Chi-Raq Screen 23 articles



Chi-Raq Poster
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    Sight & Sound: Nick Pinkerton
    November 04, 2016 | December 2016 Issue (p. 66)

    So rightly celebrated is Lee's 1989 movie [Do the Right Thing], and so beyond reproach the lessons his latest film didactically imparts – in brief, gun violence in the US is a scourge, especially in black communities – that there's a temptation to give it the benefit of the doubt, to overlook that it's a tone-deaf, smug, slapdash, out-of-touch, mirthless and completely misbegotten mess which gives further proof, should any be needed, that Lee has lost his bearings as an artist.

  • At a historical moment that requires more hard truths than soothing delusions, Chi-Raq and its author seem like preening tourists who—to paraphrase Gil-Scott Heron’s legendary verse about NAACP director Roy Wilkins—stroll through black Chicago in a red, black, and green liberation jumpsuit they’ve been saving for just the proper occasion.

  • With so much oxygen wasted on sexually frustrated men, it's easy to forget about the gunshots that opened the film. Lee juggles a large cast of characters, so large that there isn't enough screen time for those who reckon most with the consequences of gun violence.

  • It’s about an hour too long, sometimes leadenly unfunny, and set in Chicago, a place the Brooklynite director has no feel for... And yet it’s hard not get at least a little energized by the whole thing, a blend of raunch, agitprop, theater, and documentary that sometimes plays like Lee’s answer to the absurdist, antiauthoritarian sex-and-politics movies of Dušan Makavejev.

  • Chi-Raq’s fantastical aesthetic quotations and raucous jokes very often live only for the moment, superseding any aim beyond stylistic excess, such as when a Spartan hops on a pole and starts dancing because all the strippers have gone home. However, there are other moments that are complex in their style and subtext, but still feel retain a degree of comedy.

  • Admirable in theory, but kind of excruciating to actually sit through. As a musical comedy, it's mostly leaden, despite Parris' appealing turn in the lead (which is offset by Cannon's dull glowering); as a political statement, the kindest thing that can be said is that it's well-intentioned.

  • Blunt, didactic and stronger on conceptual audacity than dramatic coherence, this is still the most vital, lived-in work in some time from a filmmaker who has never shied away from speaking his... Lee’s vision of a scarred, gutted city may not please the tourism board, but his movie is better for it: Its seething dramatic texture captures a deeper, more elusive beauty that — like reconciliation, reform or any other human ideal — can only be achieved when the illusion of safety is left behind.

  • Lee's musical/satire/feature-length editorial lurches from genre to genre and tone to tone with as much freewheeling spontaneity as possible for a film where the dialogue is almost entirely in verse. It's a teeming repository of idea—by turns somber and profane, whimsical and hectoring, inspired and inexplicable.

  • Wilfully slapdash and gleefully coarse, plus of course relentlessly angry and topical; John Cusack preaches statistics, Angela Bassett brings the soulful in a melodramatic climax, Sam Jackson raps out an ode to this urban Lysistrata, "with a mind like Einstein and a truly luscious behind".

  • This film is many things at once: It is didactic but ambitious, affecting but satirical, absurd but also poignant. Take, for instance, Jennifer Hudson... On hands and knees she scrubs her 11-year-old’s blood off of the pavement as it rises in pink, foamy bubbles. But consider also: Samuel L. Jackson as a one-man Greek chorus, breaking the film’s fourth wall with rhapsodic asides and dirty jokes. With a frenetic and unpredictable pace Chi-Raq clasps tragedy and comedy hand in hand.

  • ...Ultimately these moments amount to Spike Lee‘s vision of Chicago as an inspired and slightly deranged vision of Black America itself, in all its vitality and violence, its striving and strife. Chicago critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once said that Lee’s filmmaking “risks absurdity to achieve the sublime.” In “Chi-raq,” Lee mixes fierce agitprop with lyrical musical numbers and Greek-inspired sex farce in hip hop verse. It’s a mad combination that fittingly addresses a world of madness.

