Film Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Also known as: Black Klansman (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2018 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Nicholas Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte

Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, QC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Focus Features, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Darn tootin'” – David Duke

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. I have to get that out of the way because it’s probably going to sound like I’m overly critical of it, as I continue on in this review.

First and foremost, it was a solid, interesting story with actors that I thought handled the material well. In regards to Adam Driver, this was the first thing that I have seen him in where he wasn’t Kylo Ren or that stupid Logan Lucky movie that made me want to burn the theater down. I really got to see his legit acting chops on full display and I was impressed. He lived up to what other people have told me about him. Well, mostly girls that wanted me to watch Girls. No thanks.

One major thing about this film is that it is based on a true story, the biographical account of these events by the real Ron Stallworth, the main character in the film. The problem, which happens with many Spike Lee movies, is that the director takes some tremendous liberties and sort of uses the real story as a basis to weave his films the way he sees fit, whether honest, accurate or not.

One major moment in this film is the big jab at the end where Stallworth calls David Duke to reveal that he was a black man the entire time. This never happened and Duke wasn’t ever privy to Stallworth being black until it was revealed to him in an interview in 2006.

Another issue I have with the film is that it works perfectly as its own tale but once you get to the end, it immediately switches to real world footage of the 2017 Charlottesville incident. I understand the parallels, everyone does, this film does a great job of painting the picture that Spike Lee needs to get his message across but the switch to modern real world footage is jarring. I know that it is supposed to be jarring but it isn’t jarring because of the incident itself, which is still very fresh in the public’s mind, but because it cheapens the film from an artistic standpoint. It’s heavy handed and forcibly shoehorned into the film in a way that cheapens the effect of Spike’s own picture, basically saying, “Hey, if you don’t get the message after this 135 minute beautiful film I did, than here’s a hammer to the face just to make sure you got it.” Spike Lee is talented enough to make films that speak for themselves and can lead his audience where he needs to without the hammer to the face. And this also looks like he has a lack of confidence in his own storytelling abilities; he shouldn’t. This worked without the exclamation point.

Additionally, this movie was released almost on the one year anniversary of the incident, which means it was already being made and Lee decided to tie it into Charlottesville after the fact or that it was made as a response to it and rushed out, which gets into some of the technical problems the film had.

Most of the film flowed well but there are some key points where I noticed clunky editing and transitions as well as bad audio management. Sometimes it felt as if something got cut from the film, it jumped to the scene after and the transitions were already done so they didn’t really bother to smooth out and polish the later cuts from the film.

Another thing that bothered me was Lee’s apparent lack of environmental awareness. I’ll give two examples.

One, when Stallworth is following the Klansman on a dark country road at night, the Klansman is able to see that a black man is behind him. I’ve driven on dark country roads. You can’t see the face of the person behind you, all you can see is their headlights. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t made into a somewhat important plot point that had an effect on three different scenes.

Two, when Stallworth is watching the Klan meeting towards the end of the movie, he’s watching from a second story window overlooking the meeting room. He is in direct view of David Duke, who is on the stage giving a speech. Every time they show the back wall with the windows you can see the silhouette of Stallworth’s head with it’s large afro. There’s no way that Duke wouldn’t see this while pontificating out to the crowd and while probably paying attention to his surroundings, as he has had threats and is under police protection.

I’m not sure if Spike Lee just doesn’t care about these details, as just telling the story is most important, or if he just didn’t think these scenes through. Again, maybe the film was rushed to try and get it out on the anniversary of Charlottesville.

Another thing that I disliked and it isn’t just in this film, it’s in a lot of films, is that it portrays the vast majority of KKK members (and general bigots) as buffoons. I’m certainly not defending those scumbags but I think in doing that, it dumbs them down in a situation where you need to show how much of a threat they actually are to all people and society as a whole. Are many of them dumb rednecks? Most likely, but playing some of them up for comedic value just makes them bumbling idiots and doesn’t really display them as beacons of pure evil. Granted, I thought Topher Grace did a good job in the role of David Duke and the local president of the KKK also played the role straight but they were the only two.

However, why the hell did Spike Lee cast Nicholas Turturro as a KKK member? Turturro is Italian as fuck and I am also part Italian and I’m pretty sure the Klan didn’t like us either. I guess Spike always needs a Turturro in a movie but this wasn’t the right spot for him and he stuck out like a sore thumb talking and jiving like a Little Italy gelato shop owner.

