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 Hunter or the Hunted? Pt 9 (Predators, 2010)

PRED_B-ALT_Eng1sht (Page 1)After the second film, the Predator series went dormant.  The alien hunters only saw the screen in the “team up” Alien vs Predator films.  It was not until about 2009 Predator was announced as getting it’s own new film.  It was spearheaded by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn, Sin City) and was referred to often as a reboot.  The problem with the tendency to treat every film as a remake or reboot is that it is not always clear what a particular entry is.  These days, people tend to refer to a new film in a franchise as a reboot, even when it is in continuity.  Admittedly, it is a little unclear here.  Nothing discounts the previous two films, but they are not really acknowledge in reference (# 2 made reference to the first film).

It does however feature the original Predator design along with a much bigger and more aggressive version.

Anyways, whether this is a new start or simply a new installment is not that important.  What we have is a group of people who find themselves falling from the sky.  They apparently had not planned this themselves.  As things unfold, we find that the most common trait the group has is they are mercenaries, soldiers, mob enforcers and so on.  There is one odd man out named Edwin who is a doctor.  He seems meek (but very smart).  He is played by Topher Grace, so, you know something is up with him.  Adrien Brody plays mercenary Royce.  Royce takes on the role of defacto leader, convincing everyone they need to work together.

After encounters with strange animals, they start to try and find safety, only to realize they are not on earth.  Unlike the previous films, the people being hunted have been dropped onto a planet that functions as a big game hunting preserve.

This does make for an interesting idea, though it is basically a jungle like the first film.  The new Predator design is good, building off the previous design in a way that is sleeker and more threatening.  While the film strives to have lots of surprises, in the end, there is not much new here.  The humans are picked off by the predators in violent and bloody fights.  But it is pretty straight forward action, and pretty predictable.  Frankly, it feels like the franchise may have hit a wall, and truthfully, I don’t know that people will care all that much about it.  The second two films are not strong enough to pretend this is a trilogy.  It is just a decent action film followed by two okay sequels.

Stretching the Web (Spider-Man 3, 2007)

Spider-man_3_PosterThe Spider-Man franchise is one of the first super-hero films to feature it’s entire series with the singular vision of a specific director.  Raimi did a good job with the first one and a spectacular job with the second film.  It still stands as a high watermark for the superhero film genre.  Three is a bit more…complicated.  There is a Spider-Man comic for Marvel to publish.  The Complicated Spider-Man.

We open with Peter telling us just how awesome his life is.  He has a hot girlfriend who is successfully performing plays, school is going excellently, he has money.  It is here where we get our introduction to Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is apparently doing pretty well in school herself.  Peter runs into Harry at MJ’s play.  Peter is contemplating proposal, especially after a night of star watching with MJ.  It is a fun use of powers in the scene as they lie next to each other in a giant web.  Unknown to Peter, a meteor crashes near by and a black goo crawls out…it appears to have some sentience, as it leaps onto Peter’s scooter.

We get introduced to Flint Marko, played by the talented Thomas Haden Church.  He has escaped prison and snuck into his home.  In a nice bit of back-story, he has a daughter whom he loves very much, and the crimes he committed were to try and help her.  Raimi was very good at finding human connections for the villains in all three films.  You could sympathize with their motivations.  On the other hand, There is Harry Osbourne…who is becoming a cartoonish revenged obsessed guy.  I get that they want us to see him as a tragic figure…becoming his father, whom he always wanted to please.  But it seems he is suddenly a technology genius he never was in the previous films.

Meanwhile, Peter declares his intentions to propose to Aunt May.  As usual, Rosemary Harris hits it out of the park, reminiscing about when Uncle Ben proposed to her.  Peter leaves feeling hopeful-only to be hit by a flying snow border.  Yes.  You heard me.  Just like the terrible Green Goblin costume, the the Hobgoblin costume is terrible, only worse.  This is rather stunning to me, because for all the efforts to visual fidelity by Raimi?  Both Goblins look as distant from the comics as you can get.   Great actor choices (both Defoe and Franco) and terrible outfits.  They have a elaborate fight, that actually looks pretty good, and shows Peter has become quite skilled in his role.  He manages to take down Harry-but almost kills him in the process.  When he wakes up in the hospital, he has no memory of anything…that Peter is Spider-Man, how his father died, or that he was angry with Peter.

