04 November 2018

First Impressions: BlacKkKlansman

Hey folks! I watched BlacKkKlansman (2018) about two months ago - right before my life went totally crazy and I moved like three states away and started a ridiculous new job. But ever since 2009 every single film I've seen in theaters has received an impression. Eventually. This definitely takes the cake for longest drought. I wonder what happened in that movie...Adam Driver seemed good.

Wide nose breathin all the white man's air
BlacKkKlansman comes from Spike Lee, and aligns well with the common critique that this is his best, most timely film in years, a return to vintage Spike and the cunning political attitude that he made his career on. This is very much true, although that kind of attitude tends to ignore the fact that Chi-Raq (2015) exists and he's been back on the map since at least that film. For sure it seemed like he was sliding into mainstream fare for a while there, but he's always a competent filmmaker and storyteller. There will def be SPOILERS for the film from here on out, so go watch it.

This film joins a slew of 2018 Black Film efforts trying to find their way in a world with shifting racism. Black Panther (2018) called out black hypocrisy in a world designed against them. Sorry to Bother You (2018) found this intersection between selling out to capitalism and the exploitation of the Black American Dream. BlacKkKlansman builds on this idea of the acceptance of white voices over black ones and creates what amounts to a moment of moral victory amidst a sea of unchanging racial attitudes.

The film tracks a fledgling black detective in Colorado in the 1970s, played by John David Washington. He's the son of Denzel, but you'd never really know it by watching the film and even though Denzel and Spike have a history that probably got John on Spike's radar, he earns his spot here with a terrific performance. He's always walking a line between his responsibility to his people and the Black Power movement and his role as a police officer, often at odds with his fellow brothers and sisters. It's a difficult position to be in, especially as along the way there's plenty of vile cop behavior, misguided black protest, system and institution failure regarding both, and of course, the constant undercurrent of violent racism disguised as throwing back to core American values.

The movie concerns Ron Stallworth (Washington) posing as a white man trying to apply for membership in the Ku Klux Klan. A white surrogate (Adam Driver) contacts the Organization in-person and hijinks ensue. There are moments of supreme tension as either police officer is on the verge of being discovered and you get the sense that every white character involved doesn't see this investigation as a big deal. They're more concerned with investigating Kwame Ture and young black power movements. As Stallworth finds actual seeds of a nefarious bombing plot against said Black Youth, shit gets real.

This all leads to one of the more perfect movie endings in recent memory. The idiot white nationalists blow themselves up, which is both satisfying and prevents Stallworth from becoming a vengeful black murdercop. We also get a taste of perfection when he finally reveals himself to Grand Wizard David Duke in a brilliant vocal tic that exposes Duke's complete bullshit claim to phrenology-style black voice analysis. Then of course, there's the simple fact that after the bomb plot is revealed, the case just sort of... ends. I can't think of a better metaphor for our current racial strife. We're on to the next controversy without really solving anything.

Like many period pieces, or at least the best ones, this takes place in the 70s as a placeholder for our current day, and the fact that you can see a lot of the same things happening today is exactly the message Spike wants to deliver. He's never all that subtle, and says as much by throwing in footage from the Charlottesville, VA murders of a year ago. Stallworth's final moment of triumph is bastardized by none of the white folk really caring. He wants to keep investigating because, obviously the KKK is still bad news, but in White Society, it's time to move on to the next thing. It's tragic and awful, but feels pretty real. It's a film filled with coded racism bookended by more overt messages from people in White Power. When that veil is unlifted, it's powerful.

Along the way there are a handful of indulgent Spike Lee moments. There's an extended soul music dance scene that feels a bit too long and a few scenes drag on. The cast mostly has it together, and smaller moments from relative no-names like Jasper Pääkkönen and Ryan Eggold as Klansman sell the danger of the film. It's also one of Spike's best looking films. Cinematographer Chayse Irvin doesn't have too many credits to his name (Beyonce's "Lemonade" video may be his biggest), but he does great work with the colors here, making everything both pop and muted at the same time, fitting the film's slightly comic sensibility.

When they first announced this film, I immediately thought it ridiculous that they were making the greatest Chappelle Show sketch into a feature film. This turned into a lot more than Clayton Bigsby: The Movie, though, and it accomplishes a lot of themes at once and remains a movie that's stuck with me these past two months.

25 October 2018

October Rundown

Heyyy


Yeah, I'm still alive. I never get personal on this blog, but suffice it to say that this past month has been crazy. I started a new job three states away, been crazy busy, had trips to Denver, Cincinnati, and Rochester in there - it's a lot.