But enough griping.

I really enjoyed John David Washington as the star of this film. He hasn’t done much but he proved that he is an actor more deserving of bigger roles. Also, Laura Harrier was fantastic and the only other thing I’ve seen her in is Spider-Man: Homecoming. This role was a big jump for her but she knocked it out of the park and hopefully, gets more prominent roles after this film. I also might be crushing hard on her after this.

Back to Adam Driver, he was the focal point of the most challenging scenes in the film and he really steals the picture when he’s present. A lot of the material had to have been difficult but he nails it and carries the bulk of the film on his back.

Spike Lee crafted a pretty good movie, the running time was a bit long but he tends to do that. Initially, it wasn’t as preachy as I thought it would be. Well, at least until the blunt instrument to the face in the last few minutes, but the film made its point very well without him needing to spell it out in all caps like an angry twelve year-old girl tweeting about a breakup.

But, in the end, this was refreshing in a summer full of blockbuster duds.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Spike Lee movies: Do the Right ThingMalcolm X and Bamboozled.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Release Date: June 28th, 2017 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green, Martin Starr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Evans, Paul Rudd, Jennifer Connelly, Hannibal Buress, Kenneth Choi, Selenis Leyva

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.” – Aunt May

For lack of a better word, Spider-Man: Homecoming was amazing.

While it isn’t a perfect film, it is the best that any of the Avengers related properties have produced in awhile, minus the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Finally, we get a Spider-Man that looks and feels the appropriate age. Tom Holland was magnificent and a perfect choice to play Peter Parker and thus, Spider-Man. Tom Holland brought something special to the role and he was the first actor to truly feel like the Spider-Man of the comic books.

Bringing Spider-Man into the bigger universe that has already been established by Marvel was long overdue and thankfully, the famous webslinger fits right in. The chemistry between the young Holland and veteran Robert Downey Jr. was uncanny. I hope we get to see them come together more often in the future, even if Downey Jr. feels like his time as Iron Man is winding down. Ultimately, even if Avengers: Infinity War fails to deliver like its two predecessors, at least these guys will make it fun. Assuming they aren’t an afterthought with all the heroes that are getting squeezed into that picture.

Michael Keaton stole the picture, though. He played the villainous Vulture but only went by his real name: Adrian Toomes. It was cool seeing him play the bad guy and it was a stark contrast to him being the hero in the Tim Burton Batman films from 1989 and 1992. He was chilling and bad ass and was the best on-screen villain for Spidey since Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin back in 2002. Keaton may have surpassed Dafoe overall but Dafoe was just pure intensity and a maniac, which worked really well for his character, fifteen years ago.

We also get other appearances by other Marvel characters. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, in his first appearance since the solo Iron Man films. Gwyneth Paltrow also makes an appearance as Pepper Potts. We even see Chris Evans in some really funny cameos as Captain America.

The film also gives a few small roles to some of my favorite people from television. Silicon ValleyParty Down and Freaks & Geeks‘ Martin Starr plays a teacher. Other teachers are played by Kenneth Choi from Last Man On Earth, Selenis Leyva from Orange Is The New Black and Hannibal Buress.

The plot of the film benefits from not being an origin story. Spider-Man already exists with his powers and how he got them is just casually mentioned and then the movie moves on. Everyone already knows the story, just like any future Batman films don’t need to show Bruce’s parents being murdered.

The movie is about Peter Parker becoming a hero. Not just a masked vigilante but truly learning and understanding what it takes to be a real Avenger. There is friction and tough love from his mentor Tony Stark and for good reason. This picture is really Spider-Man’s training wheels. It is his first big test to see if he has what it takes to stand alongside Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk and the others.

Everyone in the film did well with their roles. The story was entertaining and there was a good balance between action and the coming of age drama that fans can expect from a Spider-Man story. It doesn’t get bogged down in the romance side of things and Parker isn’t chasing either Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane in this version.

There is a good twist in regards to his romantic relationship in the film but that relationship is just used to add a bit more weight to the bigger story and the emotional and heroic development of our beloved main character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming may fall a bit short for some when compared to the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies but I think it stands above them. It is more genuine and closer to the roots of the comic series, especially the old school stories. Plus, seeing him enter into a larger universe opens a lot of doors for what’s next for the spectacular wall crawler.

Also, comic book fans will probably be happy to see cameos from villains the Shocker, Scorpion and the antihero Prowler.