Reviews of “The Meg” and “BlacKkKlansman”

BlacKkKlansman

In 1972, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) became the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After a short stint in the file room, Stallworth is moved to the intelligence division to spy on a speech by Stokley Carmichael, who took the African name Kwame Ture, hosted by the Black Student Union at the local college. He meets the president of the Black Student Union, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), at the speech and is smitten. His partner in the surveillance is Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). While flipping through the newspaper at his desk, Stallworth sees an ad for the Ku Klux Klan with a phone number to get more information. He calls and is immediately called back by Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) and invited to meet the rest of the guys. Since Stallworth is black he convinces Zimmerman, a Jew, to meet with the Klan. He goes to a bar and is picked up by Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen), who quickly impresses Zimmerman as a full-blown psychopath. Zimmerman, using Stallworth’s name, can’t participate in any Klan events, like cross burning, until he gets his official membership card. The real Stallworth calls Klan headquarters and speaks with the Grand Wizard and national director of the Klan David Duke (Topher Grace) who will be coming to Colorado Springs to give a speech and officially certify the local chapter. Kendrickson is suspicious of the man he knows as Stallworth while also coming up with a plan to make a very public and deadly statement about the presence of the Klan.

“BlacKkKlansman” is a Spike Lee joint. It is sprinkled with humor, anger, intelligence, ignorance and bliss. It is a damning indictment of America and how it deals with race in the past, present and sadly, the future. As a white man I cannot begin to understand what it’s like to be hated for the color of my skin and for just existing. Much of Lee’s obvious anger is difficult for me to comprehend as I have no basis for it in my life. What I do understand is the film will make thinking white people very uncomfortable as it possibly energizes a second Civil Rights movement that will make the people that like the way things are also very uncomfortable.

There are many uncomfortable moments in the film but there are also some tremendous performances. First and foremost is John David Washington as Ron Stallworth. His performance is nuanced and perfect. Stallworth is learning about himself and how he feels about and lives the life of a black man. He’s a cop which automatically makes him suspect in his community, tearing him between two worlds. He is challenged by everyone in both worlds for either what he is or what he does. The pressures must be tremendous on African-American police officers and that pressure is well represented in Washington’s performance. The conflict plays out across his face in certain scenes such as during the speech he’s sent to infiltrate. There’s guilt, recognition and acceptance playing across his face during this scene and the character is never the same after. Washington can also handle the lighter, more comedic moments as well such as during his calls with David Duke and some of the choices the character makes while backing up Zimmerman while he’s undercover. Washington, son of Denzel Washington, has the beginnings of a very good career under his belt with a regular role on the HBO series “Ballers” and he has a significant role in the last film of Robert Redford’s career coming out next month.

Adam Driver is better known for his role on HBO’s “Girls” and as Kylo Ren in the current “Star Wars” trilogy but he his a very versatile and talented actor. His work as Zimmerman shows that. He also is torn in dealing with his identity as a Jew. As the film says, he “passes” as white and he hasn’t given it much thought until the hatred of his religion and heritage is shoved in his face by interacting with the Klan. He also has an awakening that triggers guilt and anger. Driver’s performance is painful to watch but in a good way as he spews hate for minorities and homosexuals. The vitriol takes a personal toll on Zimmerman as his self-deception about his identity is presented front and center to him. Driver blossoms in the role and could be considered for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

It’s difficult to praise an actor’s performance when he’s playing such a despicable character but Jasper Paakkonen is frightening and brilliant as the deranged Felix Kendrickson. His hatred oozes from every oily pore as he gets wide-eyed, relishing every derogatory word. Felix is described as a general looking for an army and, if his passions were aimed in a positive direction, would be an effective leader of a group. Felix has a feeling of superiority over not only minorities but of his fellow Klansmen as well. He wants to lead them to earn the respect he feels he’s due. Paakkonen is possessed by the character and is a perfect villain on whom to focus all the audience’s rage.

Director Spike Lee’s direction is best described in this film as poetic. During the speech given by Carmichael there are individual shots of people enraptured by his words. Each is shot alone with a black background, isolating them from the group. Then Lee groups these faces in twos and threes making each unique face part of a tableau that adds to the power of the scene. Lee also pops back and forth between meetings of Klan members and a lecture being given by a black man that witnessed his friend lynched by a white crowd decades earlier. He also lets the hate run free and gives it lots of time to expose itself during planning sessions and get-togethers by Klansmen. These scenes are difficult to watch as the language of hate flows so thickly it nearly suffocates the viewer. That’s what Lee is trying to do: Bury the audience in the hate and make it so awful that it cannot be ignored. Lee is a master at rubbing our noses in societal hypocrisy. Maybe one day we’ll learn the lesson.

