Ahoy, squirts! Quint here to present Vern, who is taking on Sarah Silverman in Jesus Is Magic and Spike Lee's SUCKER FREE CITY in the way only Vern can. No more intro is needed. Have at it!!!
Sarah Silverman's JESUS IS MAGIC vs. Spike Lee's SUCKER FREE CITY
Howdy boys. I got basically two reviews for you here. One is a standup movie by some female comedian, or comedienne, that readers of this sight are familiar with from jerking off. Er, I mean, from Comedy Central. The other one is a Spike Lee Joint made for Showtime as a pilot for a TV series but then turned into a full blown straight to cable feature. So it's not a big screen movie but yes, it is still officially classified as a 'Joint' according to the box art. Anyway, I'm not sure what connection there is between these two other than that I watched them both yesterday. But that's really the important thing here, isn't it? Me.
JESUS IS MAGIC comes to theaters this week and no, it is not that family friendly cut of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. That already came out a while back and it was called THE PASSION RENAILED I believe. JESUS IS MAGIC is the name of a standup comedy movie and the star is Sarah Silverman, who apparently haunts the dreams of straight men in their 20s and 30s because she is real funny but also cute. She's just one of the guys because she goofs around and talks about pussy all the time, but also she's not just one of the guys because she has boobs. Female boobs. Unlike alot of comedians her comedy isn't cruel, she is usually the butt of her own jokes. She doesn't straightforwardly point out other people's shortcomings, she portrays herself as an oblivious character. So maybe if she ever breaks up with that guy from TV she will go out with you and won't make fun of you. Seriously dude I think you have a shot.
Before I continue I should probaly bring up the historical fact that RICHARD PRYOR LIVE IN CONCERT is the greatest standup film of all time, followed by RICHARD PRYOR LIVE IN CONCERT also in second place somehow and RICHARD PRYOR LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP in a close third. And that's the whole list. These are great documents, concert films. But most standup films are more disposable, something that should probaly be a special on TV. I mean, ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY for example, all the comedians made me laugh but the photography looked like shit and it wasn't like it was a documentary about the phenomenon of the tour or anything. It was a cable show without the commercials. Well, JESUS IS MAGIC ain't gonna cause any rethinking of the Richard Pryor list, but it's a little better than a cable show. It will make you laugh and if you want to see it in a theater, you will be able to laugh in a group. You could pretend you were there in the audience when she performed it, it would be cool I guess.
Most of the movie is just her on stage doing standup. You know, everybody is different, like a snowflake, and what makes this one different is she doesn't follow the tired old formula of how a comedian is supposed to tell jokes. She's not the kind of comedian who laughs at her jokes are acknowledges that she's trying to make you laugh. She's acting, pretending she means it, selling it with her expressions and what not. The way she seems oblivious to what she's saying is usually funnier than what she's saying. "Politically incorrect" is the tired buzzword that hacks use to describe her because she says things that are blatantly racist or suddenly blurts out something horrible involving AIDS, the holocaust, rape or 9-11. Every once in a while it feels kind of forced and I can understand why people feel like they're being molested when somebody keeps trying to push their buttons like that. But you can't take what she says at face value - usually the actual content isn't offensive. Seems to me most of the time she's playing a character, satirizing certain types of individuals we encounter every day by exaggerating them into complete horribleness. For example, she has a pretty inspired routine about feeling guilty for enjoying a certain type of diamond that, she slowly reveals, comes from the tailbone of Ethiopian babies. "I know, it sounds so horrible!" she says. It might bother people that she even thought of some fucked up shit like that, but the butt of the joke is not the innocent baby, it's the person who can justify killing the baby by admitting to feeling guilty about it.
You know when you're having a conversation with somebody who seems to be perfectly reasonable and then all the sudden they let slip something you can't even believe they said about "colored folks" or "jews control the media" or some backwards shit like that and you gotta end the conversation immediately and make sure nobody thinks you go way back with this person? Sarah Silverman's act is completely based on that type of discomfort.
For added theatrical value, the standup occasionally leaves the stage for musical numbers. This is the main weakness of the movie. None of them are terrible, but none of them are great. Alot of comedians now days think they gotta sing songs. Ask Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor never sang any god damn songs. Get it together. Your talent is for the stage. Don't blow it. The opening is a pretty funny skit though, featuring Brian Posehn from THE DEVIL'S REJECTS.
SUCKER FREE CITY is a new Spike Lee movie coming direct to video. Sort of. There will be talkbackers that will be OUTRAGED that this is being discussed since it played on Showtime back in February. Well, I got news for you boys. Normal people don't pay money to have Showtime. Or, at least I don't. So now that it's coming to DVD this is a brand new movie in my opinion.
That reminds me: to the guy in the ESCAPIST talkback who wanted me to review LEPRECHAUN, I have not had a chance to see it yet but I promise I will get to it while it's still fresh.
SUCKER FREE CITY was a pilot for a Showtime series that wasn't picked up. I don't know for sure but it's probaly like MULLHOLLAND DRIVE and CRUEL INTENTIONS 2 where they shot some new scenes to make it seem more like a self contained movie. I bet the main character didn't learn his lesson and turn his back on gangs in the first episode.
Like me in this review, Spike Lee can be pretty scatter brained and unfocused. Even way back in JUNGLE FEVER and MO BETTER BLUES he had a bad habit of trying to cram way too much into one movie. I mean, why would you try to tackle interracial relationships AND crack addiction in the same movie? I think HE GOT GAME is really underrated, but he should've cut out the entire subplot about Milla Jovovich. And BAMBOOZLED, man, I don't even know where to start on that one. But I still like Spike Lee alot and if there's anybody else out there who does I recommend this one to you.
