erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2018 posts

Tuesday September 04, 2018

Movie Review: Big Brother (2018)

Review of Big Brother with Donnie Yen


It sounded like fun. The new teacher for ne’er-do-well kids in a poor Hong Kong neighborhood is Donnie Yen, Ip Man himself, who, when the kids act up, or when gangs threaten the school, breaks out the gongfu. It’s “To Sir, With Love” meets “Iron Monkey.”

I was also intrigued by what ne’er-do-well kids in a Chinese movie are like. Turns out:

  • Two brothers have an alcoholic dad, so one escapes into video games, the other into Ritalin
  • One girl feels like her dad doesn’t love her so she wants to race cars
  • A Pakistani kid wants to sing but remembers when others kids laughed at him because his Cantonese was good even though his face was dark, so he can’t
  • One boy schleps for a local gang

There’s also a fat kid but he’s just fat; he gets no backstory.

As bad as all that sounds? It's worse than that. 

When Henry Chen (Yen) first shows up in class, none of the kids pay attention. So he pays attention to them. Individually, he asks after their interests. They don’t care. To be honest, they seemed more spoiled than underprivileged. 他们不是乖孩子。 So he activates the fire-safety sprinklers, dousing them all, while he smiles, self-satisfied, beneath an umbrella.

The next day they try to get him back with the water-bucket-over-the-doorway trick. It’s like they’re the Katzenjammer kids. And of course it doesn’t work. He kicks the bucket across the room, dousing them all in the process. They’re amazed but not particuarly curious. They should be saying “Wow. Who the fuck is this guy?” But no.  

Oh, then he solves all of their problems. All of them. Like that

He gets the Pakistani kid up on stage. He gets the girl to race go-karts with her dad; and when she crashes, Dad, thinking she’s dead, breaks down, sobbing, saying how much he always loved her, and she overhears. 当然。The most clichéd problem and insulting resolution is the alcoholic dad. He comes homes from what little work he does and demands the kids buy him booze. Then one day Mr. Chen sends the class on a field trip to a rehab center. And guess who’s speaking? Dad! Not sure when he decided to give up drink—the night before?—and if this is what the Chinese do instead of AA meetings. Is it supposed to help addicts? Bare your soul to some high school kids who don’t know shit. What step is that—lucky 13th?

The gang kid story is the most convoluted. He lives in a shack with his sweet, obtuse grandma who sells things on the streets. When he steals the gold lighter of a gang boss (Yu Kang), he’s beaten up and then forced to join the gang. His first test? To drug an ultimate fighter who refuses to take a fall for the money. But the kid isn’t sly about it, the fighter’s manager catches him in the act, and all of them force the kid to drink a lot of water (????), and then shove him in a locker. They’re high-fiving each other in the loutish way of foreign villains in Hong Kong movies when Chen shows up, figures everything out, and takes them all on. He’s defeating 5, 10 of them, including eventually an ultimate fighting champion, and when he momentarily loses the upper hand, they do that loutish high-five thing again. Really? As with the kids, none of them wonder, “Hey, who the fuck is this guy?” Wouldn’t that be more interesting? That curiosity?

Anyway, Mr. Chen solves the kids’ problems (“The White Shadow” wishes he were this involved in his students' lives) and we’re about 30-45 minutes in. So what’s going to happen now? Well, we finally find out who the fuck this guy is.

The incident with the ultimate fighter leads to a news story, and the journalists do the due diligence the school didn’t. They get Chen’s backstory. Turns out he’s a former U.S. Marine.

Chinese movies have an odd love for the Marines, don’t they? At one point in “Wolf Warrior II,” Leng Feng, its jingoistic hero, admits U.S. Marines may be the best fighting force in the world before adding, “But where are they now?” The implication is that America cuts and runs. The implication here is the exact opposite: America fights forever. Our wars never end. That’s why Chen—in a not-good flashback—leaves the Marines; he gets worn down. Then he walks the earth, as Jules said of Kwai-chang Caine. He tries to find a purpose again. He’s also being followed by an eagle—to which, sure—and he remembers eagles always return home to nest. So that’s what he does. He returns to the secondary school he was kicked out of so he can teach kids like he was back then. It’s “Welcome Back, Kotter” meets “Restrepo.” Except awful.

