Thursday, February 19, 2015

[Review] Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

When he isn't delivering a big studio outing, Spike Lee takes on these independent projects that are more reminiscent of his earlier film career. His latest joint of that sort, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a remake of a 1973 film called Ganja & Hess. It's a lot like 2013's Red Hook Summer in that it's overlong and oddly structured, but even with its downfalls, it still gives you a lot to chew on.

Lee's signature is immediate from the film's opening credit sequence of primary colors and break dances atop an outdoor basketball court's New York Knicks logo. From there, we're taken to church during a sermon about putting down the vices. This is where we first meet the main character, an archeologist named Dr. Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams). At the story's jumpoff, Green is stabbed to death by an ancient dagger, only to come back to life with a thirst for blood. Actual blood. Or so it seems. Through the film's campaign descriptors and promotional interviews, Lee has emphasized that this is NOT a vampire flick. And while we can still view at as a vampire flick that is more in the vein of Only Lovers Left Alive, this mostly means the bloodthirst provides different meanings.

The script carries a bunch of multi-interpretational meditations and subtext on various forms of addiction, whether it's drugs, adultery, or wealth. It explores the differentiations between passion and needs, and just where, why, and how these addictions are instilled. Lee casts his lenses through race, religion, class, and the subjects' relations with social oppression.

While the visuals are kept consistently on-point and well-framed, the story itself loses its spunk and potency as it progresses, sometimes feeling like a slug-paced soap opera (with a few gruesome cuts). Green continues to do vampire-like things, working his way through metaphorical checklists in monotone fashion. But aside from a few jolts, there's too much listlessness for this to fully hit.


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