Monday Morning Critic – 4.25.2011 – Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, 48 Hours

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

You know what’s hilarious? When film-makers square off over some insanely idiotic issue and end up in a public feud doing neither any good. Case in point: Tyler Perry Vs. Spike Lee. So this week I’m going to bust out the sledgehammer of idiocy and break down this feud in the only way I know how. Welcome to:

The Kubryk Court of Cinematic Appeals

Every fake court needs an awesome fake judge. So I’ll use Judge Reinhold, circa Fast Times at Ridgemont High, to proceed.


Only here because everyone loves Judge Reinhold in a pirate hat

This is the case of: The cross-dressing success and the bad-dressing critical darling.

The Plaintiff: Spike Lee has a problem with Perry over Perry’s films, which he finds degrading on a racial level.

Spike makes his case:

The Defendant: Tyler Perry thinks Spike Lee ought to go suck it.

Tyler’s response here.

Summation of Arguments:

When it comes to mediocre black directors arguing with one another, it’s hard to pick sides because either way you look bad. You can’t pick either director’s side without feeling a bit dirty. I imagine it’s what one felt like selling arms to Iran or Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Either way you can’t feel good about it but it’s something you have to do sometimes. But neither situation is a good one to come down on. Really this feels like a scenario where you just shrug, tell both sides they’re pretty and just move on.

If you come down on Spike Lee’s side you are acknowledging, to some degree, that Perry has made being a black actor more conducive to genre work in more “urban” films than anything else. Lee has made his bones on casting actors of color into more prominent roles in films attempting to go for mass appeal. Spike does try and appeal to the masses with his films, which is one thing you can’t say about Tyler Perry. Lee does try and craft a universal message that goes for appeals to a mass audience. Say what you want about a film like Miracle At Santa Anna and it’s poor attempt at showing race relations during World War II BUT he did try and tell a story that people from all walks of life can take something from. Lee has enough pull that he can do this and get actors of color in prominent roles.

One imagines that without Spike Lee behind a Malcolm X film that they’d have wanted to cast Donnie Wahlberg in the role.

He’s responsible for giving Wesley Snipes plum roles that showed he had range outside of the action roles he found himself typecast in. Denzel Washington had the performance of a lifetime as Malcolm X in Lee’s biopic of the man. He may not have made anything as good as Do the Right Thing and Inside Man, heck his films have kind of stunk as a whole, but he has brought out great, iconic performances out of actors of color in films aimed at a mass audience.

You can’t say the same about Tyler Perry. His films may be financially successful but they’re absolutely god-awful. He’s got an audience he caters to that comes out in droves as long as his name is above the marquee. He doesn’t bring out good performances in anyone, just overwrought melodrama, but you have to give him credit for one thing. He made his bones the hard way, working the play circuit and turning that success into films based off his plays which are overwrought melodrama. He’s also had nearly every relevant black actor in one of his films that isn’t a major star in Hollywood ala Denzel Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Forrest Whitaker, etc.

The one exception is Terry Crews and that’s for just one reason: he’s just too awesome.

If you’re a relevant black actor and actress and don’t want to star in an embarrassing comedy with Ice Cube, like Lottery Ticket or Next Day Air, you can probably find work in a Tyler Perry film that’ll be successful. It may not be brilliant work but people will see you and you do gain exposure. As much as I make fun of Rick Fox, the awful basketball player who turned out to be a worse actor, being in Tyler Perry films is fairly steady work. It probably doesn’t pay much but it is work and Perry never stops doing it.

The guy puts out films regularly enough because he knows how to make films cheap. He and Lionsgate have a working relationship where he gives them material made on a small scale and his audience will come out, time and time again. He’s a brand and almost a genre unto himself. I imagine Lionsgate green lights him no matter what he does because he makes them money on such a regular basis. Like he could pitch them a film about a dog-fighting ring, with a pivotal moment revolving around big speech and a rape stand, and Lionsgate would cut him a check on the spot. Hell he could make a film about the Columbine shooting with the shooters as heroes and he’d get funding.

This leaves us in a bit of a quandary. Spike Lee has the critical bonafides that Tyler Perry would kill for. Lee, despite not having made a relevant film in so long, is still held as a talented and good film maker because he made Do the Right Thing. Spike Lee brought out the performance that should’ve won Denzel Washington an Oscar. Think about that for a moment. Denzel is perhaps the greatest actor of his generation and probably one of the last few true movie stars out there, a guy who raises the level of every film he’s in. Spike Lee got the best performance of his career from him. Plenty of great directors haven’t gotten it and it’s a feather he can hold above everyone else. Spike Lee is responsible for the film role that is universally acknowledged as one of the few that should’ve won an Oscar (and didn’t). You can debate others but it’s always “How on Earth did Denzel lose to Al Pacino going ‘HOO-AHH’ loudly enough one imagines he soiled himself at least once?”

