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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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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