Saturday, December 5, 2015

Chi-Raq [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

BET coverage
Ebony coverage coverage coverage 

Chi-Raq [2015] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Spike Lee, along with Kevin Willmott, based on the classical Greek play Lysistrata [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Aristophenes [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]), while CERTAINLY "Adult Oriented" is also CERTAINLY one of the most clever / intelligent American films made in the past decade or even generation.  Again, it's not for kids.  But every College (or even 10th grade) educated adult in the U.S. should at least rent the film.  It's a reminder of why we have English / "Lit" classes in Junior High / High School.  And it's a reminder of _what is possible_ in cinema (or contemporary theater for that matter) once we get past "comic books" and cookie cutter "rom-coms" / shoot 'em up "crime dramas."

Honestly, imagine a white director taking an anti-war story from Classical Greece (!), from the time of the _then_ pointless Pelopennesian War, turn it INTO AN APPROPRIATELY SARCASTIC "MUSICAL COMEDY" and APPLY IT TO THE CURRENT DAY and THEN (again SUPREMELY APPROPRIATELY) apply it, NOT in any "BIG" STUPID WAR WAY (Afghanistan / Iraq) but RATHER TO THE TOTALLY MINDLESS SLAUGHTER happening HERE IN CHICAGO (though it could be set IN ANY NUMBER OF OTHER AMERICAN CITIES).

The ONLY well-known white American director doing _even remotely similar stuff today_ would be Woody Allen.

For its humor / intelligent audacity, this film deserves consideration come "Awards Season" for Best Picture (!), Best Direction, Best (Adapted!) Screenplay (!), and honestly John Cusack for his SUPREMELY SUPPORTING ROLE as the Fr. Pfleger-like fictionalized Fr. Mike Corrigan.

Further, in a year where Spotlight [2015] about the Catholic Clergy sex scandals in Boston is destined to reign large at the Academy Awards this year, SPIKE LEE (!) reminds us (1) that CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD CAN MATTER (and POSITIVELY), and even (2) POWERFUL ACTION / PREACHING is not (or NEED NOT) be the province of simply African American preachers.  Underlined here is the example of THE VERY REAL Fr. Michael Pfleger (who's CERTAINLY REGULARLY IN THE NEWS HERE IN CHICAGO [1] [2]) to remind us that such Preaching Power / Conscience in(to) the world is not / NEED NOT be simply "a Black thing."

So thank you Mr. Lee for this unexpected / certainly WELCOME "shot in the arm" for the Catholic / Church-going community and in particular for raising Fr. Pfleger and his remarkable community at St. Sabina's to a national stage.  Both he and his Church deserve a (positive !) look.

To the movie ...

The movie begins with a stunningly shameful statistic:

Since 9/11 more Americans have died of GUN VIOLENCE (mostly as a result of pointless, largely black-on-black, street gang fighting) IN CHICAGO ALONE than have died in the Afghan and Iraq conflicts COMBINED.

How could THAT be?  And why doesn't (NEXT TO) ANYBODY CARE?  And then of course, we've spent TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS "nation building" in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Why don't we seem to be willing to something like FOR OUR OWN PEOPLE IN OUR OWN CITIES?

That said -- THE SITUATION "IS WHAT IT IS" -- THE REST OF THE MOVIE is about a CLEVER APPROACH that a LOCAL URBAN / CRIME RIDDEN COMMUNITY could choose to take TO HELP CALM STREETS:  Have the women unite and go on a "sex strike" (first proposed by Aristophenes' play WAY, WAY "back in the day" of the Pelopennesian War) until the men stop shooting _each other_ and then INNOCENTS all around them.

In the current story, Lysistrata [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Teyonah Parris) the girlfriend of a rapper (and head of a street-gang named "The Spartans") named Demitrius / nicknamed "Chi-Raq" (played by Nick Cannon) is challenged by Miss Helen (played by Angela Bassett) a 30-40 something NEIGHBOR of hers TO USE HER POWER / INFLUENCE TO DO _SOMETHING_ to stop the senseless shooting / killing between her boyfriend's "Spartans", and their rivals "The Trojans" headed by similarly aged 20-something "popular" / "ultra-cool" gangster nicknamed "Cyclops" (played by Wesley Snipes).  (Why Cyclops?  Because he lost an eye in some fight and now wears an eyepatch. ;-) / :-/  

What can Lysistrata do?  Well, Miss Helen asks Lysistrata google "Liberia civil war" and finds that the women there ENDED a CIVIL WAR by refusing to sleep with their warring men until they came to their senses.  Lysistrata talks to both her "Spartan" girlfriends AND those of the "Trojans" and soon they're on their way.

And certainly, the actions of the young women of the neighborhood couldn't come any faster.  A nine-year old girl was killed by a stray bullet in the neighborhood.  Her mother, Irene (played by Jennifer Hudson) was all but inconsolable.  The funeral for the nine year old girl, staged in St. Sabina's Catholic Church where Fr. Pfleger is actually stationed, gives the screenwriters, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, the opportunity to showcase Fr. Pfleger's Congregation and his Preaching: the Homily that John Cusack's Fr. Corrigan gives down to the gestures is classic Fr. Pfleger.  He both challenges the larger society TO DO SOMETHING FOR THE NEIGHBORHOOD so that its young people have hope AND CHALLENGES THE SAME YOUNG PEOPLE to come out and, yes, _snitch_ ON YOUNG GIRL's MURDERER: "Some here KNOW who killed this little girl, and while there's a murderer loose in our Community NO ONE is safe." He then offers from the Church's treasury $5000 for information leading to the conviction of the girl's killer. 


John Cusack's Fr. Corrigan then hears about Lysistrata and her young women's "sex strike initiative." After meeting with them (and telling them "YOU KNOW I'VE TAKEN A VOW OF CELIBACY, SO I KNOW A BIT OF WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT ...") he sees that they're serious and he then puts the weight of his parish in support of them.

Much then ensues ... the young women take over a nearby National Guard Armory (in the original play by Aristophanes, the women take over the Parthenon ;-).  And, of course, the whole story "goes viral" ... ;-)  Do they succeed?? -- GO SEE THE FILM ;-)



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