BlacKkKlansman Review

I’ve recently had the pleasure of sitting down to watch Spike Lee’s latest hard-hitting film, BlacKkKlansman. Crammed into a nearly sold-out cinema full of anxious moviegoers, I underwent one of the more pleasant theater experiences of my recent memory. Not only for how respectful and participatory the audience was, but also because of how fascinating the film turned out to be.

Surprisingly based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman stars the unlikely protagonist Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black police officer in early 1970’s United States. Eager to make a name for himself as the first African American in the department, Stallworth concocts a plan to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. His plan? Well, join them of course.

To go through with his ridiculous plan, he enlists in the help of his more seasoned colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). With a black man communicating by phone and a Jewish man physically playing the part, they miraculously fool the blockheaded KKK, yet still run a high risk of blowing the undercover investigation.

Together, Ron and Flip discover a serious threat by the Klan that could result in the deaths of several civil rights leaders, and it seems they’re the only ones who can stop it.

BlacKkKlansman doesn’t hit you over the head with its unique style in the way a Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino film might do to a mainstream moviegoer. Rather, it establishes an oddly laid-back, humorous, Blaxploitation-esque mood, with finely-paced camerawork and a reliance on brass instruments for the soundtrack. Those with the eye for it will notice the stylistic choices that differ from typical modern films of this nature.

Much of the humor in the movie derived from how profane and exaggerated the racial insults were, including many tongue-in-cheek references to modern day politics. This brand of comedy works well in this situation, primarily because the clever writing and acting give way to dedicated performances and believable deliveries. Reaction shots of David Duke (Topher Grace) acting like an ignoramus often got big laughs from the audience, and Adam Driver and companies’ insults were so over the top the audience couldn’t help but laugh.

But as we learn very early on, BlacKkKlansman isn’t all fun and games. We open the film with a monologue by Dr. Kenneth Beauregard (Alec Baldwin) explaining the science behind white supremacy. While this scene is inherently funny due to the goofy way Baldwin portrays this so-called scientist, there’s a dark undertone that lingers throughout the rest of the picture.

It re-emerges again later in a particularly poignant scene where the KKK watch a special showing of the historic blockbuster Birth of a Nation; all while a couple miles away an elderly civil rights activist shares his gruesome experiences with the Black Panthers. The camera switches back and forth between the black and white romanticisation of the Klan and the horrifying realities of racism. Very chilling.

In the same vein, we’re given an interesting array of prejudice, and the many shapes and sizes it comes packaged in. There’re outright bigoted ruffians with a chip on their shoulder that you can point at and say, “That’s the bad guy!”. Then you have more finely dressed, seemingly sophisticated types whose hate boils just beneath the surface. The kind of individual you’d bump into on the street and are none the wiser to their personal beliefs.

Those with a facade of sophistication are more capable of perpetuating those hateful views through subtle displays of racism and political sleight of hand, and the ruffians are more apt to act violently on them. It’s a vicious cycle that grows deep, and Spike Lee conveys it with tenacity and conviction.

And just about when the credits were ready to roll, we’re instead greeted by graphic imagery from the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally of 2017. It’s a grim, horrifying display, and a departure from the stories’ pre-established mood. The message couldn’t have been hit home harder.

Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Isle of Dogs Review

After the critical success of his 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox, Director Wes Anderson decided to give animation another go with another smashing hit titled Isle of Dogs.

In a (hopefully) distant future, dogs have become the societal scapegoat of Japanese culture. Suffering from overpopulation, dog flu, and numerous other ailments, the Japanese government chooses to exile all dogs in the country to Trash Island. A very literal name for an island formed completely out of garbage.

Here we enter the twelve-year-old orphan Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), who manages to travel to the island in search of his banished dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Along his journey Atari meets a gang of dogs on the island, led by a particularly stubborn dog named Chief (Bryan Cranston). As Atari and his new friends attempt to locate Spots, they must avoid capture by the Japanese government, who seeks to end the canine problem once and for all.

