UnderkKkover Brother (BlacKkKlansman, 2018)

blackkklansman_posterAccording to Jordan Peele, it took a bit of work to convince Spike Lee to take on the role of director for this film. Well, not to much… He sent Lee a copy of the memoir of Ron Stallworth, the Black Klansman.

It really is one of those stories that seems so insanely weird it almost cannot be true.  But Ron Stallworth is a real guy, the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police department. And in the 70’s, itching to advance his career and take down bad guys, he struck up a relationship with the local chapter of the KKK., eventually, this crawled up the ladder to include ongoing conversations with David Duke over the phone.

Of course, there was the little snag that Stallworth is a black man…and that might have stood out a little.  And so the dDepartment decides there is a worthwhile investigation here. So, a white officer, Flip Zimmerman, is recruited to play White Ron.

Lee sees how absurd and humorous this appears on the surface.  And he plays that up a lot. But Lee also saw something deeper at play…a notion that today, we are seeing some of the same evils bubbling to the surface in the present. And the film is not subtle about it.

John David Washington is terrific.  He is both real and performers.  What I mean is that his performance can be very personable and real, yet turn on a faithless charm when Ron is playing the Klan for fools. Adam Driver is more muted…there is no real over the top behavior called for here. Washington and Driver have a good chemistry as men who begin as simple co-workers, but develop a strong bond due to needing to…in a manner…share a life.

The supporting cast is excellent.  From Laura Harrier to Topher Grace, we get a certain tongue in cheek, but not mere cartoon characters.

Lee uses some real visual flair in the film, adding a bit of a larger than life feel in some scenes.  But never at the expense of storytelling.

The film certainly takes some liberties (for example, David Duke did not find out that Ron Stallworth was black until around 2013) and yet, it did not detract from the story overall. Flipp is not a Jewish man in real life, but it added a certain effective story point within the film and gave a bigger story arc for Zimmerman.

Admittedly, the film does seem play it safe.  There is only one racist cop, the rest are, at worst, race agnostic. So, the racism functions outside the institution. This has a side effect of making the black activists represented by Harrier’s Patrice Dumas as being to unfair in their perceptions of the law. It is one bad cop, not the whole department.

However, BlacKkKlansman is a very entertaining and thoughtful film, and its shortcomings do not prevent the film from having a real impact.

The Bigger They Come (Kong: Skull Island, 2017)

Kong-Skull-Island-PosterKing Kong and variations on the Giant Ape concept are older than even Godzilla.  Kong: Skull Island has opted to not re-tell the story of King Kong.  Instead, this is a new story.  Not new in the sense of it completely new territory.  You have the mismatched band of explorers arriving on Skull Island, encountering monsters and natives.

The film opens in 1944 where an American and Japanese pilot crash land on Skull Island.  They fight until they stumble on a frightening sight that changes everything for them.  The film jumps to 1973, with soldiers about to leave Vietnam.  They are brought in by the mysterious Monarch company as a military escort on a top secret mission to visit and explore a newly discovered island.  The company has also brought along an award winning anti-war photojournalist and a tracker to help then go through the wilderness.

Of course, the mission goes very wrong.  Hope that does not spoil anything.

Really, the film sets everything up at a fast pace.  They give you what you need to know without giving the film a chance to get boring.  And unlike previous Kong film outings, the filmmakers introduce us to Kong very quickly.  No hiding him, just Kong smashing helicopters.

The characters are engaging to various degrees, though John C. Reilly is the strongest and most memorable.  Samuel L. Jackson is…well, Samuel L. Jackson.  I found myself liking Hiddleston’s James Conrad and Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver…but I must admit, most of what separates the characters is who is performing them.  You also know which soldiers are “important” because they get a lot of set up, while most of the soldiers are just “people to die”.  Of course, they also give Jackson his motive for wanting to destroy King Kong.

But the truth is, I found Kong Skull Island a lot of fun.  Yes, the post credit scene confirms that Legendary has plans of a “Giant Monster-verse”…and Kong Skull Island serves the purpose, in part, to set it all up (It is supposedly connected to 2014’s Godzilla film as well, with the tie being the Monarch organization).  But I did a far better job of still telling it’s own story than some other attempts to create a shared universe franchise.

Really, Kong Skull Island is no game changer, but it is a lot of fun.  Visually, it is good, and the digital monsters look great.  The cast is great and make for an overall very entertaining film.

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