But ever since June 2009 this blog has had at least one post per month, and although my yearly pace is basically shot now, we need to go through some movies from the past few weeks. Now, it's tough because for a lot these my pre- and post-release hype would be very different. I was really eager for Venom. Then apparently it sucked. Oh well. Here is a list of notable crap I wanted to talk about in the past six weeks:

The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018): I don't know who this film was for - too childish for adults, too scary for children. Also, somehow a Goosebumps (2015)-esque Jack Black movie a month before an actual sequel to that movie came out? Also somehow directed by Eli Roth - this is a big case of "Why Aren't I a Studio Head" and could have just told everyone this wasn't going to work. It didn't have much of a splash, but did alright domestically all things considered.

Hell Fest (2018): Seemed to really try to be a catchy Fall Horror, but landed a little too soon and too soft. Also I saw Blood Fest (2018) this year, which was totally the same movie but way more satirical and clever.

Night School (2018): I actually expected this to be a little bit better - it seemed like a dream pairing of Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart. Is Kevin Hart getting old? The trailers looked pretty funny. Maybe it could be the comedy movie of 2018! Maybe I've been living in isolation the past six weeks (definitely true) and it did alright, but not a huge cultural force. Or I'm just too white.

Smallfoot (2018): What the fuck is this shit? This is literally all I know about this movie. That's how I heard it existed. This, Night School, and Clock in Walls literally all made $65-$67 million.

Venom (2018): Did surprisingly well! All things considered. Did it suck, though? I'm still excited and wanted to avoid spoilers. And this was me not really getting pumped until the trailers came out. Is it kind of lame? Ugh. I'm wondering if it really sucked or just critically sucked. From what I read about The Predator (2018), that movie seemed to genuinely miss a mark it was trying really hard to hit. I'm curious if Venom was similar, but in a vain PG-13 glory. Still, it seemed to have a nice cultural wave.

A Star is Born (2018): It's a really nice moment when a lovely drama makes a big splash and Brad Cooper, GaGa, and Dave Chappelle all killed it. I assume. There are probably other people in this, but Chappelle stood out. It's the Oscar presumptive right now and has a lot going for it. It's one positive thing we can rally behind, from memes, musicals, country stars, it's got a bit of everything. I haven't actually seen it, nor do I really care to, but I'm rooting for it.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018): I did NOT know this existed - the aforementioned Goosebumps is actually super underrated as fine children's spooky fare. It looks like it has not done that well, and the sliced budget and shunted cast aren't doing it any favors. Also - Goosebumps were so totally 90s, man. This could be entertaining in that bored on an October Thursday Night so let's Netflix Some Crap sort of way. That's how I caught the first Goosebumps.

Halloween (2018): I also did not realize that there had been so many renditions of Halloween. Like I definitely forgot about that Busta Rhymes one. I guess on some level I'm aware that Michael Myers keeps coming back again and again, but the Rob Zombie one was 11 years ago! Holy crap! Feels like yesterday. This one is apparently pretty sweet and definitely the 2018 version of IT (2017) - nice Fall Horror that capitalizes on an ancient franchise that still has some life in it. It also had a monster opening. The Shape lives!

First Man (2018): More like First Bland! Nah, this probably has some merit, and it's crazy that Neil Armstrong has never had a biopic besides Kirk Lazarus in Moonshot (2007). It's just not quite what interests me. Damien Chazelle has had some great flicks, but is also now this ingratiated Oscar kid who seems to be checking boxes to get a Best Picture winner. Am I the only one to get that vibe?

Not listed here are BlacKkKlansman (2018) and Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) which I HAVE seen in theaters and will write up...one day. I've written about every film I've seen in theaters for the last nine years and can't stop now! I did see BlacKkKlansman in early September...I hope to remember it. It was memorable.

How was your October?

14 September 2018

GET TO DA CHOOPPARRHH!!

We have two very different releases dropping today, although there may be more linking them than you'd think. Mystery! Threats of violence! Action! Sort of. Suspense! One is a long-awaited hopefully return to form from a franchise that's been up higher and lower than most, the other is Gone Girl 2. I mean, uh, A Simple Favor (2018). Let's start with that one.



Right? This is like...totally just Gone Girl (2014), right? Sure it seems like the novelty of Anna and Blake's meet cute is different, and that relationship sure seems different than Ben and Rosamund, but the core premise is identical. From reading the greatest authority on these matters, YouTube comments, apparently the book source material is very different, so cool. I'll trust you, unbiased commentators.

