‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’
No one but Spike Lee can make Spike Lee movies. Even when he does a remake, and one that’s sometimes scene-for-scene, it could still only come from Spike. Tackling the ’70s black vampire cult classic “Ganja & Hess,” he tells of a moneyed doctor (Stephen Tyrone Williams) who shares a lust for blood with his mate (Felicia Pearson) as they hold up on his Martha’s Vineyard estate (40 acres, but no mule, as he points out). Funded on Kickstarter after his semi-fumbled attempt to play nice with “Oldboy,” it’s Lee working with no one and nothing to hold him back, except for his limited budget. (It does look more handsome than his last no-money affair, “Red Hook Summer.”) Even for a Spike Lee joint, this doesn’t always fit together. Sometimes it’s stiff (Williams is a beyond remote lead), sometimes it’s wild (the music cues are nuts) and sometimes, as in a molasses-slow seduction scene, it’s just right. The jaggedness has always been part of the appeal when it comes to Spike, and it’s thrilling seeing where this look at black wealth amongst white society will go next.
‘An Honest Liar
Like Harry Houdini and Penn and Teller, James Randi — aka “The Amazing Randi” — is a magician who doubles as a professional skeptic, exposing the lies of not only other magicians but the bigger fish who try to fleece us all. Still a rapscallion at 86, Randi gets his own Great Man doc, which charts his trajectory from a TV staple to, as his body started giving out, a joyful killjoy. His long, tireless bout with “psychic” Uri Geller — who used to claim, among other things, that he could actually bend spoons with his mind, not merely do a fairly simple trick — gets the bulk of the film, and his failure to utterly destroy him gives a 101 doc a deep undercurrent of melancholy. No matter how many people Randi and others convince to anguish over global warming, the public will always fall for convenient lies.
‘Penguins of Madagascar’
You don’t have to have seen any of the three “Madagascar” films to get something out of its seriously loopy spinoff. In fact, maybe that’s ideal. Opening with a Werner Herzog gag, this nutty lark pits our three penguins (voiced by no one remotely famous) against a dastardly octopus voiced by no less than John Malkovich, whose mission is to turn all lovable, cute penguins into hideous freaks. Why? None of it matters. What does matter is its love for non-sequiturs and strange wordplay, as in a running gag that turns celebrity names into verbs (e.g., “William, hurt them”). It’s not top-shelf animation; it’s more like the tossed-off fifth film in a series from the ’30s, where the only m.o. is to make ’em laugh.