BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Blackkklansman

Phillip “Flip” Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is somewhat suckered into Ron Stallworth’s (John David Washington) plan of infiltrating the local branch of the KKK.

It should come as no surprise that the brilliance of BlacKkKlansman is mainly because it is made by Spike Lee. Not only could this movie be made well by another director, but I don’t think any other director would have guts to make it.

Set in the 1970s, the film tells the true story of a new African-American police officer in Colorado (which I never once thought of as being a state with racism) named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, real life son of Denzel). After some time of working in the records room, he gets his chance at going undercover. He eventually finds himself convincing a KKK member (Ryan Eggold) to give him a chance at becoming a member. It is here where he enlists Flip (Adam Driver) to cover for him in the person to person meetings, while Ron handles the phone conversations. It works so well they even get to convincing the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke (a nearly unrecognizable Topher Grace, and not just because he has a mustache). There is also a side romance between Ron and Patrice (Laura Harrier), a local college student known for being vocal about her race.

If reading this review (or seeing the trailer) has made you feel a little guilty on laughter, don’t worry, because there will be a lot of it. The characters know they are in a situation that is ludicrous, but go thru it anyway. There are many characters that do come across as somewhat stereotypical, mainly that of the married couple Felix and Connie (Jasper Paakkonen and Ashlie Atkinson, respectfully). Still, there are others who do actually seem like they are right in their life choices, even if that is racism.

All the acting is stellar. Washington does show some signs of his (arguably more famous) dad, but still makes it his own performance. I am now becoming more and more convinced that Adam Driver will be able to have a much more standout career as a talented actor and not just the guy who killed Han Solo (I would say spoiler, but you should know this by now). One of the most dramatic moments comes when two characters are making speeches. The first is David Dukes (again, was that really Topher Grace?), and the second is an old African-American survivor telling his story of racism. He is played by Harry Belafonte, who gives a prime example of making a great scene out of little screen time.

Parents, the movie is, of course, rated R (as almost every Spike Lee film is). There is no sexual scenes (just talking) and some violence. The R rating is mainly due to the language (mainly the N word, which is spouted an infinite number of times). I would say High School and above, but I should mention I did see at least one child in my screening who could not have been more than ten years old.

Now to the ending of the film, which is one that will be talked about for a long time. True, it does get political (it should not surprise us how Lee would feel about President Trump, especially when you see the cameo in the first five minutes of the film). Nevertheless, the film does end the way it should, stating that this problem of racism and hatred is still rampant today, and is right in front of our eyes.

Kind of reminds me of that quote from Rodney King.

Overall: Five Stars *****

Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky

The Logan Brothers (Adam Driver and Channing Tatum), discuss a very elaborate plan…

Surprises are aplenty in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, a film that is proof that a script is still the most essential ingredient to any movie made.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that that the film’s screenwriter, Rebecca Blunt, is perhaps not even a real person. Only through emails did communication with the “author” of the script ever occur. Regardless, it is some very strong writing.

The film opens in West Virginia, where a divorced man, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), is spending time with his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie). While dropping her off at her mother’s (Katie Holmes) house, Jimmy finds out that his ex is moving across state lines with her new husband (David Denman), making it more difficult for Jimmy to see his daughter (he has just been laid off his job in construction).

After a talk with his one armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver, showing us no signs that he is also Star Wars‘ Kylo Ren), he comes up with a plan to make money to afford seeing his daughter: rob the money being made at the NASCAR speedway where he has been working construction. To say the plan is meticulous is an understatement. I don’t know how long Blunt (or whoever wrote the script) spent, but it is well worth it.

There are others in the film that help out along the way, including two hillbilly brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson) who only agree to help if it is for “moral” reasons. And while the movie does show some other celebrity cameos I did not expect (nor will I ruin), the best (and most surprising) is clearly Daniel Craig. His Joe Bang is an explosions expert, who not only plays a character that can go over the top, but is even subtle when he needs to be. I doubt I am alone when I had a hard time remembering that this is the same person who played James Bond.

Parents, the movie is PG-13, and it is mainly for some swearing (maybe an F bomb or two). There is no sexual content (despite a character telling another they are about to get  naked and not look), so I would totally say Middle School and up would be fine.

My only real problem with the movie are a few minor details, thinking that the plan may have been “too thought out”. It would be something I would have to watch the movie again in order to explain properly.

Luckily, Logan Lucky is a movie that is worth multiple viewings, the type you will find new things every time you watch it.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars The Last Jedi

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and BB-8.

No one can overstate the fandom of the Star Wars Universe. Even so, regardless of how many times you have seen the movies, the amount of books you read, the hours of gameplay you have spent on KOTAR (Knights of the Old Republic) and the Lego versions, and even if you know the difference between a fambaa and a Tauntaun (actual creature names in the Star Wars Universe), you are still going to be surprised by Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The dialogue from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) says it best:

“This is not going to go the way you think!”