“BlacKkKlansman” is rated R for racial epithets, language throughout, disturbing/violent material and some sexual references. Horrendous racial epithets are common throughout the film. There is also homophobic language. Large photos of a lynched and burned man are shown. While these are grainy and it’s difficult to make out any details there is a graphic description of what was done. There’s a scene of police officers beating up a black man. A bomb explodes destroying a couple of cars. The sexual references are two men suggesting one wants to perform oral sex on the other. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Based on the book “Black Klansman” by the real Ron Stallworth, Spike Lee’s film messes with a few of the facts, adds a couple of characters and punches everyone that sees the film in the gut. Perhaps the hardest part to watch is the final few minutes that uses archive footage from a recent event to drive home to the point we have a long way to go. I feel certain the film will be in the running for the next Academy Awards in several categories and it will deserve to win them all. It is a powerful film that needs to be seen.

“BlacKkKlansman” gets five stars.

The Meg

Billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) is funding an underwater research facility. It is doing cutting edge science and is about to possibly make a big discovery. The leaders of the facility are Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing). The facility sends down a deep-water sub with a crew of three on board. They are investigating whether the bottom of the Marianas Trench is actually the bottom. Their theory is its a layer of gas and the trench is deeper. The sub breaks through the layer of gas and discovers the ocean floor is covered with hydrothermal vents called black smokers. There are many unique lifeforms that are unknown to science waiting to be discovered. Then, something rams their sub, disabling it. The subs pilot, Lori (Jessica McNamee) sends out a last desperate message saying, “Jonas was right!” Jonas is her ex-husband Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a former Navy rescue diver specializing in deep-water rescues. Five years earlier while on a rescue of crewmen from a nuclear submarine, something was ramming the sub, causing it to implode. Jonas decided to release his rescue vehicle from the sub, saving 11 men but leaving two of his own behind. In the investigation that followed Jonas was found to have panicked causing the deaths of two of his men. He was thrown out of the Navy and the stress led to his divorce from Lori. Now, Dr. Zhang and an old buddy, James “Mac” Mackreides (Cliff Curtis) who works for Dr. Zhang, approach Jonas to try a rescue of Lori’s sub. Jonas is reluctant, but he attempts the rescue. Once he’s on the bottom Jonas finally learns what damaged Lori’s sub and likely destroyed the nuclear vessel: A massive variety of shark thought to have been extinct for millions of years, a megalodon.

“The Meg” is a big, dumb action movie. It has no more value than to be a pleasant diversion from the doom and gloom of the real world. That isn’t a complaint as “The Meg” is one of the better diversions of the summer so far.

What struck me most about the film is the look. The technology on display is impressive even if it is all fake. The screens, the panels, the design of the subs are all futuristic and practical at the same time. It’s a triumph of production design that might get some attention come awards season.

There’s also the general impression of the script. While you won’t walk out of the theater feeling smarter, you might remember a couple of lines or how all the characters (with the exception of Rainn Wilson’s billionaire) sound intelligently written. Wilson’s Jack Morris is clearly intelligent but with an edge of arrogance and self-importance. The rest of the characters know their jobs and perform them efficiently. It’s only when things start to go sideways that their personalities are differentiated.

Jason Statham delivers his usual tough-guy character but with a touch of humanity. While he starts the film as a bit of a jackass and he’s the hero in almost every situation thereafter, the script gives his character a bit of warmth and charm that’s sometimes missing from his usual roles. He even gets the beginnings of a love story with one character, something you don’t always see in Statham-led films.

The rest of the cast is good but there is one standout: Sophia Shuya Cai as Meiying, the daughter of Suyin. This little firecracker has most of the best lines in the movie. She has surprisingly strong chemistry with Statham and holds her own with the adults in the cast. Anyone that’s in a movie with this young lady in the future had better bring their A game as she is as much a shark as the title monster.