From the first shot you know this one's tackling too much, because the first shot is San Francisco as seen from outer space. "Sucker Free City" means San Francisco although, according to the show, there actually are some suckers in the city. The show is about the intersection between 3 different criminals: white guy from the Mission District (Ben Crowley, I guess), Asian guy from Chinatown (Ken Leung), and black guy from Hunter's Point (Anthony Mackie, star of SHE HATE ME, which even I haven't seen yet). Each of the neighborhoods gets text on the screen to explain their history, like it's some fantasy movie.
White guy is the least likable. He's starting out in the mail room in an office building. Who wants to watch a show about some shaggy haired kid working in an office? That's what Coke commercials are for. Through friends from his old neighborhood he becomes the office coke dealer and tries to get into credit fraud. We might be able to forgive him for this if he was charismatic, but he always seems broody and pissed off. He tries to act tough but he's obviously terrified of his black neighbors, mainly because they call him Opie, point guns at him and welcome the family to the neighborhood by breaking in and stealing all their shit.
His mom is Kathy Baker (born to play well intentioned white mom) and his dad is John Glover, the guy who ran over Buggin Out's shoe. Also there's a sister who looks like the girl from 24 and probaly would've had something to do if there had been more than one episode.
Then there's Ken Leung, a small fry in a Tong who keeps fucking up and getting in trouble with his bosses. I gotta be honest, I know nothing about the Tongs that I haven't seen in movies, so I got no idea if this part has any connection to reality. It just reminded me of other movies. (And yes, some of those other movies star Steven Seagal.) The more interesting aspect of his character is when he's dealing with matters of Asian pride, like the scene where he talks to some kids (younger brothers?) and tries to get them into sports instead of chess. The script was written by Alex Tse, a bonafide Asian guy from Sucker Free City, so he probaly knows what he's talking about.
By far the most likable and interesting character is Anthony Mackie. He's a member of the "V-Dub Mafia" but it seems like he's trying to enlighten them from inside. Jim Brown, playing a Jim Brown-like community activist, occasionally shows up to try to guilt him out of gang activity. He tries to have a similar influence on a 12-year old drug courier, trying to make him interested in learning and even trying to convince him to get a paper route. This might not turn out well though.
There's a subplot about a local rapper named Killa Ski (played by a guy named JT the Bigga Figga). The V-Dubs let him record in their crappy studio and pressure him to be more gangsta in his lyrics. This one takes a long time to get going, establishing each of the characters and their worlds, but it really starts rolling when the V-Dubs find out an old lady is selling Killa Ski bootlegs in Chinatown and confront her about it. (Tupac did the same thing once, I saw it in some movie.) The movie seems pretty aimless for a while but when the three leads all intersect a good 100 or so minutes in it feels worth it. There is racial tension between them but I like that it mostly doesn't fall into the obvious shit. For example the white guy has some problems with black people, but he never calls them racial slurs or says anything too blatant. And he's dealing with people who actually are a threat to him and have wronged him. So he's not being unfair. (You still don't side with him though, because he's a chump.)
Bootlegging, by the way, is not an area of crime I have seen a TV show about, so it seems like this could've been pretty interesting. There must be 25 shows between the Law and Orders and the CSIs and not one of them deals with bootlegging CDs. America loves sex killers I guess.
SUCKER FREE CITY is some weird hybrid between a tv show and a real movie. If it had been shown in a theater it would've felt incomplete. It has a huge cast and lots of minor characters (Jim Brown, a detective, a lady at the office, the parents) who probaly would've been important if there had been a series. On the other hand it really doesn't feel like any other TV show I've ever seen. More than one main character is shot or stabbed to death in the pilot, and still it doesn't feel like it's mainly about crime. It's very loose, not plot driven. And it looks like a million bucks. Thank God Spike got past the foggy digital video era of BAMBOOZLED and ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY. This one looks more like HE GOT GAME - crisp and vivid images with juiced up colors that feel like they might burn your eyeballs. Some of it has that hyper-real look like that movie BELLY. Or like Tony Scott NOT on speed.
Somebody from San Francisco reviewed the movie on IMDB and said it was totally phoney and that these were more like New York guys and not SFC. I'm sure the guy is making valid points but I think this is supposed to be more of a Spike Lee world than a real world. Yeah it's shot handheld and whatnot but it's no documentary. The characters wear colored wristbands to represent their heritage. The V-Dubs drink a malt liquor called "The Bomb" that comes in a bottle shaped like an atom bomb. It's ABOUT the real world but it takes place in a heightened reality. Or something.
So how does SUCKER FREE CITY compare to JESUS IS MAGIC? Well that's a tough call. Of the two, I would say that JESUS IS MAGIC is the funnier one. I liked in SUCKER FREE when the white dad tried to impress Anthony Mackie by namedropping Bobby Seal, and when the V-dubs were trying to sell the appliances they stole from across the street. But mostly it's not very funny. JESUS is funny most of the time.
SUCKER FREE has better photography though, and a more multi-layered insight into race relations. So I will give the photography/race relations category to SFC. Good effort though, JESUS.
For screen size, gotta go with JESUS because it's playing in theaters. So I guess it's a toss up between these two, I'm not sure what to say. Neither is great. Both are flawed but brilliant in parts. Both are a little better than TV and a little worse than movies. Both have three words in their titles.
that's all I got thanks