What are the movie’s other conflicts?

  • The school needs to do well in the national exams or fold
  • Gangsters want to demolish the school for a development deal

All of this comes to a head on the same day. The gangsters take the students hostage so they can’t attend exams. But Mr. Chen to the rescue. 当然。Turns out the gang leader is the kid Chen beat up back in the day, hurting his hand and making it impossible for him to play the piano. That’s why he's a gangster. As we all know, the fallback position for any classical pianist is a life of crime.

But it all ends well for him and for everyone else onscreen. Just not for me. By the end, I was exhausted by how stupid it was.

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Posted at 12:48 AM on Sep 04, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Thursday August 30, 2018

Movie Review: The Island (2018)


Four people, all Chinese, watched a screening of “The Island” with me at the Regal Cinemas in downtown Seattle last Thursday. When it was over, I wanted to ask, “什么意思?” What does it mean? What’s that all about?

In the past, if I had such a question after watching a movie from China, it was invariably cultural in nature. This is more. “The Island” is a mix of “Lost,” “Lord of the Flies” and “Swept Away.” It’s the darkest comedy I’ve seen in a while and definitely the darkest comedy I’ve seen out of China.

Team building
Review of the Island: 一出好戏It starts simple. Ma Jin (Huang Bo, “Lost in Thailand,” directing for the first time) is a down-on-his-luck dude with big dreams and big debts. He pines for ShanShan (Shu Qi of “The Assassin”), his way-too-beautiful co-worker, but she doesn’t give him a second glance. She’s way too beautiful.

One day, during reports that a meteor might strike the earth causing giant tsunamis, his company is on a team-building morale event—one of those “Ride the Ducks” things on the ocean—when Ma learns his latest lottery ticket has come in: $60 million! He can barely contain himself. He’s celebrating, singing karaoke in front of the bus, when they suddenly encounter a giant tsunami. Amid ocean liner wreckage and a frisky giant whale, the bus/boat is tossed and tumbled and winds up broken on the rocky shore of a small, deserted island. Everyone is stunned, horrified, in tears. Particularly Ma. All that money—gone.

Right away we get a bit of “Swept Away” (or is it “Lord of the Flies”?), as the busdriver, Wang (Wang Baoqiang, Tang Ren in the “Detective Chinatown” movies), figures out how to get food, water and shelter, then begins to lord it over everyone. The old boss, Lao Zhang (Yu Hewei), is humiliated.

Ma, still holding onto his winning lottery ticket, which must be redeemed within 90 days, plots to get away. He builds a raft with his agreeable, somewhat dim cousin, Xiao Xing (Zhang Yixing, AKA Lay of the hugely popular boy band EXO), and off they go. They find nothing but a dead polar bear floating in the water. When Ma wakes again he’s back on the island, and is beaten and humiliated by Wang, who, with everyone agreeing that the world has ended, and they’re all that’s left, now considers himself their absolute ruler. That’s the first stage.

The second stage is the comeback of the old boss. Lao Zhang has found an upended cruise ship on the other side of the island, with supplies and fishing nets, and half the group follow him there. His rule is more corporate than primitive. Playing cards become a form of barter used for goods and services—and he has all the cards. Meanwhile, Ma, who has exiled himself with Xing, counts down the days until the lottery ticket is worthless. On that day, fish fall with rain from the skies. Ma considers it a gift from God, a way of making up for the lost lottery ticket. That’s when he plot his own power move—trading the fish to his hungry colleagues for seemingly worthless devices like smartphones. After Xing repairs a generator, they’re able to charge up the phones, and Ma and Xing begin to sell hope in the form of old family images. I.e., As Wang was the primitive leader and Zhang the corporate one, Ma becomes the religious leader. He is revered.