Set right after the events of The Force Awakens, this film (Episode 8) shows the rebels under attack and virtually cornered by the first order, led by Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Despite efforts by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and others, the rebel’s star ships seem to be running low on fuel and are at the end of their rope. Still, hope is still being held onto, mainly by Leia (the late great Carrie Fisher, whose final film performance both melts your heart and warms it at the same time). Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has finally found Luke Skywalker, but getting him to join the fight is no easy feat.

That is all I will say of the plot, because I would never dream of dropping any spoilers. I can say that this film does seem to be in a class of its own in the Star Wars franchise. It has shown us parts of the force we have not experienced before. Yet where it differs, the similarities are still there (there are vibes you get of The Empire Strikes Back as well as Return of the Jedi). There are twists we do not see coming, and I was shocked many a time during the film. That is a positive thing.

Obviously, the film is a technical marvel. It is so wonderous to see that, even after all these years, the Star Wars films can still give us imagery that we have not yet seen (the same goes for the music, done, once again, by the legend that is John Williams.) The credit of taking a risk with going in a different direction has got to go to director Rian Johnson (who also helped write the screenplay). This even includes some unexpected, yet delightful humorous moments.

The Last Jedi does have some faults that keep it from the likes of Episodes 4 and 5. The movie is long (the longest, in fact, of the franchise, at 2 1/2 hours). There is also a character played by Benecio Del Toro (undoubtably an amazing actor) who, I feel, was totally redundant to the film. His character, DJ (which really seems a little odd for a Star Wars film, somehow) is in a situation to help the rebels, but that situation alone was awkward writing in the first place.

Still, we get some fresh new faces that add to the franchise that are more than welcome. The two stand out characters are Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a rebel fighter helping Poe and Finn (John Boyega), and Vice Admiral Holdo (the always wonderful Laura Dern). All these characters (and others) get at least one moment in the film to shine (some of which will have you applauding).

Parents, if your kids have seen at least one other film in this franchise (and if they haven’t and are old enough, what are you waiting for?!?!), they will be fine here. There is no nudity or sex, just some mild swearing and (obviously) action.

As of this review, there is a vast difference in opinion between critics and the public (as is normally the case). It is strange, however, that the critics seem to like it a lot more (at the moment, 93% of critics liked it, while only 63% of the audience liked it). Upon reading the reviews from the latter, I realize a lot of people are upset that certain questions are not answered. Personally, I feel not all questions need to be answered in a movie (I still don’t know how one can explain Anakin’s birth, and have yet to see where Yoda came from). It is up for interpretation, meaning The Last Jedi will require many a viewing.

 

Something I will gladly do.

 

(Minor spoiler) I liked the film so much I did not even realize that, by the end credits, they did not say the line that is always said in the Star Wars films. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” I can almost forgive them for not saying it.

 

Almost.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Silence (2016)

silence

Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) trying to spread hope, as well as gain it.

Movies can be divided into two categories: ones you can watch over and over again, and the others that are best watched at least once. If I had to pick which categories to put Martin Scorsese’s newest classic, Silence, into, my first gut reaction would be the latter. It is brutal, gritty, and hard to watch much of the time. Yet it is also a movie that has so many moments that are open to interpretation that you would need to see it more than once.

The story seems simple, yet when it is a Marty Scorsese movie, it is always so much more than that. During the 1630s (and when was the last time you saw a movie made during that time?), two missionaries named Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, who had a great 2016 after working with Mel Gibson on Hacksaw Ridge) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) venture out to Japan to find their mentor Ferreira (Liam Neeson). There are obviously great set pieces and beautiful imagery, but the situation that these two are in take any hope out of it. The authorities are cracking down hard on anyone proclaiming themselves to be christian. Even a hint of it in your life would mean your death, unless you were willing to step (“trample”) on the image of Christ.

The title of the movie holds many meanings. For one, it is about how Rodrigues and Garrpe seem to think how Silence is the only thing they have responding to their prayers. On the other  hand, it could also mean that the movie itself has (as far as I could tell) little musical score, if any at all. All we hear are wails of Christians dying, the waves of the sea, the drops of rain (and sometimes blood), panting from exhaustion, and so on.

The acting is extremely effective. It would be hard for you to watch this movie, and think that it is about Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and “the Amazing” Spider-Man going to save Qui-Gon Jinn/Oskar Schindler/Bryan Mills (Taken)/any of the other roles we associate with Liam Neeson. Instead, you are thinking of how these two young priests are starting to realize, little by little, that they are going in way over their head.

Parents, it should come as no surprise that this movie is definitely not for kids. There is no sexuality (some rear end nudity of the Japanese), or really any swearing. It is mainly due to the violence, which is generally revolved around the torture that the citizens have to endure. High School and above only.

I admit the movie does tend to go on a little bit, but it still does not change my view that Silence is another movie to mention in Scorsese’s immaculate resume (I admit I have not seen all of his movies, but who can argue against titles like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or Goodfellas?) Silence also proves its title with the effect on the audience. No talking, no cellphones ringing, just the still audience absorbing the screen (there was a time when I had to move my hand to make sure it was getting circulation.)

It may have come out just at the end of 2016, but Silence is still clearly one of the year’s very best films.

 

Overall: Four and a half Stars **** 1/2