BlacKkKlansman

Release: Friday, August 10, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Spike Lee; Charlie Wachtel; David Rabinowitz; Kevin Willmott

Directed by: Spike Lee

BlacKkKlansman is one wild ride. Loosely based upon the 2014 memoir of the same name (minus that little ‘k’ that writer/director Spike Lee threw in there), it recounts the experiences of an undercover black police officer in the late 1970s, when he cozied up to a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in an effort to bring them down from the inside. Despite the foul regions of humanity it must poke and prod around in, BlacKkKlansman proves to be a mightily entertaining movie. It’s intermittently even beautiful, but more importantly it’s alarmingly relevant.

In 1979* Ron Stallworth made waves by becoming the first black officer hired to the Colorado Springs Police Department. In the film he’s portrayed by an unflappable John David Washington (son of action superstar Denzel Washington), sporting a classic 70s ‘fro and an earnest face that has commitment to duty written all over it. It wasn’t a smooth transition of course. Not all members on the force wanted him around, like Master Patrolman/Major Asshat Andy Landers (Frederick Weller), who’s introduced as a kind of primer to the pleasantries we can expect later on.

Having the good fortune of working for Robert John Burke’s open-minded station chief, he eventually gets handed more meaningful work when he’s assigned to observe a rally that is to take place at Colorado College, where prominent civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, a.k.a. Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins, powerful) is set to deliver a speech addressing the escalating tensions between black citizens and police officers nationwide. There, he runs into a Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of the Black Student Union. Harrier creates in this fictitious character a headstrong young woman, someone in whom Stallworth finds a reliable source of information and possibly something more. Spurred into action due to the harassment she and her peers have had to contend with on a daily basis at the hands of bigoted cops, Dumas is a staunch believer in retribution, rather than the more “diplomatic” tactics her newfound brother is trying to engage in. If only she knew.

The story of Ron Stallworth is one of dueling identities, not so much metaphorically but in an actual physical sense. The overarching reality is that he’s an officer sworn to protect and serve, but in order to do those things he will also become a rising star within the ranks of the white brotherhood. When he makes detective, it becomes his mission to pull out the weeds of hatred by their roots. To beat the Klan, he’ll have to join ’em. Finding a recruitment ad in the paper, Stallworth calls up Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), the president of the Colorado Springs chapter, and in a profanity-laced rant, pitches himself as the next-in-line to help “make America great again.” Watch as the heads in the precinct turn, including those of his soon-to-be inside man Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver — I love this guy) and underling Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi).

Breachway wants a face-to-face, but there are obvious complications — a major one being the fact that the newbie detective used his actual name over the phone. (He is, however, mindful enough to disguise his “black voice.”) So Stallworth will send Zimmerman, a non-practicing Jew, into the field as him. Two Stallworths, one ballsy mission, absolutely zero fuck-ups allowed. The newly-minted White Stallworth is swiftly integrated as one of them good old boys, with standouts being Finnish actor Jasper Pääkönen as the intensely suspicious Felix and Paul Walter Hauser’s dumber-than-a-box-of-bent-nails Ivanhoe.

From here, strap in and hold on for dear life as we stroll into the living rooms and basements of some of the most hateful people imaginable. As Zimmerman gets in deeper, finding himself doing and saying things he never imagined, the morality of the mission becomes further complicated. The writing team envisions Stallworth as a force for good but stops short of painting him an out-and-out hero. Occasionally he seems reckless in the pursuit of justice — perhaps more so than if it were actually him being threatened to take a lie detector test. As Zimmerman puts it after a close call, is this really anything more than a personal vendetta? Meanwhile, the threat of something big about to go down, as vaguely hinted at by Felix’s wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), makes it pretty clear the composited Stallworth has little option but to continue apace.

As BlacKkKlansman is a film largely informed by attitude and ideology, you expect Lee’s righteous anger to be ever present, and it is — that real-life coda at the end leaves little doubt as to how the writer/director feels about the progress we have made since the days of the Civil Rights marches. What you might not expect is for the film to also be amusing. If it isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, there are moments of such gratifying uplift that feel just as good as a fit of the giggles. The comparatively calming presence of producer Jordan Peele is undoubtedly responsible, and nowhere is that felt more than in a scene of glorious comeuppance, wherein an accomplished Stallworth finally gets to stick it to the man (“the man” in this case being KKK grand wizard David Duke, played by a very good Topher Grace). It’s a real team effort as far as realizing that tonal sweet spot, pinning you somewhere between being entertained and plain horrified.

