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The Spike Lee Joint Collection - Vol. 2

by Jake Mulligan
Contributor
Monday Jun 16, 2014
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The two films in the last "Spike Lee Joints" collection - "He Got Game" and "25th Hour" - remain pretty well respected, Blu-ray re-release or not. The two films in "Vol. 2" of the compendium, though - "Summer of Sam" and "Miracle at St. Anna" - not so much. When it comes to "Miracle," critics and audiences got it right: this is one of Spike’s weaker efforts, with only a kinetically composed early action sequence truly excelling. The politics here are admirable, but the dialogue in this film - which sees a group of Buffalo Soldiers locked down in a small Italian village during WWII - almost immediately qualifies it as one of Lee’s worst works. He has a point to make about valiant African-American soldiers, and he makes it with a verbal sledgehammer. There’s no poetry here - Spike’s war film is a blunt edge.

"Summer of Sam," however - an ensemble piece that sees Adrian Brody play a bi-curious punk rocker, while John Leguizamo features as a more traditionally masculine NYC-er with one hell of a madonna/whore complex - is one of the liveliest concoctions Lee has created to date. Lee doesn’t want to make a serial killer movie (like "Zodiac,") nor a definitive "New York movie" (like his own "Right Thing,") so this one becomes a patchwork of montages and crosscut sequences: punk stripteases set to "The Who," the titular killer speaking to his dog (voiced by John Turturro!) endless cycles of prejudicial violence and oppression... more so than "Miracle," this is a bracing, loud, excessively cinematic work - a hot mess of a movie.

As with the first volume in this series, new audio commentaries have been recorded for each film, and any extra features from pre-existing DVD releases have been ported over. So on "Sam," you get a lively commentary with Mr. Lee and star John Leguizamo (who has plenty of his own NYC memories to share,) and on "Miracle," you get an audio track with Lee and co-writer James McBride (who would go on to work with the auteur again on his follow-up to "St. Anna," "Red Hook Summer.") There’s nothing else on the "Summer" disc, but some pre-existing featurettes have made it onto the "Miracle" Blu-ray: two short documentaries on the history that inspired the film, and six separate deleted scenes.

Some of the excised footage are extended versions of scenes that remain in the proper cut of "Miracle," and a few sequences were cut entirely. These deleted scenes are hardly essential viewing, but they’re definitely in Spike Lee’s voice. Even the deleted portions of his film play idiosyncratically. He’s at once a personal filmmaker and a historian, and his stamp remains on every second of cinema that he films. These films may not be regarded as highly as "25th Hour," they may not be Spike’s best work - yet they’re still Lee Joints, and a mid-level "Joint by Spike Lee" is almost always more interesting than a "Film by" anyone else.

"Spike Lee Joint Collection, Volume 2"
2-Disc Blu-ray
$20.00

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