The Lurid Humanism of BlacKkKlansman and Sharp Objects

Spike Lee uses D. W. Griffin’s incendiary Birth of a Nation in quasi-meta fashion in his masterful comeback film about racists getting their comeuppance, the wildly entertaining yet sobering BlacKkKlansman.  If the former film was “history written by lightning,” then the latter might be “satire written by thunder.”  But while Lee and his screenwriters are thunderous in their political leanings, the filmmakers are most effective in delivery of the message because of how taut, understated and meticulous they are in the weaving of their storytelling craft.

BlacKkKlansman is a procedural undercover cop jawn about Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington in a “star is born” type performance and a chip off the old block of his dad Denzel) who infiltrates the local chapter of the KKK (almost on a lark, in prank-phone call style) in the 1970’s.  When the KKK agrees to meet him in person for the purpose of initiation, he convinces his sergeant to let him use his Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, shockingly good) to pose as the eager new racist recruit.  Thus we end up with Jewish cop pretending to be a black cop pretending to be a white supremacist…and getting away with it…and stopping a terrorist bombing to boot.  It would all be ludicrous if it wasn’t true (though apparently some of the details of the actual case are played with loosely here for the purpose of entertainment and message delivery).  There’s a lot more going on in the film, and it’s tonally played to expert effect flipping between a satirical comedy of manners and a cop thriller about the worst kind of criminals.

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The Two Faces of Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine 2

Happy Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

In Woody Allen’s last dramatic mini-masterpiece, Match Point, his protagonist showed that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of good luck, a person could get away with anything…even murder.  But maybe the old Woodster really wasn’t that cynical, and maybe he wanted to atone for that message.  Allen has plenty to atone for.  And so does Wall Street.  His latest, Blue Jasmine, shares a bit thematically with Match Point in its depiction of charades and human beings willing to do anything (even start Ponzi schemes) to hold onto the good life, but it also shows that bad luck is just as easy to conjure as good luck.  Here, Allen’s culprit (Alec Baldwin) gets caught, and Allen depicts the aftershocks of a Madoff-like scandal through the eyes of the criminal’s fractured wife.  With its bi-coastal setting hopscotching timeframes between New York and San Francisco, Allen seems to be atoning for all the time he spent in Europe, and perhaps communally for Wall Street’s dirty deeds…for the gilded life he’s lived for so long in New York alongside those financial schemers…for the snobbery…for the elitism…the casually charming arrogance of it all.  Every good thing comes to an end…right?  And all we need to get through it is a little vodka and Xanax. Continue reading

To Rome With Love

There are a lot of characters in the new Woody Allen movie.

At one point in Woody Allen’s rambling, absurdist, vignette stuffed, overflowing pasta dish of a new film, Woody’s character says to his psychiatrist wife (Judy Davis) when she tries to psychoanalyze him something to the effect of, “Go ahead, thousands have tried and failed.”  On the surface Woody appears to be attempting it on himself here in To Rome With Love.  As is such with latter-day Allen flicks, this one is a beautifully photographed postcard of a film, pseudo-intellectual stuff for American tourists, as much a fluffy love letter to Rome as it is a love letter to Allen himself.  But Woody is only psychoanalyzing himself for comedic effect (I suppose that’s the eternal self-loather in him), and in many ways this film is as much a jab at his fickle critics and fans who seem lost in this haze that every other film of his stinks.  Some are clearly better than others (thus is the curse of being prolific) – but they rarely stink.  But if you insist on categorizing this thing, I would say this is at the higher end of the low-end of post millennial Woody.  Yes…I guess it’s just above middling, if you must.

There are a million stories in the eternal city, and Allen – the seemingly eternal filmmaker – finds in Rome a kindred spirit.  Damn his silly old soul if he doesn’t try to tell a million of those stories in a single film.  Continue reading

82nd Annual Academy Awards Predictions and Drinking Game

We're three wild and crazy guys!

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards aired Sunday Night, March 7th, 2010.  Below were my predictions for the winners in the major categories.  The actual winners were filled in after the Oscars are announced.

Well, I scored a personal worst of only 11/24 this year (after a record shattering personal best score of 18/24 last year), but I’ve never been happier to have been so wrong.  The right film actually won for the first time since, well, I don’t know when!

Highlights of the evening included:

  • A few genuine surprises in the screenplay categories and for foreign language film.
  • Hosts (Baldwin and Martin) who were actually funny.
  • No musical numbers spare for the humorous opening! (Though there was an annoying dance number for the best score nominees)
  • The humility, humor, and quiet heartbreak of Sandra Bullock who knew she did not deserve to win but was so sincerely thankful.
  • The humility of Kathryn Bigelow who knew she deserved to win (and made history in doing so) but also knew there are more important things and more important people to honor than films and filmmakers. 

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A Review of Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”

In honor of the Golden Globe nominations and the race for Oscar, here is a rebroadcast of my review of The Departed from when it originally opened in October of 2006.  This is the only film from this year to receive 10/10 stars from me.  Comparatively, last year, I bestowed two 10 star reviews to The Constant Gardener and Crash (which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture).  In 2004, I bestowed only one 10 star review to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The Renaissance, 9 October 2006
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Martin Scorsese has reached a point in his career where he has free reign to do whatever he wishes as a director. It’s hallowed ground for an auteur, and as such, every actor worth his salt would kill to work for him knowing full well that whatever Scorsese chooses to do will be an uncompromising work of art. With “The Departed” he has quite possibly one of the greatest casts ever assembled. The deliciously convoluted plot based on the recent Asian flick “Infernal Affairs” showcases Jack Nicholson as an Irish mob boss; Leonardo DiCaprio as an undercover cop infiltrating the crime ring; Matt Damon as the crime ring’s inside man with the police unit assigned to bring them down; Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg as the cops working above Damon and DiCaprio; and a breakthrough role for Vera Farmiga as a police psychiatrist in a love triangle with Damon and DiCaprio. This brief but confusing rundown is merely the tip of the iceberg and reveals nothing of the plot twists and tension riddling every aspect of the film like bullet holes from a machine gun massacre.

By now, Scorsese is to crime dramas what Hitchcock was to psychological thrillers. Comparatively, he’s at the same point in his long career Hitchcock was when he gave us “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” and “Vertigo.” Scorsese could’ve directed this blindfolded and it would’ve still been first rate. What’s so thrilling about Scorsese as a filmmaker is that he’s always directing full throttle with his eyes wide open. “The Departed” is so ridiculously good it left me with chills afterward. After a brief departure to big budget Oscar pushes with “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator,” Scorsese returns to the familiar ground of his most revered projects like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” Goodfellas,” and “Casino.” All his hallmarks are here: fantastic use of music, brilliantly choreographed bouts of violence, heart-pounding editing, deep and meaningful camera shots and movement, religious iconography, an epic and detailed sense of place (in this case, Boston), and highly quotable dialogue that is dramatic and funny and full of pathos in all the right places.

With its rising tension and cat-and-mouse theatrics, “The Departed” is easily the most viscerally thrilling studio film to come down the pike in many moons. Scorsese doesn’t just treat us to his usual bag of tricks, he re-imagines them, and in exorcising perfectly balanced performances from an amazingly talented cast that in the hands of lesser director may have gone over-the-top, he delivers a modern day tragedy on par with greatest works of Shakespeare. For Scorsese, the big screen is his canvas, the camera his paint brush, and the blood splattered across the screen his awe-inspiring brush strokes. He’s a veteran, he’s a master, and “The Departed” is his Renaissance.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database.

http://imdb.com/title/tt0407887/usercomments-359