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BlacKkKlansman’ Tops This Week’s Movie Picks

A re-imagined Shakespeare and a giant shark also hit theaters

Video by Beth Accomando

It’s a wild weekend at the movies with a new Spike Lee film, a radically fun reimagining of Shakespeare, and Jason Statham facing off against a giant, prehistoric shark.

Photo caption: Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Ron Stalworth (John David Washington) team u...

Photo credit: Focus Features

Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Ron Stalworth (John David Washington) team up on a police investigation into the Klu Klux Klan in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman."

'BlacKkKlansman'

It has been three decades since Spike Lee burst on the film scene with “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Do the Right Thing.” This week he returns with “BlacKkKlansman,” a film that reveals more mainstream packaging for his political outrage.

Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” was about racial tensions that exploded into violence during a hot summer in New York. “BlacKkKlansman” is set in the cooler climes of Colorado Springs and takes a rather jaunty tone as it tackles the true story of Ron Stalworth, a black cop who infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan.

On a certain level, the story sounds like the premise of an absurd comedy. But it is all true. Stalworth (played by Denzel’s son, John David Washington in an entirely smart and winning performance) contacts the KKK by phone and convinces them that he’d be a good candidate for their organization. Now he needs a white officer (Adam Driver) to be him for a face-to-face meeting with Klan members.

“BlacKkKlansman” is essentially a police procedural, something akin to what Lee tackled in a very different way in “Clockers.” The film reveals Lee at a mature point in his career and while it may not be his best film, it is one of his most accessible and well-crafted.

“BlacKkKlansman” makes interesting viewing with one of Lee’s earliest and most acclaimed works, “Do the Right Thing,”— a ferocious, sprawling film that captured the anger of a young man trying and succeeding to use his art to convey a message. His style was fresh and innovative as was his content.

In contrast, “BlacKkKlansman” is focused, measured, and full of humor. Stylistically, Lee tells a much more conventionally structured narrative with a more reserved visual approach.

Yet Lee’s rage is still there. What’s changed, however, is his tone. Instead of the screaming that runs through “Do the Right Thing,” “BlacKkKlansman” makes its points through a more restrained and controlled approach. And through an unexpected humor that mostly stems from ridiculing the white supremacists. But it’s a cleverly thought through sense of humor that lets you laugh at the stupidity of these individuals while not ignoring the very real atrocities these groups are capable of.

But perhaps the film’s most powerful moments occur in scenes where Lee simply lets his black activist characters talk in vivid, articulate, persuasive terms. It’s somewhat ironic that as the current discourse in social media has grown more unruly and vitriolic, Lee chooses this moment to deliver such calm and reasoned speeches through his characters. Corey Hawkins as Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and Harry Belafonte as Jerome Turner don’t resort to yelling or name calling or ranting. Instead Lee gives them compelling speeches that do multiple things for the film including providing a sense of history to race relations in American, encouraging activism, and showing how forceful and refreshing eloquence is.

Lee opens his film with the famous scene from “Gone With the Wind” of Scarlett walking through a vast expanse of wounded soldiers as the camera pulls back to a Confederate flag. Then later in the film he shows a Klan meeting where they screen D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” with its racist depiction of blacks being cheered on by the KKK members and their families.

Lee reminds us how powerful images are and how pop entertainment can have a very real effect on how people perceive the world. Perhaps that’s why he has chosen to make “BlacKkKlansman” such an accessible and entertaining film. “Do the Right Thing” wore its anger on its sleeve and pointed a finger at the audience to say you need to do something. With “BlacKkKlansman” Lee gives us a story of a man who wants to change things from within the system and to do so by following the rules for the most part and not trying to point an accusing finger at others but rather to just try and improve things as best he can. Lee still gives voice to those who want to agitate change from the outside but his focus is on Stalworth.

Lee’s main point with “BlacKkKlansman” is that this 1979 story feels like America today and you should be outraged at the lack of progress and perhaps even backwards movement. When the film talks about David Duke being the nice face the KKK puts on in order to get someone elected we are seeing the groundwork for what we have today. And just to make sure you understand that connection, Lee ends his film with newsreel footage of Duke, President Trump, and the recent racial clashes in Charlottesville. Go see "BlacKkKlansman" because you'll get a smartly entertaining mainstream film that also packs a provocative commentary on America past and present.

