A Secrets and Lies (1996), Criterion Channel
Mike Leigh’s unique way of working with actors brings out the best in everyone in this small story of a family in multiple crises. Maurice is doing well as a photographer; he knows how to bring out a smile among his customers. But he’s having trouble with his marriage. His older sister, Cynthia, a factory worker much lower on the economic ladder, cries easily, and has a horrible relationship with her deeply angry 21-year-old daughter. But the big secret comes when a daughter Cynthia gave up for adoption ages ago comes looking for her birth mother. Sad, powerful, and yet with more than a touch of optimism.
Cinephiles like to talk about long takes, such as the opening of Touch of Evil, filled with show-off camerawork and choreography. But Secret and Lies, a film without technical flourishes, has my all-time favorite long take. For nearly ten minutes, two women sit in front of a locked-down camera, and while the visuals are static, it’s an incredible piece of acting.
A- Da 5 Bloods (2020), Netflix
Spike Lee’s Vietnam adventure sags a bit early on, but turns into an exceptional adventure tale on the level of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Four Vietnam veterans, along with the adult son of one of these adventurers, go to modern day ‘Nam in search for gold they left behind long ago. But as every movie lover knows, gold changes people for the worse. Lee playfully references other war movies, including Apocalypse Now and The Big Red One. Delroy Lindo gives a striking performance as a man whose love of gold gets the best of him. One major problem: The characters seem to be too old in the flashbacks and too young elsewhere.
D The Nutty Professor (1996), Vudu
I’ve felt for years that Jerry Lewis came up with a brilliant idea in The Nutty Professor: Make the good Dr. Jekyll physically ugly, while the evil Mr. Hyde is handsome, sexy, but horrifically narcissistic. But Lewis ruined this great idea with clumsy execution. Believe it or not, Eddie Murphy’s remake is even worse than the original. Almost everyone overacts, and the unfunny fat jokes and worse fart jokes just become tiresome. One of these days, someone should make a version as good as the original concept.