Berk Film Journal – June 8, 2020, through June 12, 2020.

To be honest, I’ve not felt like writing as many reviews since theaters shut down. I’d already pulled back on the number of retro reviews I was writing and had switched to more current releases. Now that streaming is the only option, and the quantity of content is much more massive – often with a huge variance in quality from release – I’m going to limit that for the time being. However, I’m still watching movies…some of which you’ve never heard of, and some classics that I’d been sleeping on. Rather than writing a review for each, I’m going to go more editorial micro-posts where I just touch on each film. It’s going to be much more free form and varied. So, this first post of Berk’s film diary will span from June 8 through June 12. 

June 8th – Cooley High (1975)

As noted in a previous post (here), I’m working my way through the Black Film Canon. Cooley High had been on my radar prior to this list, and when I found out it was available to watch with Amazon Prime, it jumped to the top of my watchlist. I enjoyed this film, and found its two lead characters – Preach (Glynn Turman) and Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) – to be very likable. Preach is a bit of an outcast amongst his friends, as he longs to be a poet while most of his friends, especially Cochise, have found success in sports while finishing high school in 1964 on Chicago’s Near-North Side. 

It’s a coming of age story from a perspective not shown nearly enough on screen. Add in that this film is set during the Civil Rights Movement (and yet not specifically about it), and the audience really is given a lens to the world they may not have been privy to. I definitely think this film is both entertaining and insightful…plus, it should squeeze a few tears out of you. Cooley High earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. 

June 9th – Twister (1996)

Twister never interested me. I’m not a fan of disaster movies in general m, and so I’d kind of pointedly avoided watching it. My love of film and the sheer number of people who love this movie…specifically one of my upcoming seniors that cites it as her favorite film…led me to finally watch it, now that it’s streaming on Netflix. To say the least, I was not disappointed. 

I wouldn’t say Twister is high art, but the cast…specifically Helen Hunt and Pill Paxton (but not to short change Phillip Seymore Hoffman)…and the insane number of action set pieces make this an undeniably fun movie to watch. It could also be a horror film if the idea of tornadoes terrifies you. For me, it was a little bit of both. 

I was engrossed in the film in every way. The CG mostly holds up, and the use of color during the tornadoes was actually battling against my high art jab. There is a wealth of intentionality in the film, and my biggest complaint was that it wasted Carey Elwes. If you’ve ever seen him allowed to chew the scenery as a bad guy, you’ll know that I’m right! Twister earns the Must See rating, as it is definitely a top tier disaster movie. 

June 11th – The Watermelon Woman (1996)

The Watermelon Woman is on the Black Film Canon list, but is also an LBGTQ+ film that feels very much like it was inspired by Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994) and Richard Linklater’s Slackers (1990), which Smith credits as one of his inspirations as well. Cheryl Dunye wrote, directed, and starred in this film, and did an outstanding job in each category. The movie feels more like a series of connected vignettes (hence my Slacker comparison), and is mostly two or three characters in an extended series of dialogue (common in the indie movement of the era) about a filmmaker doing a documentary on a fictional old movie star, credited solely as The Watermelon Woman. 

As Cheryl works on researching and filming her movie within the movie we are watching, she finds a possible love with a random customer, Diana (Guinevere Turner), in the video store in which she works. This relationship leads to drama with her co-worker and friend, leaving Cheryl with many things to juggle. There is something inherently good about this film. It is a charming, low-budget indie film from the 90s that I’d not heard of prior – but I’m very glad that I have seen it now. The Watermelon Woman earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating. 

June 12th – Crooklyn (1994)

Crooklyn (1994) took priority for two reasons: It is one of several Spike Lee films on the Black Film Canon list, and Spike Lee’s new film, Da 5 Bloods (2020) was about to drop on Netflix. I’m a big fan of working through filmmakers filmography, and I have far too many gaps on my Spike Lee viewing history. This was a major one, so it made sense to check this out prior to watching his new release. 

Lee is prolific as a filmmaker, but diving into his work has made me realize that he isn’t prolific enough. This man has made so many movies – both narrative and documentaries – that have largely impacted culture and have given voice to stories that would otherwise not be known. He has this unbelievable ability to craft characters that feel naturalistic, and yet allow them to break the rules of his own film to directly address the camera, move as if floating with the camera, and just cut away to random things – and still, he makes it all work. Lee has a distinct voice, and Crooklyn is a great way to really see it come to fruition. 

Crooklyn is not only about a black family in Brooklyn, but it specifically focuses on a young Black girl named Troy (Zelda Harris). One could argue that is it more of an ensemble piece, but it becomes very clear later int he film that this is Troy’s story and her perspective of the events that transpire over the months we are with the family. Lee takes a lot of creative freedom in expressing the world that Troy navigates, and finds a strong emotional core. Crooklyn is worth purchasing or renting, as it is definitely a Must See. I can’t wait to move through some of Lee’s other films that I’ve missed.

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