops could have used a bit more polish, his character is ultimately convincing, so there isn’t much room for complaints.

Joel (James Bond III) is an aspiring minister, who at the end of his schooling in the ministry is haunted by some pretty deep-seated demons and unsettling visions of his dead parents. This is further echoed by his grandmother, who really digs out some of that slow-cooked, homespun, old southern wisdom… constantly warning him that although he is at the end of his spiritual training, he is coming to a crossroads where his faith will come up against the ultimate test.

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