The fact that all of this is happening during the aftermath of a team-building exercise is the film's great unstated joke. 

Wo bu xihuan ni
Much of the movie is extreme and over-the-top. Everyone shouts, the people are sheep, security forces come and go.

How “Swept Away” does it get? A bit. A buxom woman becomes willing concubine to Wang, while a professor creates a system to spread out the gene pool by having the few women have babies with as many men as possible. He’s shouted down. Later, the buxom woman jumps rope, or some such, while men ogle her. The Chinese today are less like Italians in the 1970s, than Brits in the ’60s: cleavage crazy.

I did laugh out loud a few times. Early on, Ma finally comes clean to ShanShan. Back in the office, he was the one who was giving her those secret gifts. “Why didn’t you tell me you liked me?” she asks. There’s a long pause, he hems and haws, and paws at the dirt. Then he finally says it: 我喜欢妳: “I like you.” As he’s barely finishing the sentence, she immediately responds with: 我不喜欢你: “I don’t like you.” It’s click-boom. The timing is as perfect as in a Jackie Chan fight.

Of course, they wind up together, and Ma is happy. So happy that when he, Xing and Wang discover a cruise ship gliding through the water on the other side of the island, lights on, fireworks sparkling—meaning the world has not ended—he conspires with Xing to keep it all quiet. They tell the others Wang went crazy, imagining a ship, and thus when he returns, superexcited about the ship, no one believes him. They chase him and give him a primitive electro-shock treatment.

But Ma’s conscience gets the better of him, particularly after ShanShan talks up how truthful they are with each other. Except by now, his dim cousin, Xing, has learned the cold-blooded lessons of achieving power, plots to talk all of Lao Zhang’s wealth and then leave everyone on the island. So Ma conspires with Wang to light their broken cruise ship on fire as a signal. There’s this great moment when Ma, pursued through the woods, falls off a cliff. And as he’s floating down, he sees their broken ship on fire, and the new cruise ship, seeing this, diverting its course to come rescue them. He smiles. I expected that would be his end. I thought he would be dashed on the rocks. The movie might have been better for it.

Instead, he plunges into deep water, wakes on the shore with ShanShan nearby. Everyone else has been rescued. She stayed behind to find him. Sweet. The camera pulls back and the credits roll.

And that’s when it gets really weird.

Breakup Buddies assemble
During the first credits sequence, we see our company members, our team builders, post-rescue. Their story is now famous, and Zhang has already monetized it by making the island a tourist destination.

Except ... Ma has won the $60 million, Xing is in an asylum, and Ma sees its inmates walking in a circle wearing the same kind of striped clothing they wore on the island. So ... was it all just a fantasy? That would explain the fish from the sky. But if so, whose mind were we stuck in? Xing’s? All of them? And if it didn’t happen, how is Zhang monetizing it?

And then we get a second credit sequence, which, I’ll assume, takes place before anything we’ve watched. It’s Ma and Xing on the metro, dreaming of riches, while a bystander, played Xu Zhenng, Huang’s “Lost in Thailand” and “Breakup Buddies” co-star, listens, rolls his eyes, then makes a disparaging comment about them on his phone. That’s it. It seems to exist for the cameo. It certainly doesn’t clear anything up.

And maybe that’s the point. The Chinese movie title is not the Chinese version of “Island.” It’s《一出好戏》, which translates roughly as “A Good Show” or “A Good Play.” That last character, xi, also means “trick,” so one assumes a pun is involved—implying something fake: jiade. The question remains: Who’s doing the tricking? And on whom?

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Posted at 01:27 AM on Aug 30, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Wednesday August 29, 2018

Movie Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)


I was bored. Sorry. 

I misread the title, too. I thought it meant “crazy and rich” rather than, you know, “super rich.” Although I’m sure the author of this series, Kevin Kwan, meant both.

Even so, there’s not nearly enough crazy in “Crazy Rich Asians.” There’s not enough unique crazy. It’s same-old. The matriarchs are steely and plotting, the married men philandering. The young women are catty and go on insane shopping sprees while the young men are loutish and rent expensive boats for booze- and bikini-clad-girl-filled parties.

And a perfect couple runs through them.

Essentially our titular Asians escape the confines of racial stereotypes only to get trapped in the rom-com kind. Progress, I guess.

Steely Matriarch 3
Crazy Rich Asians movie reviewThe perfect couple is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU economics professor, and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), the scion of a freakishly wealthy Singapore real estate/development family. In Singapore, he’s like JFK Jr., but with a financial rather than a political legacy. Oddly, after a year of dating him in NYC, Rachel doesn’t know any of this. Did she never Google him? She finds out, bit by bit, when they travel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding.

What else does she find out?

  • Nearly every young woman in Singapore hates her—having imagined themselves as Mrs. Nick Young.
  • Nick’s mom, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), hates her. She isn’t about to let her oldest child marry a mere economics professor.
  • She didn’t bring the right clothes.

Thank god Rachel has her bestie, Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose own family is rich—just not Young family rich—and who essentially plays the traditional rom-com black BFF: hipper, straight shooting, without a life of her own. We also get a gay confidante, Oliver (Nico Santos), who also doesn’t have a life on his own. Everyone exists to either impede or help Rachel.

I liked Wu but Rachel is that rom-com staple: the girl who’s pretty (but not threateningly so), who’s sometimes clumsy (so girls can identify), and who beats the odds with grit and determination. Really, the only thing new are the faces.

And they’re only new to Hollywood. “Crazy Rich” might be the first Hollywood movie with an all Asian-American cast since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993 (an unforgivable stat), but it’s the third movie I’ve seen just this year involving the machinations of Chinese matriarchs. The others: “The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful,” which won won the Golden Horse Award for best picture in Taiwan; and “Love Education,” which should have won the Golden Horse Award for best picture in Taiwan. “Crazy Rich” isn’t nearly in their category, but I'm curious about the matriarchal theme. Why does it keep returning given the patriarchal nature of Confucian societies? Or is that why it keeps returning? Scheming is what's left. 

Is it odd that the thought of rejecting Nick never comes into play? Once the other women are aligned against Rachel, the goal simply becomes fighting back and getting him. Sure, he’s handsome, but everything he’s hidden from her leaves her floundering. There’s a kind of obtuseness to his reticence, too—as if he’s glided along in this gilded world for so long he doesn’t know how difficult it might be for others without money to keep up. Or is he simply testing her? To see if she can keep up? That wouldn’t be bad. At least it would mean something’s whirring inside him. It would mean he inherited some of his mother’s nature. But I doubt it. He just seems bland and nice. And this is the guy who’s supposed to run the family business?

Wedding Singer 2
“Crazy Rich Asians” was directed by Jon M. Chu, whose other work includes the second “G.I. Joe,” the second “Now You See Me,” the second and third “Step Up”s, and the first and only “Jem and the Holograms”—all bottom dwellers on the Rotten Tomatoes charts. This one somehow landed a 93% rating. Because it was that much better? Or because everyone is ashamed of the “Joy Luck” stat and want it changed?

A few moments aren't bad. I liked the turnabout with Ah Ma (Lisa Lu). I liked the mah-jong scene, where Rachel gets the upper hand on Eleanor even as she concedes Nick. It’s a good winning-by-losing scene. But we know it’s not going to last. Hollywood has to have her win. So, yes, Nick chases her onto the plane, and there, amid luggage and crowds, he gets down on one knee and proposes and everyone applauds. Then they throw a party next to the insane infinity pool atop the insane Marina Bay Sands hotel; and everyone, all the crazy rich, party like it's 1929.

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Posted at 02:35 AM on Aug 29, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Saturday August 25, 2018

Movie Review: Life of the Party (2018)


Since Melissa McCarthy broke big in “Bridesmaids,” three of her movies have been directed by husband Ben Falcone:

  • Tammy (2014)
  • The Boss (2016)
  • Life of the Party (2018 

And three of her movies have failed to gross more than $100 million domestic:

  • Tammy: $84 million
  • The Boss: $63 million
  • Life of the Party: $52 million

Downward trajectory, too. Must be rough bedtime conversation. 

Schtup son
Life of the Party reviewI’ll give it this: The first half of “Life of the Party” isn’t supremely awful.

McCarthy plays Deanna, a chipper, “Fargo”esque, fortysomething mom whose daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), is beginning her senior year of college. Then Deanna’s husband Dan (Matt Walsh of “VEEP”) drops a bomb: He wants a divorce to marry their bleach-blonde realtor, Marcie (Julie Bowen of “Modern Family”). What’s Deanna to do? Well, she got pregnant a year shy of her archeology degree so why not go back to school? 

It’s fish out of water stuff but blithely out of water. That’s the comedy. She buys colorful rah-rah college gear but is stuck with a depressed shut-in (Heidi Gardner), for a dorm roommate. Maddie is freaked for about two seconds but then is surprisingly cool with sharing senior year with mom. So are her sorority sisters. Each has a shtick: Debbie (Jessie Ennis) always asks for permission before commenting; Helen (Gillian Jacobs) was in a coma for eight years and has 3 million Twitter followers; and Amanda (Adria Arjona) is just, I don’t know, really, really good-looking. Like shockingly, nobody-looks-that-good good-looking. So of course at one point Deanna has to make a speech to buck Amanda up and give her confidence. Because girls need confidence. Even the ones who are like crushingly, knee-bucklingly good-looking.

There’s also Mean Girls (Debi Ryan and Yani Simone), who can’t fathom why the old woman bothers and say nasty things to her. Indeed, for a movie in which a woman is dumped by a man, the true villains are often other women. 

Early on, Maddie gives mom a makeover to make her look less mommish. And it works. Deanna winds up schtupping Jack (Luke Benward), a tall, handsome, supernice fratboy who becomes obsessed with her. The schtupping I’ll take, but the obsession? That’s tougher to buy. Tougher to watch is how Jack is used in the bitchy melodrama. At an expensive restaurant with her adult friends, including bestie Christine (Maya Rudolph), Deanna runs into Dan and Marcie, and Marcie acts all catty. Then their waiter arrives. It's Jack. More: Jack is Marcie’s son. So trump card for Deanna, right? Yes. But it quickly gets uncomfortable as Christine in particular rubs it in Marcie’s face as if Dan weren’t standing right there. That’s all he does, by the way: He doesn’t defend mom from Christine, doesn’t defend Deanna from mom. He just stands there, a stupid expression on his face, while the others improvise around him.

None of it is funny.   

Much of the movie is like this: unfunny improv. Before a family law mediator, Rudolph and Bowen try to outdo each other in outrageousness. Nothing. The usually reliable Stephen Root (Deanna’s dad) doesn’t manage a good line. Everything Gillian Jacobs says lands with a thud.

But it’s even worse in the third act.

Third act, fourth film
So Deanna and the girls show up at Dan’s wedding, inadvertently high but with good intentions. They plan to make nice. Then they see the “wedding propaganda” in the lobby, including a posterboard in which Dan declares he is “upgrading” his wife, and they go off and trash the reception area. Confronted, they skulk out, and Marcie declares that Deanna is cut off financially. 

Wait, what? How was Deanna relying on them financially anyway? What did the idiot mediator decide?

Whatever, it sets up our stupid problem/idiot resolution finale.

  • STUPID PROBLEM: Now penniless, Deanna is ready to give up college again.  
  • IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but the others aren’t ready to give up on her! Nope, they throw a fundraising party! Yay!
  • STUPID PROBLEM: Except, oh no, the party is on the same night as the Christina Aguilera concert, so no one is there.  
  • IDIOT RESOLUTION: Ah, but Helen, with her 3 million Twitter followers, tweets that Christina is coming to their party after the show! Now tons of people show up! Deanna is saved! Yay!
  • STUPID PROBLEM: Except some of these people are understandably upset when Christina Aguilera doesn't show and demand their money back.   
  • IDIOT RESOLUTION: Which is when the real Christina Aguilera shows up! Turns out she’s cousins with Deanna’s shut-in roomie! And she sings! And everyone parties! And Deanna is saved! Yay!

The final stupid problem Deanna had to overcome is her fear of public speaking so she can pass her archeology oral exam. She does. And then she graduates. And then ... that's it. The movie just kind of dribbles to an end. It skulks out before we can. 

At least Melissa and Ben learned their lesson, right? After the poor reviews and poorer box office? No more movies directed by Ben, right?

Wrong. Falcone's “Superintelligence,” starring McCarthy, is scheduled to open Christmas Day 2019. Fourth time’s the charm?

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Posted at 04:21 AM on Aug 25, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
Tuesday August 21, 2018

Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)


In 2006, I wrote the following for a piece on Spike Lee:

Too many of Spike’s choices are political, not aesthetic. In a way Spike isn’t enough like Bleek [Denzel Washington’s character in “Mo’ Betta Blues”). Bleek’s loyalty was always to the music but Spike’s loyalty isn’t always to the story. If he can get in a little speechifying, he will. 

“BlacKkKlansman”’s 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, along with various raves on social media, not to mention the six-minute standing ovation and Grand Prix it received at the Cannes Film Festival, made me think that maybe Spike was finally past all that.

Nope. Heavy-handed as ever.

But first, “Gone with the Wind”
Review of BlacKkKlansmanThe story is true. In the early 1970s, a black Colorado Springs cop, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), infiltrated the Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He contacted them via phone and used a fellow cop (Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver) for in-person appearances. During that first phone conversation, he mistakenly used his real name, which is why he got a KKK card with his real name on it. He still has it.

That’s a story worth telling. But Spike keeps blowing it. Did he blow it with casting? Stallworth is played by John David Washington, son of Denzel, and until 2015 a football player rather than actor, and he’s rather flat in the lead. He’s uneven. He seems respectful when applying to become the first black cop in Colorado Springs, then a bit of an ass when he’s assigned to the records department. I get it—no one wants that gig—but there’s not much there there.

The movie actually begins with a bang. OK, not so much the “Gone with the Wind” pullback shot of dead Southern soldiers, which I guess sets the scene. I guess for Spike, if you’re making a film about a 1970s Colorado cop and the KKK you begin with a 1939 film based on a 1936 novel about the fall of the South in 1865. In case people don’t know.

No, I’m talking Alec Baldwin’s turn as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard. Wearing slicked hair and dark-framed glasses, he angrily stumbles through a filmed lecture on the racial superiority of white people. It’s got crackle and fire, and made me think of the jolt Baldwin gave “Glengarry Glen Ross.” “I wonder what else he does in this?” I thought. Turns out? Nothing. That was it. It’s another scene-setting but at least within the vicinity of the story.

After Stallworth becomes an undercover cop, his first assignment is attending a speech by Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), whose rallying cries contain the usual Black Power/Black is Beautiful pronouncements of the day. Stallworth finds himself nodding along—as apparently he did in real life. That’s a good bit: He’s inspired by the man he’s supposed to be spying on. Unfortunately, Spike can’t leave well enough alone: He intersperses this with shots of uplifted black faces mesmerized by the words. If Steven Spielberg tends to underline points, Spike underlines then three times; then he gets out the highlighter.

Stallworth winds up romancing Patrice (Laura Harrier, Liz Allen from “Spider-Man: Homecoming”), the black student organizer with the big, beautiful Angela Davis afro dwarfing her small beautiful face. Problem? They don’t have much chemistry and their conversations are uninteresting. Cops are pigs/No, they’re not. Hey, let’s talk about Blaxploitation films for 30 seconds. That first night, Kwame’s entourage is pulled over and harassed by cops, and she’s felt up by a racist cop named Landers (Frederick Weller), and she relays all this to Stallworth at a bar afterwards. His reaction? Almost a non-reaction. He doesn’t even seem angry. And he doesn’t do anything about it until the 11th hour. And then...

Yeah, let’s talk about that. Landers, we’re told, is also responsible for shooting/killing a black kid, and he only got away with it because cops don’t rat out cops. But he remains a thorn in Stallworth’s side, and at the end of the movie, Stallworth, Patrice and like half the force trick him into confessing on tape, and he loses his badge. So why did the cops entrap one of their own after letting him get away with literal murder? Who knows? It comes out of nowhere and smells of bullshit. In the memoir, there is an unnamed cop who got away with shooting/killing a kid, but the rest of it is made up for the movie. It feels like it.

Then there’s the KKK. Of the four main Colorado members we see, the leader, Walter (Ryan Eggold), is most interesting for being least stereotypical. It feels like he has some wheels turning up there. The others? Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen) is simply seething hatred, his wife (Ashlie Atkinson) is dull and mewling, while Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) is so sleepy-eyed and brain-dead it’s a wonder he’s not drooling. The joke is these sad sacks believe in their own racial superiority; the problem is they’re uninteresting. Ivanhoes may exist but are they worth watching? How do you make them worth watching?

Who is interesting? Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman. Just the way he hangs at the police station feels real. It’s in his work as a cop, the way he holds a gun, the way he quietly informs Stallworth he never felt particularly Jewish until this assignment—when he was surrounded by anti-Semites. One of the better undercover scenes is when he shuts down Felix’s Holocaust denials by claiming they’re the weaker racist argument—that they should take pride in killing six million.

But the stuff with Nick Turturro ratting him out? Why is Turturro and his Queens accent hanging in Colorado Springs anyway? I’m sure New York guys live there but mostly it reminded me I’m watching a Spike Lee joint.

It’s like the “Birth of a Nation” scene. Spike intercuts civil rights legend Harry Belafonte telling the Black Student Union about a horrific, early 20th-century lynching with the Klan and David Duke (Topher Grace) watching “Birth of a Nation”—the movie that led to the resurrection of the Klan and that horrific lynching—and I didn’t buy either scene. The lynching I knew was true; I just didn’t buy the students being so respectfully rapt, and so uninformed that any of this came as news. And I didn’t buy the Klan watching a silent film in 1972. But guess what: That part was actually true. Those idiots did that. In a way, Spike’s like the pitcher who keeps missing the strike zone: Even when he gets it close, I don’t give him the call. To me, it felt like more of Spike’s pedanticism. He has to fit in “Birth” like he had to fit in “Gone with the Wind.” Because he has to educate so, so many of us.

The KKK took my country away
What I wouldn’t mind being educated on? What the KKK was like in 1972. According to Wiki, its membership was at historic lows. What made it rise in the late ’70s—when all of this was actually taking place? Did Reagan help? Did his “welfare queen” story? Why didn’t Spike probe that rather than sticking us back in ’72? Was it just for the afros?

At the end, after the Klan is routed and Landers kicked off the force, we get the most stirring scene of the movie: footage from the 2017 Charlottesville protests and counterprotests, and the subsequent comment by Trump that you have “some very fine people on both sides.” Throughout, the movie has reminded us where we were, where we are, and what a huge step backward it’s been. No truer words.

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Posted at 12:44 AM on Aug 21, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018   |   Permalink  
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