* the film takes several dramatic liberties with its content, but the biggest edit is the timeline on which the events take place. In the film, Ron Stallworth joined the force seven years prior, in 1972. this was done in observance of the re-election of president richard nixon.

“Yo, what’s good man?”

Recommendation: Spike Lee’s latest is a bombshell that arguably saves its actual drama for the final few frames. While the events of the film are sent up for entertainment purposes, what’s also clear is that this is one of the outspoken director’s most urgent and unmissable works. Powerful stuff. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 135 mins.

Quoted: “With the right white man, we can do anything.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.collider.com

Decades Blogathon – She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

 

Be sure you don’t miss Movie Man Jackson’s take on the 1986 Spike Lee Joint ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ over on Three Rows Back!

three rows back

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30-for-30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks

'Winning Time - Reggie Miller vs the New York Knicks' movie poster

Release: Sunday, March 14, 2010

[Netflix]

Directed by: Dan Klores

When people talk about Reggie Miller, arguably the greatest to ever put on a Pacers uniform, they only seem to focus on two things: the New York Knicks and Knicks superfan Spike Lee. It’s never about Indiana, the very state and legacy Miller’s cold-blooded three-point shooting was designed to protect; nor is it ever about the controversial decision to draft him over local favorite Steve Alford in 1987. No, it’s always about how much fun it is watching Reggie struggle, and fail, to win games set in Madison Square Garden.

Acclaimed documentarian Dan Klores (Crazy Love) attempts to catch Reggie in a bottle in this highly amusing, high-drama profile of one of the most bitter and intense rivalries in league history: that which pitted the humble rural fans of Indiana basketball against the polished, urbanized Knick faithful in the quaintly nicknamed series “The Hicks Vs. The Knicks.” Winning Time: Reggie Miller Vs. The New York Knicks may be a title that leaves precious little to the imagination, but there’s still a lot to discover here for fans who have let this chapter in NBA history get away from them.

How many remember the shadow Reggie had to crawl out from under, his immensely talented older sister Cheryl, who happened to drop 100 points in a single high school game? How many recall the Forrest Gump-like beginnings he had to overcome, relying heavily upon leg braces for much of his childhood? I mean it’s just too easy to forget after a sensational career like his that he wasn’t even supposed to be able to play. What of the charitable bets Spike and Reggie exchanged before one of the games: if the Knicks won, Reggie would have to visit Mike Tyson in prison (incidentally located just outside of Indianapolis); if the Pacers won, Spike would give Reggie’s then-wife a role in his next film. Ah, such beautiful symmetry.

Winning Time wastes precious little in constructing the stage. Reggie, the notorious trash-talker that he was, is first seen locking horns with would-be alpha male John Starks, by all accounts one of the Knicks’ great shooters, but one who made himself easier to distinguish because of his head-butting Miller in the middle of a packed Fieldhouse (a move, by the way, that did nothing to quell the ravenous Indiana fanbase). Then, a montage of other players with whom Reggie’s had run-ins — watch Michael Jordan being restrained from killing him.

Then the narrative turns the spotlight on the Knicks and their tough, physical style of play under head coach Pat Riley, infamous for refusing to allow his players to fraternize with the other team at any point during the season. The Knicks’ penchant for physically abusing opponents necessarily meant any playoff series featuring them and the Pacers (who combined for a 104 – 60 record over the ’94 and ’95 seasons) was bound to get nasty. Throw in Reggie’s ongoing feud with Spike on the sidelines and you officially have a party. His relationship with the filmmaker came to define not only that playoff run but the Pacers-Knicks rivalry of the ’90s, and it’s a narrative that nests itself cozily amongst all the other drama.

You’d think with a title like Winning Time there’s something to be said for the Pacers’ failure to make the NBA Championship series the year they triumphed over the Knicks, but apparently there such things as moral victories. It’s made abundantly clear Reggie doesn’t measure success based on championship series drama, the number of titles won or how many rings he has. To the uninitiated, this might come across a strangely vindictive process, but all that really mattered is what mattered to Reggie and that was putting a city that never sleeps to bed.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

Reggie Miller choke on it

Recommendation: One of the better offerings in 30-for-30‘s first volume of titles, Winning Time: Reggie Miller Vs. The New York Knicks is, in the broadest sense, a psychological evaluation of an intensely competitive mind. It’s also quite adept at analyzing fan psychology, using the high-profile Spike Lee as a lightning rod. A highly entertaining package.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 78 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pacersgear.com; http://www.sneakerhistory.com