Meanwhile, Marko is on the run from the cops.   He slips into a field used by a testing facility and falls into a pit.  Suddenly, he hears something starting up.  We then meet the worst scientists in the world.  They notice a change in the mass, but shrug it off as a bird who will fly away.  So, then they just continue the experiment.  Marko is horrified as he seems to dissolve into dust, when the cops reach the pit, there is nothing there.  This results in him coming back to life as living sand.

And so on and so on.  The film goes through great effort to introduce character after character.

Peter is struggling to keep his relationship with MJ afloat, while getting a swelled head from all the love the public is giving him.  Not to mention her concern that he never mentioned lab partner Gwen Stacy.

The film does the comic book trope of Retconning.  This is where a story introduces some knew historical fact that we never knew about.  Here it turns out that Flint Marko was the actual killer of Uncle Ben.  This fills Peter with anger and thanks to the alien symbiote that has attached itself to him.

In a great moment, Peter thinks he has killed Marko and visits his Aunt May to tell her Marko is dead.  But her reaction is confusing for Peter.  She is not happy.  And when he tells her that Spider-Man did it, she is confounded…because she knows Spider-Man is no killer.  She was not seeking revenge, it is a dangerous path.

Peter becomes more and more selfish, mocking his friends, using other people.  And in showing this, we are witness to one of the worst sequences of the entire franchise.  Peter walks down the street, chest puffed out.  Women are looking at him with desire.    He then sees pics of Spider-Man robbing a bank.  Peter goes to the Bugle.  He shows proof that Brock doctored the photo.  He get’s Brock fired.  Peter is unmerciful, telling Brock if he wants forgiveness?  “Go get religion.”  This is last part actually a good moment…but it is surrounded by Peter acting cocky to seventies funk music.  He buys a slick new suit, steps into the street with pelvic thrusts.

Now, it is meant to show us that the suit is changing Peter…making him more confident and aggressive.  An alpha predator.  But instead, most of it is totally goofy.  We even get an embarrassing dance sequence.  In the end, Peter realizes the suit is causing him to change and decides it is time to be free of it.  Once he does, the symbiote finds the already angry Eddie Brock…the end result is Venom.  This film has three villains, between Hobgoblin, Sandman and Venom.  While Peter takes Harry out mid way through the film, it is to late to avoid the bloat.

The first thing that stands out to me in this film?  It is pretty obvious that Venom was forced on Raimi.   Venom is shoehorned in at the end, almost as if it was an obligation and frankly in a pretty clunky fashion at that.  In the comics, Eddie was Peter’s opposite.  He was a massive musclebound guy.  The film opted more for a funhouse mirror image approach.  Topher Grace is small and skinny, not unlike Peter.  He is really Parker without the ethics.  It works pretty well, for all it’s briefness, Grace makes Brock come off as the guy continuously reaping what he sows-but seeing himself as a victim of life.  It is all about how other people ruined his life.  Topher plays Brock as pretty creepy by the end…at one point, he is holding onto MJ, and says to Peter, “My Spider Sense is tingling…if you know what I mean.” and is motioning towards his crotch.  Grace works with what he has.

As the Sandman?  Church is perfectly cast.  He looks like he walked off the page.  He really is the Sandman, and is pretty sympathetic, while being a credible threat.  And the Sandman effects are terrific.  It is clear Raimi really wanted to use the Sandman, and his love of the character is obvious.  They really show off the possibilities of such a power.  The effects in general are great.  Lots of fun Spider-Action.

The supporting cast is solid as usual.  The regulars, such as J.K Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks and Dylan Baker are there.  We also have James Cromwell and Bryce Dallas Howard.   As usual?  Simmons hits it out of the park and gives some of the film’s funniest moments.

As for the Stacys, Cromwell gets almost no time, so there is no real sense of what Stacy is about.  We know he is Gwen’s father, but he has almost no relationship to Peter or Spider-Man.  Gwen is used in a criminal fashion.  While Gwen moons over Peter Parker, she lacks a solid identity.  The writers use her as a mere plot point to interfere in Peter and MJ’s relationship.  I am a little surprised Raimi went along with this, but it really is disappointing.  Bryce Dallas Howard looks terrific as Gwen, but she is barely a character.  And she just disappears from the film.

Also disappointing?  The black suit is just the Spider-Man costume painted black.  It would have been nice to have at least seen the big white spider on the chest.

But what really hurts this film?  It is just ridiculously over populated.  We have three villains, separate motives and stories.  You practically have two or three films worth of stuff.  Really, it would have been better to give the the symbiote the story of Spider-Man 3 and make Venom the villain in number four.  And it is unfortunate that they tried to cram in so much that no story point really gets to be dealt with in a satisfying way.  It is so much, every story gets cheated.

Raimi ends his trilogy with a “Meh” instead of a “Hooray”…and that is unfortunate.  After the heights of number 2, this film just feels so…messy and the result is it feels a bit mediocre.  Oh, it has it’s moments, but nothing ever comes together.

Coasting to the End(Playing It Cool, 2014)

Playing_it_CoolThere is a lot about Playing Cool that makes me want to like it.  The cast (both lead and supporting) is comprised almost entirely of actors I like a lot.  The film has some nice ideas it is playing with.  It has some clever visual moments.

But the pacing and the storytelling?  That is where it falls flat.  And it keeps it from being a movie I truly enjoyed.

That it is a cliched tale of a screenwriter (Chris Evans) who does not believe in love, but then meets that one amazing woman (Michelle Monaghan)…but she has a boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd).  He seeks the advice of his friends and family (well, his grandad, played by Phillip Baker Hall).  These characters are fairly well designed.  There is the gay best friend Scott (Topher Grace), obligatory art performer girl secretly in love with the lead (Aubrey Plaza), disillusioned married buddy (Luke Wilson) and Oddball Played by Martin Starr.

The film tries to attack these cliches, but rather ineffectively.  And there are numerous attempts at big emotional beats.  Yet, the film never really earns these.  I did not get the draw between the leads, everything was a rough sketch.

What makes this painful is the film has terrific imagery.  Whenever Evan’s screenwriter starts getting philosophical, the film gets interesting to watch.  There is a terrific scene where the Screenwriter (Evan’s and Monaghan’s characters are simply credited as “Me” and “her”) starts mocking the notion of there being “someone for everyone”.  He talks about how there are those people who are such social misfits, there is no way they could find someone…but he is surprised by how many of them do.  The picture becomes more colorful and vibrant, except for Evans, who is now black and white.  There is an animated sequence where Grandad tells the tale of how he pursued the woman he loved (an outlandish tale of swimming an ocean, riding wild horses and so on).  Evans talks about how his heart has let him, and stands in the background chain smoking.  And we see Evans off to the side, smoke billowing from every pore, like Humphrey Bogart.  The movie is wonderfully expressive at times.

As a said, I like the cast.  In a fun bit of casting, Anthony Mackie is Evan’s agent (kind of a business wing-man).  The cast is well chosen for their roles…

But the movie takes so any shortcuts, it never earns the big emotional beats and revelations.  “Me” realizing who he would spend the rest of his life on a boat with after reading his friend’s (Grace) favorite book?  It feels empty…it should be this hopeful and uplifting moment, but the film skips so much it feels rushed…except it somehow manages to slow down to a crawl, especially when focused on Evans and Monaghan.  The film is full of ideas, and some pretty lofty intentions.  But it jumps past what it needs to invest in.  There is no sense of a real life for these characters.

The writers have only two movies (both Chris Evans films) to their writing credit and this is Director Justin Reardon’s first full length feature.  I see some genuine potential in all three, but this film is not a ideal final product.

The creative style and cast make me want to like this movie.  The cliches and lack of depth make me disappointed that it does not live up to those things.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