“The Meg” is rated PG-13 for bloody images, action/peril and some language. We see a severed arm after a meg attack. There are also sea creatures that are bitten into (or in half). A diver in a shark cage is nearly swallowed cage and all by the meg. Another diver is chased as he’s being dragged through the water by a moving boat. Swimmers are attacked and eaten by the meg. Foul language is infrequent and mild.

“The Meg” has plenty of action and thrills, it looks great and the megalodon is a fearsome creature that I’m very happy is extinct. I’m not a huge fan of getting in the ocean anyway and if a 90-foot shark with a mouth that could open as much as 10 feet wide was still swimming around you couldn’t get me to stick my toes in the sand, much less the water. I don’t mind going to a theater to see the beast as there’s air conditioning and I won’t get any sand in places that don’t like it. What I’m saying is, it’s a fun movie.

“The Meg” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Mile 22” for WIMZ.com.

If there’s time I’ll review one of the following for this webpage:

Alpha—

Crazy Rich Asians—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, streaming and TV news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Spy”

Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is one of the CIA’s top agents; but he admits he couldn’t do his job without the support of CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) who feeds him information through an ear piece.  Fine is sent on a mission to apprehend Raina Boyanova (Rose Byrne), the daughter of an Eastern European arms dealer that Fine recently killed by accidently shooting him in the head when Fine sneezed.  Boyanova has a tactical nuclear device that is available to the highest bidder.  To keep it from falling into the wrong hands, the CIA sent in Fine; however, Boyanova gets the drop on him and kills him.  She knows someone is listening and rattles off the names of all the CIA’s top agents, warning them to leave her alone or they will meet the same fate.  Susan sees and hears the whole thing and cries because she has a crush on Fine.  During a meeting with CIA Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) and other CIA agents including the hotheaded Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), Cooper offers to go into the field since no one knows who she is outside the agency and track Raina to her meeting with arms dealer Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) who has contacts with a particularly dangerous terrorist group.  Ford is livid and insists on going in guns blazing to get the location of the bomb from Raina.  Crocker disagrees and puts the wheels in motion to put Cooper into the field.  Ford quits in disgust.  Cooper is given a new identity that is decidedly not as sexy as she had hoped and is paired up with another analyst who is also her friend, Nancy (Miranda Hart), who will guide her through an ear piece just like Cooper did for Fine.

This is going to be a short review because “Spy” is just about a perfect action comedy.  Melissa McCarthy is perfect in the role of Susan Cooper, a behind-the-scenes gal who just needs that one break to shine and show what she’s got.  McCarthy is a fearless performer who doesn’t mind looking goofy and sometimes unsympathetic in order to sell her character.  McCarthy is given more than just humorous moments in “Spy.”  There are scenes where she must express painful emotions and even announce her unrequited love for a spy that she believes betrayed her and the agency.  McCarthy is able to convey a far more nuanced performance than one might expect from a broad and raunchy comedy.

The rest of the cast is also asked to deliver complex performances and they all shine bright.  Rose Byrne as the main bad guy is brilliant.  She’s supposed to be a cold, aloof and deadly socialite who also is taking over her late father’s criminal empire; however, that veneer of icy perfection is always on the edge of cracking if things don’t go exactly to her liking.  This usually leads to a sting of expletives and some very funny business.  Byrne proved her comedic chops in “Neighbors” with Seth Rogen last year and merely added to her humorous resume with “Spy.”

If there is a surprise from any of the performances it comes from Jason Statham as the powder keg of an agent Rick Ford.  Statham’s performance isn’t that much different than what he did in “Fast and Furious 7” or his “Transporter” movies or any other of his films.  That’s precisely why it’s so funny.  Statham’s Ford is constantly bragging about how he has suffered incredible injuries and everyone he’s ever loved has been killed by the object of his investigations and yet he still manages to get the job done.  The interactions between Ford and Cooper after his stories reach a point to extreme silliness are some of the film’s best scenes.  While these two characters are at constant odds with each other the chemistry between McCarthy and Statham is undeniable.  They obviously enjoy playing with each other and I’m sure the DVD will be filled with outtakes featuring the pair.  Those may be the funniest parts of the movie we’ll have to wait for.