  • Spike Lee's audacious Chicago drill-scene musical instantly identifies itself as a contemporary work of pop filmmaking with its opening salvo: an honest-to-God lyric video... Chi-Raq is a Spike Lee joint in the urgent sociopolitical register of Radio Raheem's boombox, repurposing Aristophanes's classical comedy of women's activism as a slam-poetry parable that ballsily and soulfully satirizes the systemic, racially motivated practices that perpetuate Chicago's gangland violence.

  • The movie is angry and horrified and mournful but also warm, sensual, life affirming, and so blisteringly funny that critics and political commentators are sure to blast it as distasteful. No matter: "Chi-Raq" clearly does not give one-fiftieth of a damn what anyone thinks of its methods; it knows what it is and what it wants to do and commits to its singular vision from start to finish. It's a movie that only Lee could have directed with such imagination, high and low wit, and sorrow.

  • Lee’s film not only takes inspiration from ancient Greek drama, it also adapts its vernacular, updating its rhyme and rhythm for contemporary audiences easily accustomed to the verbal calisthenics of rap and spoken-word performance. The result is invigorating, an up-to-the-moment work that feels instantly like part of a particular artistic legacy.

  • “Chi-Raq” is at once old and new, from its polymorphous narrative strategies to its musical forms (hip-hop, jazz, gospel, R&B), and by turns fiercely funny and deadly sincere. It rolls along smoothly and fitfully, carried by the boldness of Mr. Lee’s conceit, his love of the form and the largely excellent company of artists he’s gathered, including Samuel L. Jackson as Dolmedes, a loquacious Greek chorus of one who pops in and out with a cane and in a series of lusciously colored suits.

  • Chi-Raq brings all of Lee’s best qualities to the fore. It’s messy in places, as Lee’s movies tend to be. But there isn’t a moment that Chi-Raq isn’t alive. This is a deeply serious, biting picture that also has joy in its heart.

  • How can art depict and respond to the crisis, reflect the monstrous societal forces that render many black lives unlivable or simply unlived, and yet be—as art—free, personal, intimate, and beautiful? Amazingly, Lee creates such a work of art, not by tamping down his style, suppressing his personal impulses, or subordinating his intuitions to principles, but by heightening and extending his style.

  • Pretty perfect that [Lee is] matched so perfectly with the latest work from Tarantino, a filmmaker he jibes with in terms of formal excess and general boldness while clashing in nearly every other regard. Chi-Raq ends up as the polar opposite of The Hateful Eight: external, specific, community-focused, melodic and optimistic, not to mention a much better film overall.

  • The film grows more ridiculous by the minute. Angrier, too. This is an impulse familiar to the work and style of Spike Lee... It’s an impulse that has, does, and always will piss off as many people as it moves and intrigues. Chi-Raq is no different, even if the immediacy of what’s at stake seems to demand sobriety... The wonder of Chi-Raq, what makes it a remarkable film, is that it succeeds in giving us something both askew from these demands and, crucially, in excess of them.

  • Chi-Raq, Lee's most daring film since Bamboozled, is a liberal message movie staged as a fusion of graphic novel, music video, musical, action film, meathead comedy, August Wilson play, and chamber sex drama—all under the umbrella of contemporizing Aristophanes's Lysistrata, an ancient Greek comedy that pivots on women withholding sex from men in an attempt to instill peace in their land.

  • It’s witty and exuberant with bonkers flair, riotously erotic, and fraught with politically charged outrage and sorrow. To put it another way: Spike Lee’s take on America’s problem with gun violence is many things, but never boring.

  • Chi-Raq is an ambitious, witty, bold and satirical confrontation of gang-related gun violence in Chicago... While its subject matter is unapologetic and intentionally hard to digest, the juxtaposition of poetic dialogue against a jarring premise solidifies Chi-Raq as an indelible call to action.

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    Sight & Sound: Brad Stevens
    April 29, 2016 | June 2016 Issue (p. 101)

    An audaciously Brechtian rereading of Lysistrata... Though little of Aristophanes survives the journey, Lee's screenplay, much of which is in rhyming couplets, wittily name-checks other figures from Greek mythology, including Demetrius, Oedipus and Cyclops (a one-eyed Wesley Snipes). This breathlessly energetic film conveys a powerful sense of anger at the waste of black lives, and deserves to be better known.

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