Hey folks, Harry here... Seems that Spike Lee has made another movie that is still a bit on the rough side during this his first test screening, but after reading both of these excellent reviews, the film seems to be headed into territory that we haven't seen come from any of the "New York" filmmakers yet, which is a bit of the pissed off, fucking with our world reaction to what happened last year, and has continued through to this very day. Now what I want to know is this. Moriarty is in New York... What the hell? Where's his review?!?!?!?!?
Dear Mr. Knowles,
I am a cinema studies student at NYU and a big reader of the site. I was able to have the opportunity to see tonight The 25th Hour, the new "joint" from Spike Lee, starring Edward Norton, Barry Pepper, and Phillip Semyour Hoffman to be released this December. Here are my comments. You can call me Rath Bandu.
This is a very uneven film with enough incredible stuff to make it into my top five of the year.
Ed Norton delivers a five minute monologue that takes the racial epitath montage from DO THE RIGHT THING and goes hundreds times further. In fact, starting out, when you see it, you think it's just another retread of that scene from Do the Right Thing...but Norton, Lee, and Benkioff (writing a script from his AMAZING, AMAZING book which got much praise on these boards if I recall) take it one further to attack everyone and everything from the church to Bin Laden to big buisness.
This is also the first work by a major filmmaker from New York to try and accurately portray life in New York after 9-11. When I read that they were making a movie out of this, and had started filming in New York, after 9-11, I was anxious to see whether they would ignore it all together or address it directly. They chose the latter and it suprisingly, works. Lee goes a little heavy-handed in spots, but there are also moments of incredible power, like the credits sequence. You start off seeing images of light that resemble a dance club, then Lee pulls back to reveal the towers of light. It's a breathtaking effect. There's another scene where Barry Pepper and Phillip Seymour Hoffman sit inside Pepper's apt discussing the fate of their friend, played by Edward Norton, and the Ground Zero clearing ground is blurred outside Pepper's window My only concern is that the 9-11 material and some of the topics discussed make this film dated, but I suppose that it's simply another picture of the world we live in, just like how films from the 40s would address Pearl Harbor or the 50s nuclear energy. Those films work today even with material referencing current events.
Pepper delivers what is easily his best work ever, this and KNOCKAROUND GUYS establish him in my mind as a serious actor this fall. Hoffman phones in his role as a quiet, loveless, awkward teacher, but he still manages to steal many of his scenes. Rosario Dawson, as Norton's Puerto Rican girlfriend, also delivers her best work yet, and there's a capable supporting performance from Anna Paquin as one of Hoffman's students who doesn't know that boys (and men like Hoffman) look at her in "that way."
Norton, looking like a less angrier, less beefier version of Derek Vinyard from AMERICAN HISTORY X, also delivers what I feel to be a "sleepwalking" performance, but still manages to be pretty incredible. The ending sequence (which is done mostly without talking by Norton) and the monlogue remain standouts. The monologue in particular ranks among Norton's best work ever.
And then there is the heart and soul of this film: Brian Cox, as Norton's father. A man who loves his son. Who knows he hasn't been the best of father's. Who's willing to give up everything for him. He's only in two scenes, but one of them in the last ten minutes of the film...and he OWNS the screen. His work there is simply amazing.
I'm not one for hyperbole, but if Cox does not get an Oscar nomination for his work in this film I'll be extremly pissed.
The film is deliberate, slowly paced (too slow for some), and doesn't feel at all like a "Spike Lee Joint." It takes its time, and doesn't get in your face with stunning cinematography or cool visuals. It presents its characters, allowing the actors to do their thing. There are a few scenes that remind me of other Spike Lee films, but overall, this is a new turn for the director, and I'm anxious to see his next film.
David Benioff sticks pretty close to the plot of his novel of the same name, with the only real stand-outs being the addition of 9-11 material, Edward Norton's monologue (a welcome addition!), and a take on the ending that I didn't quite approve of. Not to give anything away, but I will say that for readers of the book, it makes the ending less ambiguious than the book does. I would have preferred they stayed with the book's ending, but the film works all the same. He also injects a good deal of humor into the film, another welcome addition, but I worry that audiences will be confused as to whether this film is a comedy or a drama. The audience I saw it with seemed to laugh at inappropriate times.
The music is also pretty damn good, with a pulsating piano score that parallels Norton's last "25 Hours" on the outside (His character, Monty, is being sent upstate for Drug Dealing).
All in all, a good film. Three and a half stars.
Rath B. Says check it out.
And now for Andrew Wan-Kenobi
Greetings Harry and Moriarty,
(You posted my early review of "The Hours" a few months ago. Thank you for that by the way...)
I was among the lucky few to catch a screening of the new Spike Lee flick 'The 25th Hour' in New York City. I'm not big fan of Spike Lee's films... but I am a fan of Edward Norton And Philip Seymour Hoffman so I jumped at the chance. For the most part I liked what I saw of this very rough cut.
The film is about a drug dealer named Monty Brogen (played by Norton) who has been 'touched' and is facing a 7 year sentence in prison. On his last day of freedom he gets together with his friends at a club for a farewell party of sorts. During this time, he reminisces about the past and what could have been. Monty also ponders the lingering question of who ratted him out to the DEA. One such person is his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson). While he loves her dearly this lingering doubt has put a strain on their relationship.
The morning of his last day Monty visits his old high school where his friend Jakob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) now teaches. Jakob is infatuated with one of his students. When Mary (a playful and very sexy Anna Paquin) visits Jakob in the teachers lounge to discuss grades this makes him yearn for her all the more. Monty's other friend is successful stockbroker Frank (Barry Pepper) whose antics in the financial market have labeled him a 'cowboy'.