If the film has a weakness, and it’s tiny, it’s the stunt work during some of the action scenes.  The actual stunts themselves are great; however, when the action is supposed to be carried out by McCarthy’s character and it’s obviously a stunt person wearing a wig and matching outfit, it pulled me right out of the film.  This only happens a time or two but it is so obvious it is jarring.  There is also a stunt near the end of the film where the replacement of McCarthy is far more seamless but the stunt itself makes it clear someone other than the star is doing it.  It’s a tiny quibble but I wanted to point it out so you can be on the lookout for more bad stunt doubles when you see the film.

“Spy” is rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity.  There are several fights mostly of the acrobatic variety.  Some are bloody including seeing a knife stabbed through a woman’s hand.  There is also a fight scene where a man has his ankle graphically broken when it is stomped on.  There are also a couple of vomit scenes.  There are a couple of scenes where a foreign agent gets very handsy with McCarthy’s Cooper.  There is also a sex act briefly shown but there is no nudity.  I cannot remember any nudity in the film at all.  Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Spy” is about the most consistently funny film I’ve seen in a long time.  While there are some action scenes and shots of the skyline of whatever European city the story takes us to, there is very little wasted time getting to the next set up of jokes or physical humor.  The entire cast is given a chance to show off their comedic abilities and no one disappoints.  Even the characters that are playing it as straight as possible deliver significant laughs regularly.  It is the kind of action comedy that should be studied by everyone in Hollywood and copied relentlessly.  Writer/director Paul Feig should receive every possible award for this gem of a film.  See it then see it again so the movie industry knows this is the kind of film they should be making more of if they want to have a nice fat bottom line.

“Spy” gets a very enthusiastic five stars.

Next week only one film opens in wide release, so I’ll be reviewing “Jurassic World.”

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send email to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Fast and Furious 7”

Death comes for us all as we know. It doesn’t matter your economic status, your popularity on social media or how many movies and TV shows you’ve been in, one day the Grim Reaper comes to visit. With filming only half finished on “Fast and Furious 7,” star Paul Walker and a friend died in a fiery car crash. Reality came busting in to a film franchise that had grown increasingly fantastical with stunts, explosions and violence. While fans would have been disappointed, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the studio had decided to cancel the film; however, star Vin Diesel, who is also one of the producers, announced the movie would go on and be a memorial of sorts to Walker. While the series isn’t known for its emotional heft or deep meaning, the seventh edition pays a heartfelt tribute and says an emotional goodbye to both Walker and his character Brian O’Conner. I think Walker would have approved.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) visits his comatose brother Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in a hospital in London, vowing to get his revenge on those responsible. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is saying goodbye to his nephew, the son of Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) when he receives a cryptic call from Shaw. Just then, a package from Tokyo on Dom’s porch explodes, blowing the front half of the house to smithereens. At the Diplomatic Security Service, Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is working late when he sees someone typing at a computer who shouldn’t be there. It’s Shaw and he’s getting the information on Dom and the rest of the crew from the London adventure. After a brutal fight, Shaw throws a small explosive device that sends Hobbs out a window onto the roof of a car parked below. He’s alive but injured and in the hospital. Calling for Dom, Hobbs gives him the information on Shaw and that he’s a nearly unstoppable killing machine. Dom sees Shaw at the funeral for Han (Sung Kang) that Shaw killed in Tokyo. Giving chase, Shaw and Dom end up in a parking garage and ram their cars head on. Each gets out unhurt and Shaw is about to shoot Dom when armed men drop down on ropes and force Shaw to run away. Dom is held at gunpoint until Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) appears and calls off his men. Petty heads an unnamed covert intelligence unit and wants to strike a deal with Dom: He will help him catch Shaw if Dom will help get a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) away from an international terrorist named Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Ramsey has developed a program that hacks into any online system or cell phone to track any person who is anywhere in the world near a digital device. Jakande wants the program and he will torture Ramsey to get it. If Dom and his crew are successful, Petty will let Dom use the program, called God’s Eye, to find Shaw.

The plot of “Fast and Furious 7” is overly convoluted and utterly unnecessary. All any of us wants to see in the film is suped-up muscle cars performing mind-bending stunts, pretty girls in bikinis and tons of fights: In that regard, “Fast and Furious 7” should make those who enjoy the series very happy. This film also serves as a melancholy goodbye to Paul Walker and his character. This sad aspect of the film is handled about as sweetly and emotionally as one could hope. While the film never slips into maudlin grieving, it is pretty obvious this was a difficult film to finish and cast and crew have handled it well.

While no one in the cast will win an Oscar for their performance, everyone delivers a fine job on screen. Tyrese Gibson, whose character went from angry young man to comic relief since he was introduced in the second film, provides some much needed levity to a film that could have slipped into melodramatic seriousness. Gibson’s scene in the airplane, which has been a part of just about every trailer, is hilarious. It also looks pretty spectacular. Vin Diesel cements his position as head of this unrelated family with a solid if one-note performance. Paul Walker, who I never thought was much of an actor, manages to dredge up some emotion and energy in his final go as Brian. He also gets some of the most exciting action scenes in his fights with a character played by martial arts star Tony Jaa. Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs is out of commission for most of the film but plays a pivotal role in the finale. I always enjoy Johnson in a movie, even a bad one. He pretty much plays the same character over and over again and I believe that character is himself. Michelle Rodriguez is given the role that is supposed to be going through the most turmoil as she’s fighting her growing feelings for Dom while dealing with her memory loss. That subplot is mostly forgotten to get the action and car crashes into the over two hour running time. It only resurfaces when the film hits an emotional peak. The rest of the supporting cast, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell and Djimon Hounsou are given minimal screen time and not much to do; however, they do it pretty well. Jason Statham is the film’s main bad guy and he, much like Dwayne Johnson, always seems to be playing the same character. Whether he’s the hero or the villain, Statham has a poker face that is supposed to have all this rage and violence simmering underneath. As the villain in “Fast and Furious 7” he’s pretty generic. The rampaging bull setting out to get revenge on those who hurt his sibling and we’ve seen it all before. Statham doesn’t seem to have any expression or emotion other than mild annoyance. That usually leads to a bone-shattering fight but it doesn’t really do much to sell the character’s motivation to cause so much mayhem and death. Part of the blame is on the script but the rest goes to the actor. Again, I usually like Statham in his films but this time his performance is a bit flat.

The real question on everyone’s mind is how Paul Walker’s character is handled and is the use of body doubles and CGI painfully obvious. Without giving too much away, Walker’s death is handled about as sensitively as it could have. Many parts of the film are the cast and crew saying goodbye to Walker. A tribute at the end showing Walker in all the “Fast and Furious” films in which he’s appeared is both a sweet and painful farewell. While the movie never dwells on the loss, it does pay its respects to the lost actor in a way that may draw a tear from your eyes. While there are a few fleeting moments when it appears the character of Brian isn’t being played by Walker, that happens in many action movies where stunt doubles are used. The most obvious of these is during fight scenes and doesn’t really detract from the rest of the film. Much like the times they digitally pasted Robert Downey, Jr.’s face on a body double during the shooting of “Iron Man 3,” the instances of digital manipulation, body doubles and dialog dubbing aren’t noticeable. The digital magicians at director Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital have done a masterful job of making Walker’s replacement seamless.

“Fast and Furious 7” is rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. Cars are jumped between buildings, dropped from aircraft, tumble down mountainsides, are buried in collapsing buildings, explode, and just about any other form of vehicular destruction you can think of. Many of these escapades leave the occupants only scratched or at worst unconscious. Parents might want to have a serious talk with soon to be or just started driving teenagers. There are also several fights that would have left people in the real world with at least a broken jaw and a concussion. Here, they just keep on fighting. The suggestive content involves bikini-clad women dancing while being sprayed with water and women wearing very short shorts. Foul language is limited and the film doesn’t take advantage of its one F-bomb.

The “Fast and Furious” franchise has grown on me over the years. While I found the early films unimpressive, the series has grown up and grown more insane and that makes it hard for me not to like them. They are like the video game Grand Theft Auto only turned up to 11. This seventh installment also has an unexpectedly strong emotional element as the franchise says goodbye to one of its founding fathers. Paul Walker’s farewell is both sad and hopeful in the film. The character of Brian will continue to be a part of the series if only in memory and I’m certain his name will be mentioned in subsequent installments and we’ll see him in flashbacks taken from previous films. Despite all the film’s numerous flaws, it is still a fun ride.

“Fast and Furious 7” gets five stars.

There’s only one new movie in wide release and it’s based on a Nicolas Sparks book.  Since I’m not a 13-year old girl, I’ll probably see something else but here’s the trailer for “The Longest Ride.”

What I’ll see…I don’t know but maybe it will be something small and in need of my entertainment dollar.

You can follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send email to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.