And Perry has the audience that Spike Lee would KILL for.

That’s the one thing Spike Lee never has had. People don’t come out to see his movies for the most part. Tyler Perry can avoid critics, buy enough advertising and his audiences come out every single time. Even for films he only produces audiences will come out, ala Precious, his audience will come out to see. Spike Lee doesn’t have a motivated, passionate audience like Perry and that’s probably part of the reason Perry’s films bother him. For all his talk of what Perry’s films are, people come out to them more than they ever do Spike Lee’s films. It probably eats up Spike that he’s the one the critics love but the people don’t plunk their cash down for. Kind words from bloggers and professional film critics only go so far.

The thing I think sways this in Perry’s favor is that he seems like a decent guy. It’s unexpected for him to actually comment on something Spike Lee was to say because we expect him to be a good guy. Lee has proven that he’s not the nicest guy in the world, picking a fight with Clint Eastwood over Flags of our Fathers for no good reason amongst others. It’s to the point that Lee is entering that territory Elizabeth Taylor was in when her acting career stopped being relevant: being known for what you say as opposed to what you do. Lee seems to get noticed more for being a pain in the ass than he ever does for any film he makes, which isn’t a good thing. Why?

We really can’t a respect a guy who doesn’t make good films on a regular basis and is a miserable douche bag about it.

You can respect Perry because the guy pulled himself up by his boot straps and built a media empire out of nothing. I haven’t liked any of his films that I’ve seen but I respect Tyler Perry for how he’s done it. It’s been on his terms, his way and with his message. He found a place in the market not being served and has built an empire serving it. He’s also done it without being a tabloid star or without feeling the urge to pick fights with other, better directors.

Verdict in favor of the defendant.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – 48 Hours

Every buddy cop film wants to be Lethal Weapon in its heart. That film truly perfected the formula of whacky cop – regular cop that has become the formula for every film in its genre since. But there’s a dirty secret Richard Donner and Shane Black probably would never admit: Lethal Weapon wants to be a PG-13 48 Hours.

The film that showed that Eddie Murphy could dominate a film with his comic abilities, two years before Beverly Hills Cop made him a permanent star of the Hollywood landscape, and also stands out for one main reason: there is absolutely no chance that this film could ever be remade without massive, massive edits to the content and tone of the characters involved. Absolutely, positively, no chance in Hell that this film gets made today.

Why? Because Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) is remarkably racist toward Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) throughout the film and vice versa. And it’s not in the Lifetime Movie of the Week kind of racist where you’re kind of snide to those you don’t like of other races. I’m talking full on racial epithet style of racism that existed once upon a time, not the sort of bland euphemisms we use across this country. Think of the barbershop scene from Gran Torino for this. You’d have to completely gut the film of that element to really remake it and well … without it the film just doesn’t work as well.

The film revolves around a sloppy detective (Nolte) who loses his gun, and a couple officers, to a psychopath (James Remar) and his Indian sidekick (Sonny Landham). Busting out one of their associates on a bank robbery (Murphy), the two have to team up to track the two down and bring them to justice. It’s just that the two get on each other’s nerves so thoroughly and so wonderfully funny that it becomes so funny to watch; the racism is almost ancillary in all of it.

Strong recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night– Brandon Routh is a detective who deals with the paranormal. Based off an Italian comic book, I believe.

See It – Routh may have sucked as Superman but this might be the better vehicle for him. Guy has everything you need to be a movie star just hasn’t found that perfect vehicle to do so.

Fast Five – Paul Walker and Vin Diesel get the band back together. The Rock is there to stop ‘em. Shenanigans ensue.

See It – This has been getting shockingly good reviews and buzz so far. Looks fairly interesting, too, and at worst you are getting a Fast and the Furious film which means you aren’t going in looking at a potential Oscar winner.

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil – Red Puckett is back in action with a new voice and a new task: save Hansel and Gretel.

See It – The original took a new twist to the Red Riding Hood mythos and I’ll give the second a glance.

Prom – A bunch of teenagers go to prom.

Skip It – I’ve got nothing good to say.

13 Assassins – A medieval epic about the end of the samurai (I think). In limited release.

See It – It’s been getting insane reviews and is Miike doing a crazy, ultraviolent samurai film.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Werner Herzog does a 3D documentary about a cave. In limited release.

See It – Herzog the story-teller is alright. Herzog the documentary film-maker rules all.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at Kubryk@Insidepulse.com and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

Tags: , , , ,