Bro-Reviews: BlacKkKlansman

A true Spike Lee Joint.

As it pertains to films that deal with the subject of race and race relations among marginalized minorities, one filmmaker’s name stands out: Spike Lee. Lee’s “joints” have not only led to his iconic status as a filmmaker, but also a case study in how to incorporate the difficult subject matter of race into film, most notably “Do the Right Thing”, “Malcolm X”, and “Jungle Fever”. Over the last decade or so, however, Lee appeared to have taken a break from his racially centered films, waiting for the right project to work his legendary craftsmanship. That project appears to have come in the form of “BlacKkKlansman”, based on the true story of the man who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan, Ron Stallworth.

Based on a true story, “BlacKkKlansman” follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a young African American man who becomes the first black police officer to join the Colorado Springs Police Department. After being transferred to the department’s intelligence division, Stallworth notices an advertisement to join the Klu Klux Klan’s Colorado Springs chapter, and begins to infiltrate “the organization” by impersonating a white man. With the help of fellow undercover Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), Stallworth uncovers a potential attack on African American activists, all perpetrated by the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace).

“BlacKkKlansman” is yet another tremendous film to be added to the legendary filmography of Spike Lee. Lee is able to seamlessly transport the audience to the 1970s, not just with the style and look of the characters, but by also highlighting the racial tensions during that era. Scenes of black student union rallies and protests, police officers abusing their power, and of KKK meetings and ceremonies put you right in the middle of the era, and will have you feeling uneasy at the seemingly impending war many of the characters discuss. Lee’s directing style is also ever present in the film, and “BlacKkKlansman” might be his most stylish film to date. After seemingly losing a step, the film serves as a reminder of just how talented and in tune Lee is with his craft.

The true story in and of itself, though exaggerated in parts for dramatic effect, is not only brought to life by Lee’s direction, but by the excellent cast as well. John David Washington’s turn as Ron Stallworth could turn out to be his star-making turn, as he is able to convey the struggle Stallworth has with not just infiltrating the Klan, but also his perceived unwillingness to be down for the liberation of black people due to his profession as a police officer. Adam Driver continues to show his versatility with his turn as Detective Flip Zimmerman, and gives another underrated performance.

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Adam Driver and John David Washington in “BlacKkKlansman.”

Laura Harrier proves there’s life after modeling and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” with her turn as a black-rights activist and love interest of Stallworth, showcasing her abilities as an actress. Topher Grace gives a chilling performance David Duke, the head of the KKK, one that will make audience forget his nice guy persona on “That 70s Show.” Other chilling turns come from Ryan Eggold, Jasper Pääkkönen, and Paul Walter Hauser as members of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Klan, as they instill a fear in the audience as to what dangers they are about to cause.

Perhaps the greatest strength of “BlacKkKlansman” is its ability to connect its setting to the current state of America. Footage of the horrific violence that occurred in Charlottesville in August of 2017 will serve as a stark reminder that while America has made strides in terms of improving race relations, the current America we live in today resembles that of the films setting. The footage of current President Donald Trump refusing to denounce the Neo Nazis who perpetrated the violence echoes the dialogue of the Klan members in the film, including that of David Duke, who continues to spout his hateful speech to this very day. Lee is able to connect the themes of race and hate expertly throughout the film, but saves his best for last with the parallels he makes from one era to another.

“BlacKkKlansman” is an American classic. Its true story and subject matter are timeless and will serve as a wake-up call for Americans as to what is currently happening to the country. With a terrific cast, expert production, and careful direction, Lee is able to make his latest joint not only one of his best in years, but one of the best joints in his legendary career.

Rating: 4 out 4 stars. Pay Full Price.

“BlacKkKlansman” stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Corey Hawkins, Nicholas Turturro, Harry Belafonte, and Alec Baldwin. It is in theaters now.

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Bro-Reviews: Black Panther

A marvel for the culture.