When Jakob stops by Frank's apartment before the 'farewell bash' they stand next to a window, have a beer, and discuss Monty's fate.
However, the dialogue is overshadowed by what is outside the window. This window peers over the cleanup effort of 'Ground Zero'. (more about this later.)
In the meantime, Monty visits his father (played by Brian Cox) at his bar. Dad assures him that everything will be fine. He also shoots down Monty's assumption that Naturelle squealed to the feds. In a 'Do the Right Thing' type moment (and the film's funniest) Monty goes to the bathroom and looks in the mirror only to have his alter-ego go on a vicious tirade that would make 'Tyler Durden' blush. Here, he bitches about everyone in the city that he hates. This includes the homeless, Korean fruit stand owners, New York City Cops, b-ballers who refuse to pass, Osama bin-laden and rich old ladies. The audience went crazy and this scene alone would be worth the price of admission.
Meanwhile, Frank and Jakob have dinner at an Asian restaurant. Frank states that when it comes to being a single guy Jakob is in the 62nd percentile. Whereas Frank would be in the 99th percentile. This bothers Jakob and they have an entertaining argument about it.
When Monty finally meets up with Frank, Jakob and Naturelle they head out to the club. Outside, young Mary spots Jakob and, of course, he doesn't want to miss the opportunity to hang out with her and brings her into the club as his "plus 1".
During this time, Monty also finds out the awful truth about who sold him up the river.
The film's characters are well drawn and extremely well cast. Norton plays a likeable guy. While he is a scummy drug dealer he is so charming that you have to like him. Yes, even after 'hating' on everyone in his racist tirade. Hoffman is his usual amazing self. Whether it's arguing with Barry Pepper or ogling Anna Paquin he's a pro. I'm convinced that he can't give a bad performance. Sure 'Flawless' was a misstep... But Hey! even Tom Hanks makes a bad movie ONCE in a while. Speaking of bad movies, Battlefield Earth's Barry Pepper redeems himself big time. Some of the best moments of the movie involve him. He really shines here. The character of Naturelle is the weakest compared to the everyone else. Rosario Dawson spends half of her screen time looking pretty and asking Monty "What's wrong?", asking him to "open up" to her and telling her friends that Monty "...isn't acting like himself."
Of course he isn't acting like his old self. He's facing a 7 year stretch as someone's bitch in Otisville (Monty's a skinny 'pretty boy'). I'd say that under the circumstances he's acting pretty normal.
As I stated before The film is not finished. I have to say that it's the best 'rough cut' of a movie that I've seen. While there is plenty of editing that needs to be done 'The 25th Hour' has more fluidity as a 'rough cut' than 'He Got Game' and 'Bamboozled' have as finished films.
The score has a bit of a middle eastern flavor to it and is a little melodramatic for this type of film. A little annoying in fact. Inside the club the tunes totally suck. Among them was the worst remix ever of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines", with cymbals crashing every 5 seconds. I would like to hope that this was just filler music for the rough cut. I hope...
The unfinished opening title sequence (i.e. no titles) features images of Ground Zero and the temporary memorial of light from last March. Frank's apartment is next to the site and it's briefly discussed.This pre-dates the film.
This is Spike's statement to the world that he is unhappy with the fact that many filmmakers went and removed the Trade Center from their films (Spider-Man, Zoolander, etc.)
Personally, when it comes to a film like Spider-Man I don't need the Twin Towers to be in the movie. (Yes, I know that they can be seen in the reflection in Spidey's eyes). When I show my future children 'Spider-Man' on DVD, (or whatever super format replaces it), I want them to get sucked into that timeless world. Taking them out of a movie, that was released after 9/11 isn't insensitive or heartless. It's about keeping the environment in the film current and, in turn, giving it a more timeless quality. When I see the Trade Center in a film like 'Igby Goes Down' I picture the setting and the story as taking place before 9/11. Films like Spider-Man deserve to (and have the right) to be featured in a timeless setting. On the other hand, to remove the towers from 'Armageddon' or 'A.I.' would be distasteful. It is worth mentioning that in John Carpenter's 'Escape From New York' this would be downright impossible.
While Spike's statement is a bold one, it doesn't add anything to the film. Everyone in the audience agreed that these images were not in anyway offensive but instead seem out of context with the rest of the movie. If you removed all of this footage and reshoot the window scene it wouldn't harm the film in anyway.
As a matter of fact this is all anyone really talked about after the movie or in the focus group (attended by Spike himself). I doubt that any criticism or focus group will change Spike's mind on the subject so expect to see Ground Zero in the finished product. Again, it's a bold statement and while it is his film and he has the right to say what he wants, I feel that it's not right venue to share this particular opinion. Also look for a ton of American flags and Wanted posters for Osama bin-laden. This imagery was almost too much. In the final moments of the film, a fire truck passes by our main character in slow motion. This brought someone in my row to say "Oh, Give me a break!" and if she didn't say it I would have.
It's a good film but I think that it will be remembered more for it's homage to the Twin Towers instead of it's great acting and realistic well written story.
On a side note: I spotted Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman at the end of the screening sharing a funny moment from the movie and they seemed pleased. The movie executives were also delighted by the films reception. As for Spike Lee himself? Spike seemed unfazed by the 9/11 criticism and seemed to revel in the fact the the film got a very good reaction from the test screening. He gave a few autographs, chatted a bit with some fans and walked away in a seemingly cheerful mood.