Everything about Isle of Dogs is in some way fast-paced. The quippy jokes, bizarre exposition, and hasty story all come shooting at the viewer like lightning, surely catching many by surprise. Even the speed of the animation itself felt like someone backstage hit the fast-forward button before the film began. All the characters move with such immediacy and deliberateness that it captivates the viewer almost automatically.

This is in no way a hindrance to Isle of Dogs and is in part why this film works so well. The quickly dished out jokes give it a distinct, dry sense of humor; and the exposition is rushed simply because there’s so much to get through. Nonetheless, it doesn’t throw you through a hoop and the backstory is actually quite fascinating.

The rapid animation, coupled with Wes Anderson’s unique style and imagery, keeps the story moving in even its slowest points. While Isle of Dogs is mostly stop motion, many of the shots are set up to appear on a two-dimensional plane. And when the camera and characters do slow down, it nicely emphasizes that the scene you’re watching is important. Usually this is done to build the relationship between Atari and Chief and is actually very effective.

So, with that in mind, it isn’t hard to believe that the characters that inhabit Isle of Dogs are incredibly memorable. Each with a unique voice performance from many prominent actors and actresses. A few of the most noticeable voices were Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, and Edward Norton, who all acted so delightfully you’d have thought they were born to voice a bunch of dogs.

This canine dystopia is, first and foremost, intriguing fun. Telling a heartwarming story about man’s best friend and poking harmless fun at totalitarianism all in the process. The minimal use of music, clever storytelling, and crystal-clear vision of Anderson make for an unforgettable film experience.

I had an exceptionally great time watching Isle of Dogs and will surely return to watch it again.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

It Review

The choice to remake a popular horror film is far from a new concept. And with Hollywood’s recent drought of creativity, the horror genre has become stale, boring, unexciting, and lacking any passion from the filmmaker’s end. Occasionally something unique will slip through the cracks (It Comes at Night comes to mind), but more often than not we get unoriginal slop (Poltergeist (2015), Rings, Annabelle, and so on).

So, when I heard we’d be getting another film of Stephen King’s It, I was fairly certain that It would fall victim to the same level of incompetence as its peers. Yet, in a surprising turn of events, just the opposite occurred. Rather than getting a boring, run-of-the-mill remake, moviegoers are being treated to a highly appealing horror flick with a terrifying antagonist and talented cast.

Set in the quaint town of Derry, Maine, an evil entity preys upon the fearful youth. Often appearing in the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), this entity awakens every twenty-seven years to devour the children of Derry. However, when some of the neighborhood children (labeled as the Losers’ Club) band together, their friendships and fears are put to the ultimate test. Facing off against an evil force with power unlike anything imaginable.

It was delightfully scary in the utmost creative and unexpected ways. The film went with a mix of tension building, creepy moments, as well as quick jump scares that are followed by loud spikes in the sound. The jump scares were pretty standard and didn’t get the strongest reaction from audiences. The scariest scenes of It were when the film took its time building suspense through creepy imagery, all leading up to great payoffs featuring Pennywise the clown (whose eerie demeanor completely stole the show in every sense of the word).

Not only a terrifying horror flick, It contained a clever narrative on the struggles of teenage adolescence. Each character in the film was dealing with some sort of real life dilemma, such as a hypochondriac parent, grief, and child abuse. This not only gives our unlikely heroes motivation, but makes them feel all the more genuine, resulting in the audience connecting with them more. Even the stereotypical bully, a character whose writing I was fully prepared to loathe, had a tragic backstory that gave him more depth.

The dialogue and personalities of the child actors reflected how young kids might actually behave. Incredibly foul-mouthed and crude, they felt less like Hollywood twerps and more like normal everyday children.

While a few characters here and there could’ve had a little more time devoted to them, I’m really stretching to find issues. The reality is that It is a fantastic work of fiction, with dedicated filmmakers striving to make a movie that entertains viewers. With plenty of grotesque scenes, memorable performances, and a great use of camera angles, I think there’s enough here for just about any horror fan to be completely satisfied.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint