“BlacKkKlansman”

“BlacKkKlansman” is another film to remind us that “Reconstruction” after the Civil War was never completed, and that our current President is pushing the other way and deconstructing any progress made in thwarting racism.

Director Spike Lee uses the storyboard foundation of a true tale. Ron Stallworth was a black cop in the 1970’s in Colorado Springs. Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington plays Ron, and he is easy to identify with as he joins with a  white, Jewish policeman ( Adam Driver) to infiltrate the KKK.

The 1970 garb of safari jackets, the “air karate”, and the put-downs like, “You think you are hot shit, but you are a cold fart” are fringe worthy, period details. Ditto for “I can dig it.” Funny for some; embarrassing  for others. The music like “Happy Days” , both ironic and loud, is used to drive emotional points; but, it can be overpowering. Subtle is not the tone used  in this film. And why should it be!

I love the large portraits of black student union members being moved by Stokely Carmichael’s speech. The young need to know that Kwame Ture ( Carmichael’s name choice) was the philosopher who coined the term “black power”. This is black power that does not need white help.

Topher Grace plays a smarmy David Duke that hits the mark. He speaks of the “ real America” and “America First” in direct correlation to D. Trump. Felix and Connie are Duke followers and so full of hate that their  “take America back” connotes lynchings.

The last two minutes of the film is tear producing as Lee shows real  footage from  current 2017 white supremacy activism. The screen frame of “Heather Hegel: Rest in Power” and the upside down flag are images that dampen any hyperbole that Spike Lee used to make viewers laugh earlier in the film.

This is a righteously angry film that I hope will get more than the African metal targets running to the polls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Midnight Special”

Jeff Nichols’ fourth film, “Midnight Special”  is not as good as “Mud”, though it may be muddier. We are dropped into a dark scene almost “in medias res”. We hear before we see, like in so many 2016 films. The radio is coughing up insurance ads in Central Texas when we are given “breaking news”. An Amber alert is out. An eight-year-old  boy has been abducted from a religious sect. We see a hulking man and his companion with the boy. We fear the worse until the boy wraps his arms lovingly around the neck of his captor, now possibly his savior. Dibs and dabs of background are slowly revealed throughout this drama-sci-fi, leaving more questions than answers. How did this special boy get among us? We are told only that “they” have been watching for a long time.

Sam Shepherd plays Calvin Meyer, the boys adopted father and patriarch of “The Ranch”. Somehow his sermons to his congregation have decrypted U.S. Government security codes, and now the FBI is more than concerned. Writer and director ( often not a good thing) Nichols bandies the action back and forth between the car rides and safe houses of the birth father ( Michael Shannon) and the  FBI interrogations  of  the sect. The boy, Alton, ( Jaeden Lieberher ) has powers: satellites fall from the sky, electronic grids are blown, and generators fail as the earth shakes. The Ranch members believe if he is with them that they will be saved. The Apocalypse even has a date.

Unlike more profound sci-fi writing like that of Mary Russell Doria, Nichols does not give much to the plot. His theme that there may be a better world  with ever-loving light reminds me of the folk song, named after a train ” The Midnight Special” with its chorus ” shine your ever-loving light on me.” The glowing eyes of Alton must give images of this world for removing his goggles seems to be a temptation one compatriot can not resist.

When guns are used in this film, no one dies. Does that give a new meaning to “Saturday night special”?  I’d like to think so. Even when protecting a territory police can only shoot when fired upon. This is a film about fathers, sons, mothers ,friends  and sacrifice and loss at its heart. The dialogue is sparse, but the faces of  the actors register familiar emotions. Kristen Dunst as Alton’s birth-mother, Sarah, does an exceptional job of showing hope for tomorrow. Much like in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Berneice Bobs Her Hair”, Dunst finds glee in cutting her corded braid. Is her son in a better place ?  His bruised eyes , bleeding ears ,  shortness of breath, and kryptonite questions lead us to an imaginative “yes”.

Joel Edgerton plays a likeable friend and  sheriff, Lucas. We all need trusting and true loyalty like he displays. Adam Driver, likewise,  plays a believer’s part to the hilt. As a savvy scientist, he asks if he can come with the boy, too.

See this film to learn about heat wounds, debris fields and panicking parents. Smirk at  childhood development counsellors  and multi-paged questionnaires, but bask in the light of  Alton’s ,” I am not a weapon; I am not a savior.” But, what is he ?

Nichols doles out a little bit of candy, one piece at a time. Some throwbacks to E.T. in the angelic demeanor of our otherworldly boy. Sky prisms and boy speaking in tongues not as interesting as the tension of the chase. Michael Shannon registers fatherly and protective emotions as Roy Tomlin. We just don’t get any insight to how muddy and burdensome those sect contracts are. I had trouble identifying with the characters~ but then letting  go does not come easily for me.

Favorite lines. ” Stick to the plan”. ” I am an electrician. What do I know of these things.” ” You would have made a nice family.” ” Back on the road, asshole.” ” He needs to know what is real.”