Despite its near blemish-less resume, there are some who believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, has grown a bit stale and complacent. With numerous sequels to already established properties and retreads when making new films featuring other popular Marvel Comics characters, some of those detractors aren’t necessarily wrong for wanting Disney’s Marvel Studios to be more flavorful than vanilla. However, when trailers dropped last summer for Black Panther, not only did Marvel seem to answer some of those critics, but also excited the already established fan-base and gained the intrigue of the uninitiated.  Months later, Black Panther has clawed its way into theaters as one of the most daring and original films the Marvel machine has ever released.

Black Panther takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, as the new king of the secret African nation Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), assumes the throne shortly after the assassination of his father and former king of Wakanda, T’Chaka (John Kani). While T’Challa struggles with feelings of uneasiness in taking over, some of Wakanda’s greatest resource, vibranium, has been stolen by the nation’s arch nemesis and his unknown associate, “Klaw” (Andy Serkis) and “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan). With the prospect of their treasured resource being used as weapons to harm others and the threat of dark secrets of Wakanda possibly being revealed, T’Challa must don the armor of the Black Panther to put a stop to these enemies and protect Wakanda.

Black Panther is without a doubt the most involved film the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever produced. While some have noticed the parallels of recent additions to the MCU, such as Doctor Strange and its similarities to Iron Man, Black Panther takes one of the most beloved black comic book characters and gives him the most original film Marvel has released in quite some time. The setting of Wakanda is realized in a way no other Marvel world has ever been before, as its vibrant colors and cultural personalities of each of the Wakandan tribes living there are on full display, making the world feel like a character in its own right. Much praise must be given to director Ryan Coogler, as the young director has graduated from small to medium budget independent and studio films to blockbuster level films with astronomical budgets with ease. The fact that Disney, a studio who has been marred by controversial interpretations of race over the years, allowed for a $200 million budget for a film with predominantly black actors and filmmakers to express their artistic capabilities with one of the studio’s most prized money makers and didn’t meddle with the production is astounding, and the results are nothing short of revolutionary.

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther”.

Black Panther also weaves a complex plot unlike any blockbuster, let alone a Marvel film, before. So often blockbusters are only popcorn flicks, where the mindset is to turn your brain off, watch things blow-up on screen, and have a good time without thinking too much. Not only does Black Panther provide such thrills, but it also highlights key social issues that continue to plague the world today. Important social commentary on the subjects of racism, colonialism, and nationalism are present throughout, and the storytellers do not shy away from them. This makes Black Panther even more incredible and groundbreaking not only in the MCU, but for Hollywood blockbusters as well, proving filmmakers can not only put their cultural stamp on a big-budgeted film, but can also emphasize important historical subject matters as well.

The main benefactor from the aforementioned themes is the film’s main villain “Killmonger”, played by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan and Coogler have created magic in the past as collaborators in Fruitvale Station and Creed, and it continues in Black Panther. “Killmonger” is a villain the audience not only understands, but can empathize with on many levels. His arch and motives incorporate the social issues highlighted earlier, and while understandable, also makes him a diabolical villain. Make no mistake about it, Jordan breaks ground as the villain, the best the MCU has ever created, and trumps even the great Andy Serkis in the film.

Somehow, this makes Boseman’s somewhat stoic T’Challa one of the less interesting characters in the film, but we as an audience understand his plight as a king not only wanting to protect his nation, but also atone for its previous sins. Black Panther also features the strongest female characters in the MCU, most notably from Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. It’s refreshing to see such strong female characters on screen, and the fact the film highlights them as Wakanda’s warriors and protectors is daring and pays huge dividends. The rest of the ensemble cast, rounded out by Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Winston Duke, and Angela Basset, also acquit themselves well in the film, as each character shines in their own way.

Black Panther matters. It proves predominantly black filmmakers and actors can not only make a movie oozing with black culture competently, but also in a groundbreaking fashion. It’s still jaw-dropping Disney in no way, shape, or form interfered with the production of the film and allowed the artists to fully realize their artistic ambitions, and the result is not just a beautiful and thrilling game-changing addition to the MCU, but for Hollywood blockbusters as well. If this glowing review along with the many others Black Panther has garnered results in huge box-office receipts, more films such as Black Panther should be on the way.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Basset, John Kani, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. It is in theaters February 16th.