The film is adapted by Paul Feig, in a pretty radical departure from his usual schtick which has become directing Melissa McCarthy vehicles. I'm very split on Feig. On the one hand I love a lot of his television work on all of the greatest comedies of the past ten years (The Office, Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock), Bridesmaids (2011) remains a landmark comedy film and I'm even a weirdly big fan of Other Space (there are dozens of us!). Lately he seems to have slipped into this female-driven comedy niche, which is fine, except that it's also kind of weird that a female director isn't championing the movement. There's also the simple fact that his latest films aren't all that good, which he refuses to take responsibility for, which to me deflates the whole movement.

To Feig's credit, there have been a lot of copycat films lately like Bad Moms (2016), Rough Night (2017), and Fun Mom Dinner (2017) that prove that it's harder than it looks to do what Feig does, which is namely, any kind of original comedy. To be fair, The Heat (2013) has grown on me and SPY (2015) is okay, but I wouldn't call either great, immortal comedies. At the same time, even when saying Feig on a bad day is a lot better than many other comedy directors, he's sliding into thriller territory, eh?

By all accounts the reviews so far are actually good. I feel like this flick hasn't had all that much buzz, despite having a pretty solid cast and director behind it. Maybe it's the genre shift or the fact that it feels so damn derivative. Or simply that it's a drama / thriller which seems more regulated to be a B-movie on the Lifetime channel than a major release these days. Not one superhero, Paul? What are you thinking? I'd suspect that this film doesn't really do well at all, but maybe it should.

Next we have The Predator (2018), the latest in a long line of franchises that we need to remember and differentiate by pluralization and definite articles attached. For the record:

Predator (1987)
Predators (2010)
The Predator (2018)

Got it? For the record we've also got Predator 2 (1990), Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). These are all lesser movies than the previous ones listed, although I always have a soft spot for the insane things in Alien vs. Predator like the Weyland-Yutani Easter Eggs they tried to drop before Ridley Scott said fuck that with Prometheus (2012) and then the Predator / Human near kiss, which is the greatest sexual tension in movie history. Maybe I'm reading into things that aren't there.



Anyway, Predator is still one of the greatest action movies ever. I could rant about this for a long time. I already have! Predators is actually desperately underrated, with one of the greatest premises ever (and an incredible en media res opening). The cast is phenomenal and although Adrien Brody was definitely a little miscast (eight years on, even being a fan of the movie I had to double check to make sure he was the featured action hero. Like...really?), others from Danny Trejo to some early roles by the likes of Walton Goggins to Mahershala Ali really stand out. That's right - two Oscar winners in this cast.

Sure it doesn't match Predator in terms of sheer body mass or future Gubernatorial candidates, but how could any movie ever. It also doesn't quite match with dialogue, but how could any movie ever. Predator is great because it features a larger than larger than life opponent to fight Arnold, who is already larger than life. It spends the first half as Commando (1985) that everyone forgets about, then the second half as a largely dialogue-free Home Alone (1990) with the ugliest and most fearsome alien in movie history. It's a total treat.

That dialogue may return in The Predator thanks to Shane Black who slides in the directing chair after writing and being a supporting actor in Predator. The cast is also a who's who of current great actors from Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Sterling K. Brown, Olivia Munn, Yvonne Strahovski, and Keegan-Michael Key. It's hot, baby!

Apparently it sucks, though. That's crazy disappointing. Shane Black has had spurts of his career, but I'll be the first to say that The Nice Guys (2016) was actually surprisingly forgettable two years on down the road. He tends to have a lot of flash, style, and creativity, but not a lot of that sticks with you. Even Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) I might dare say is an incredible time in the moment and a true screenwriting feat, but doesn't quite contain the pathos for sustainable cultural longevity.

Anyway, I suppose this franchise as a whole has a low bar to clear. If there are some iconic gruesome action scenes it'll all be good. Maybe we need another Predator equivalent, that is, a whole new action film that can drop and be as surprising, as well crafted, and as original as the original instead of continually coming up with Super Predators. Like, one normal Predator was enough for Arnold, why do we need a Super Predator to kill Jacob Tremblay? Anyway, I still hope to see it and get something out of it, even if it's just some wacky stupidness.

What do you think? Are you seeing the movie that looks terrible but may be good or the movie that looks great and may suck?
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