Photo caption: Finn Wittrock, Lily Rabe and Ted Levine star in a wildly re-imagined "A Midsu...

Photo credit: Brainstorm Media

Finn Wittrock, Lily Rabe and Ted Levine star in a wildly re-imagined "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Summer and Shakespeare go hand in hand here in San Diego. The Old Globe presents summer Shakespeare plays as well as a summer Shakespeare film series. Now you also can enjoy a new film adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And you can see the film and engage in a post film Q&A with director Casey Wilder Mott Friday at the 7:15 p.m. screening at Landmark’s Ken Cinema. I'll be there to moderate the discussion.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is all about lovesick young couples, passionate but inept artists, and a sense of wondrous magic so where better to set Shakespeare’s tale than in modern day Hollywood. Well, not exactly Hollywood but a reimagined Hollywood for a reimagined Bard.

Hollywood and the movie industry are famous for being a place for dreams and a place where fantasy and reality often collide or commingle. Mott gives us Shakespeare in a style similar to Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” in which the visuals are bold and audacious and the cutting fast and furious. But while Luhrmann’s film was weighed down by the tragedy of young lovers dying, Mott’s film takes flight with the Bard’s comedy.

Instead of the rough mechanics performing a play, we have some aspiring independent filmmakers trying to make a film with bad green screen effects and crass attempts to rip off “Star Wars.” But as in the play, you cannot help but fall in love with their rabid dedication to their craft.

The film also has fun sprinkling Shakespeare everywhere be it quotes on coffee cups or the titles on movie posters. Shakespeare Easter eggs are hidden and flaunted throughout the film in a manner that just makes you smile. And despite all the updating and changes, Mott keeps the language intact and respects the poetry of the play.

Mott’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” does not put Shakespeare on a pedestal where you have to look up to it but rather pulls him down to join the ribald fun as mistaken identities, rebellious youth, unrequited love and fairy spells make for a night of frollicking in the forest.

Photo caption: The real star of "The Meg" is the prehistoric shark that swims up from the de...

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

The real star of "The Meg" is the prehistoric shark that swims up from the depths.

'The Meg'

How can you mess up Jason Statham versus a giant shark? Seriously, how? By giving it too much plot and pretending you’re making a real movie.

The Meg” had a simple but kind of brilliant concept: mix “Jaws” with “Jurassic Park” and throw in hunky Jason Statham. But simple is the key word. A film needs to know what its strengths and weaknesses are if it wants to succeed. “The Meg” just needed a giant, prehistoric shark wreaking havoc on humanity and Statham coming to fight it. That’s it. That simple.

But director Jon Turteltaub and his team of writers insist on adding a lot of unnecessary plot, science, and a backstory to Statham’s Jonas Taylor to give him a bit of an Ahab vibe. But sadly I don’t think any of them have actually read “Moby Dick” so I don’t think they knew where to go with that notion of an obsessive quest to kill a beast. Perhaps they are better versed with Quint from “Jaws” but they even fail to give Jonas any of Quint’s enjoyable eccentricities.

“The Meg” is at times just a shot by shot remake of “Jaws” but with a kaiju size shark. I can’t tell you how excited I was by the idea of a giant shark and to be fair “The Meg” could be cut down to a perfectly delightful 30-minute giant shark film. The film has some genuine fun with the scale of the Meg (short for megalodon) as in a shot used in the trailer of it opening its massive jaw just outside an observation window underwater. There is also a great shot of a wildly overcrowded Asian beach that looks like a tasty tray of tiny, brightly colored appetizers for the Meg.

But the film spends a good 30-minutes up front on padded plot that is completely disposable and that never pays off in any satisfying manner. There are all sorts of attempts to use science to explain the Meg, meager service at an environmental message, and inane efforts to pretend to develop character. But what I did not get from this creative team was the Meg jumping out of the water to bite a helicopter (despite multiple the dangling of multiple choppers right above the water) and not enough hand to fin combat between Statham and the shark.

Maybe “The Meg” suffers in comparison to the recent “Rampage,” a film that totally understood the dynamics of making a giant creature feature. “The Meg” doesn’t realize what its assets are and sadly misses the mark.

It has been three decades since Spike Lee burst on the film scene with “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Do the Right Thing.” This week he returns with “BlacKkKlansman,” a film that reveals more mainstream packaging for his political outrage.

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