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Spike Lee
Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson
Writing Credits:
Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott

A modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 127 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 1/26/2016

• Deleted Scenes
• Extended Scenes
• “The Making of Chi-Raq” Featurette
• Music Video
• Previews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Chi-Raq (2015)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 20, 2016)

With 2015’s Chi-Raq, Spike Lee gives us an update on the classic Greek play Lysistrata. Set in Southside Chicago, we see the violence that impacts the residents on a daily basis, as murders become an all too common occurrence there, largely due to gang activities. In particular, we see the battles between rivals the Trojans and the Spartans.

After a stray bullet slays a child, 20-something Lysistrata (Teyonah Paris) comes up with a novel solution. She enlists other female residents to “go on strike”: they won’t have sex with the local men until the Trojan/Spartan violence comes to an end. We follow their crusade and its impact.

Now pushing 60, no one can accuse Spike Lee of mellowing with age – or for a change in his cinematic MO. With Chi-Raq, the director’s typical strengths and weaknesses come on display.

On the negative side, Lee continues his preference for heavy-handed editorializing. Chi-Raq uses its first six minutes to give us a song about inner city violence and then a litany of statistics.

Even when the movie ostensibly starts, it hammers us with its intended message – and we’ve yet to meet any of the characters yet! Lee doesn’t need to shove his ideas down our throats – he can get into the material in a more gradual, subtle manner but still have the film work as well, if not better.

That said, I admire Lee’s desire to use his art for a purpose beyond money and/or basic entertainment. Love him or hate him, he puts out films meant to serve a broader goal.

But does he succeed? Sometimes, but in the case of Chi-Raq. no – not at all, unfortunately. In earlier films like Do the Right Thing, Lee walked a fine line between brash filmmaking and over the top editorializing, but he created such a vivid, provocative experience that any flaws fell by the wayside.

We see no signs of that filmmaker in the borderline incoherent Chi-Raq. This isn’t a movie – it’s two hours of ranting and editorializing, without any semblance of art or nuance on display.

Oh, Lee tries desperately to create something creative, especially in the manner he features dialogue. Chi-Raq gives us lines that tend toward rhyme, and that sounds like an interesting idea – one obviously influenced by the Greek source material - but it doesn’t work. The dialogue comes across as silly and contrived, as the rhyming material lacks a purpose beyond pretension.

The rest of the movie exists to promote its message. Of course, no sane person could object to the anti-violence goal behind Chi-Raq, but the film exists as such an absurd, self-satisfied exploration of its concepts that it does nothing to push its agenda.

Lee shows no self-restraint, as he indulges every whim that occurs to him. This leaves Chi-Raq as a rambling mess, without any form of coherence or logic.

A sensible film would develop its characters as it explored the ramifications of the “sex strike”. However, Chi-Raq meanders from one barely connected sequence to another, and these fail to make much sense.

For instance, at one point we get a very long funeral scene. This comes with an extended musical number that makes no real sense and then goes to an even longer rant from a preacher to a strange satirical segment in which Lysistrata taunts a racist military officer to a piece in which older women join the cause.

That run makes even less sense in the film than it does in my synopsis. Every once in a while, the film comes back to its main story, but it goes off on so many pointless tangents that it all collapses under the weight of its own illogic.

Chi-Raq comes with a good cast and an admirable message, but it fails as a film. Too dim-witted to be good satire and too unfocused to be worthwhile as a story or emotional experience, Chi-Raq indulges its creator’s whims without enough purpose to be anything more than a rambling mess.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C-

Chi-Raq appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a strong transfer.

Sharpness looked fine. A few slightly soft elements appeared, but the majority of the film appeared accurate and well-defined. I saw no moiré effects or jagged edges, and edge haloes remained absent. Print flaws also failed to interfere with the image.

Spike Lee may be unconventional in many ways, but that doesn’t translate to his choice of palette, as Chi-Raq went with Basic Orange and Teal. As much as that choice left me cold, I couldn’t complain about the execution of the hues, as the tones looked fine. Blacks were dark and deep, while shadows seemed smooth and clear. This became a strong presentation.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it offered a reasonably involved experience. As expected, the scenes with violence used the spectrum in the most active manner, as those brought information from all around the room. Music also utilized the various channels in a broad manner.

Audio quality seemed positive. Speech was concise and natural, while music appeared full and vibrant. Effects showed accurate, distinctive elements. This never became a great mix, but it worked well.

The Blu-ray provides a smattering of extras. The Making of Chi-Raq runs four minutes, 11 seconds and includes comments from writer/director Spike Lee and actors Teyonah Parris, Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Cannon, Anya Engel-Adams, Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack, and Angela Bassett. We get basics about story/characters and Lee’s impact on the production. A few details emerge but this mostly feels like an advertisement.

13 Deleted Scenes last a total of 16 minutes, 46 seconds, while four Extended Scenes fill a total of 24 minutes, seven seconds. Most of these expand secondary characters, but some develop Lysistrata and Chi-Raq as well.

None of them seem crucial, but they manage to add a little depth to the story. I assume they got the cut because the end result favored “social commentary” over story/characters. The deleted material emphasized drama over lectures, so I guess it didn’t fit Lee’s vision.

Finally, we find a music video for “We Gotta Do Better” by Kevon Carter. The video gives us a simple lip-synch format that adds reflections of those who have died due to city violence. This should be powerful but the song’s lyrics are so clumsy that it doesn’t work.

The disc opens with ads for 1982, Free Angela and Dear White People. No trailer for Chi-Raq appears here.

At his best, Spike Lee creates involving films that comment on social issues in smart ways. Chi-Raq finds the director far from his best, as it embraces his most self-indulgent tendencies and results in a melodramatic, silly experience. The Blu-ray offers very good picture and audio along with a smattering of bonus materials. Chi-Raq ends up as one of Spike Lee’s weakest movies.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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