By Samantha Ofole-Prince Photos by: David Lee / Focus Features
The idea of a Black man joining the notoriously racist Ku Klux Klan certainly sounds farcical and mildly comical, but that’s exactly what happens in the movie BlacKkKlansman.
Directed by Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is based on the book by Ron Stallworth, a Black detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department who posed as a member of the organization to infiltrate the Klan. Stallworth, while undercover, managed to setup a meeting with the Klan’s Grand Wizard David Duke, even successfully taking a Polaroid shot with the white supremacist.
Like many of Spike’s films, BlacKkKlansman shifts between intense drama and scathing satire. With just a few minor changes, Spike sticks closely to Stallworth’s book, documenting his start with the force as a young hungry police officer eager to rise up the ranks to his subsequent role as an Intelligence Unit Detective. It was a chance call he made in October 1978 while scanning the daily newspaper for subversive activities that he came across a Ku Klux Klan posting. Using his real name, he answered the advert and received a call from the Colorado Springs Chapter of the KKK. After successfully convincing the caller that he was a white man with an adverse hatred for folks of color, Stallworth was eventually initiated into the clan and started investigating the group’s activities. It’s an investigation that ended up stopping an assassination attempt by the Klansmen and several planned cross burnings in the city. It also ousted several federal employees who were KKK members.
The film hit theaters on the one-year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that claimed the life of counter-protester Heather Heyer. In this screen adaptation, Stallworth is brilliantly portrayed by John David Washington (Old Man and the Gun), while Adam Driver plays his white colleague, Flip Zimmerman, who impersonates him during physical meetings with the Klan. Laura Harrier plays Stallworth’s love interest Patrice, the head of Colorado Black Student Union who meets him when he goes undercover to attend a talk being delivered by Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) and Topher Grace round up the main cast as David Duke.
With a running time of 135 minutes, Spike splashes a little humor on a delicate subject and his execution of Stallworth’s book is commendable as he weaves comedy into the fabric of a tough tale to help relieve some of the incredible tension. There are huge afros, embroidered blouses, bell-bottoms, midi skirts and maxi dresses and he pokes fun at the Klan never losing an opportunity to show them as narrow-minded bigots as he delivers a true-life examination of race relations in 1970’s America.
Produced by the team behind the Oscar-winning movie Get Out, the exchanges between Stallworth and Duke are shocking and almost comical as Duke denounces Blacks and their speech patterns never realizing he’s speaking to a Black man. Spike also handles the harrowing KKK initiation scene in which a crowd gleefully cheers during a screening of 1915’s The Birth of a Nation with care and caution, juxtaposing that scene with Harry Belafonte as Jerome Turner recounting his first-person recollections of the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington.
In more than three decades as a filmmaker, Spike Lee has tackled topics from college fraternities, Malcolm X, the Son of Sam murder spree, the British Petroleum oil spill to the gun violence in Chicago and always engages audiences without overwhelming them. His films often straddle the fine line between tragedy and comedy and audiences will certainly be entertained by Stallworth’s inspirational life-story and the film’s timeless subject matter.
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
In his 40-year acting career, Denzel Washington has never made a sequel to any of his prior movies, but there was something special about playing a lethally skilled ex-CIA agent that made the two-time Oscar-winning actor sign up for a sequel.
In EQ2, Washington returns as Robert McCall, a soft-spoken, kindly old man who’s always ready to serve justice to those who deserve it. This time around, he’s moved on from selling home improvement goods, to being a Lyft driver – which is pretty convenient as he gets to eavesdrop on his passenger’s conversations.
In a sequel reminiscent of the classic film Taxi Driver, he tells a soldier, who is off to Iraq for his first tour of duty, that he would be here to pick him up when he returns. He rescues an abused young girl who is thrown into his cab, and is the regular Sir Galahad to an old age pensioner he picks up each day for his doctor appointments.
McCall has also moved to an apartment complex right in the heart of Boston, hangs out with his neighbors, and forges a paternal relationship with a teenager named Miles (Ashton Sanders), who lives with his single mother in the same complex.
Despite those new few tidbits, McCall is still a man of silent ritual who enjoys drinking tea and reading classics like Richard Wright’s “Native Son” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” which is the first book we see him reading in the first scene as he travels to Turkey to rescue a young girl kidnapped from her American mother.
A savior within the community, the obsessive compulsive McCall still only resorts to violence when it’s the last option, and it certainly becomes a necessity when someone very close to McCall is killed and he discovers her highly trained assassins are some of his former cohorts.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, who re-teams with Washington for a fourth time following their successful collaborations on Training Day, The Magnificent Seven, and the first Equalizer, it’s a modern-day superhero movie that’s solid and well-crafted and offers a few grim laughs between McCall’s gory fisticuffs.
“You picked the wrong door to knock on pops!” McCall is told in one scene just before he sets his watch and rains down a ferocious retribution on the unassuming culprit.
There’s thrill and momentum to this sequel, which follows a similar structure to the first, but sprinkles in a few sidebar pieces which gives it an excessively sentimental feel. It’s formulaic, but still certainly just as entertaining as the first film and no matter the movie, people will always show up to see a Denzel drama – especially one where he delivers justice.
Mission Impossible: Fallout
By Jon Rutledge
The MI franchise has worked out a formula that works for them. Having a formula is not a bad thing; they have mastered what makes an exciting story and execute it well. This movie is just as entertaining as the last two. The performances are top notch and you can tell they enjoy making these films as their pleasure shows through on the screen. In this one, they are trying to wrap up what’s left of the syndicate from the last film; a fabulous continuation of this story. We don’t have to set up anything – we just get to see Ethan and his team clean house.
The mission Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) plus his team Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) are tasked with is collecting three nuclear cores the remnants of the Syndicate are planning to use to cause a great catastrophe. Things don’t go as planned as often happens in these films, and they are now having to work with the CIA who is providing oversite. August Walker (Henry Cavill) from the CIA is assigned with keeping them online and making sure nothing gets in the way of completing the mission including Ethan’s team.
Writer/director (Christopher McQuarrie) picks this story up after the events of the last film. As an overarching story, they tie up elements nicely. He has an eye for what makes a compelling story. The best bits of the film are a mixture of action, humor, loss and redemption. McQuarrie grabs you from the first few scenes and doesn’t let go until five minutes after the films finishes.
McQuarrie’s work in action films stands on its own. The films he directed have all been well done. We see that intense action in Way of the Gun and now in both Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Fallout. He seems to be Tom Cruise’s go to writer with good reason – he has several hits under his belt. He also has some clinkers as well, but I bet if he directed them, they would have been better.
The best quality of these films is sometimes things go horribly wrong and they must think fast to complete the mission. It’s this element of surprise that is so engaging. No plan survives contact with the enemy however these folks make it seem easy, well maybe not easy, but at least entertaining.
Each player has a part to play. Ving Rhames plays the heart of the team where Simon Pegg is the comic relief. The chemistry is outstanding. If I were up on a cliff free climbing I would want these two having my back.