BlacKkKlansman Movie Review

Spike Lee mixes laughter with anger in the truth is stranger than fiction tale BlacKkKlansman. While it takes some liberties with historical accuracies (set seven years earlier than when its events actually transpired), there’s no mistaking Lee’s connecting of the then with the now. He’s not a subtle filmmaker and this finds him in his feisty and stylish element.

It’s 1972 and we know that from the strategically placed Nixon re-election signs. There’s also discussions on who’s a better movie hero – Superfly or Shaft? Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is a rookie cop hired as the first black officer in Colorado Springs. His superiors assign him to go undercover at a civil rights rally to monitor behavior. That leads Stallworth requesting a more unconventional operation, especially for the era. He wishes to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, a group whose actions are more worthy of keeping tabs on. The color of his skin obviously presents a challenge. So while he establishes a relationship with Klansmen over the phone, it’s fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who joins them.

The main characters of the local Klan organization are the untrusting Felix (Jasper Paakkonen), the too trusting Walter (Ryan Eggold), and trusted to be always drunk Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser). Stallworth’s telephone skills eventually put him in touch with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). It so happens that the Klan’s targets could involve Stallworth’s love interest Patrice (Laura Harrier), the president of the black student union.

BlacKkKlansman is a police procedural for much of its running time with numerous excursions in grander issues. There’s a wonderfully edited sequence going back and forth between two very different rallies discussing the same subject – D.W. Griffith’s incendiary 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation. While this is set 46 years ago, the screenplay explores that time over 100 years ago in riveting fashion. It also touches on the present day in Charlottesville with fierce urgency.

There are times when Lee is saying that little has really changed. Washington (whose voice in particular resembles his father Denzel’s) shows himself to be a promising performer. Some of the biggest laughs come from his phone banter with the clueless Duke. Driver’s character has perhaps the most interesting story arc. He’s a non-practicing Jew who’s at first ambivalent about his assignment. His disgust with the people he’s infiltrated with soon matches that of Stallworth. The romance with Patrice is a bit underwritten, but it’s a minor quibble.

Tonal shifts are abundant here. It serves less as a distraction than a message that humor can be found through the pain of racism and the characters who display it. The images of Charlottesville also show both rallies in that event and it’s a heart wrenching scene. BlacKkKlansman, through light and dark moments, is a stark reminder of our past and present that is Lee’s own rallying cry.

***1/2 (out of four)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Movie Review

The Mission: Impossible franchise has now reached its sixth feature and its 22nd year of existence, providing the seemingly ageless Tom Cruise with a hit making series that continues to deliver. That’s a rather remarkable accomplishment and Fallout belongs in the upper echelons in terms of bang for your buck entertainment.

Truth be told, there’s been no total dog yet in the Mission sagas. My one minor complaint about its predecessor, 2015’s Rogue Nation, was its lack of directorial vision. Christopher McQuarrie and his large squad of tech and stunt wizards pulled off some impressive action sequences in that picture. However, unlike the previous four pics, it didn’t feel quite as distinctive. Part 1 was certainly a Brian De Palma experience and the first sequel was all kinds of John Woo (for occasionally better and more for the worse). Same goes for J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird in the next ones (Ghost Protocol still stands as my personal favorite).

McQuarrie is the first filmmaker to return in the director’s chair. I must admit that maybe I just didn’t fully recognize his stamp on the series the first time around. These latest missions are all about spectacle and not really concerned with melding the mayhem to its maker’s vision. In Fallout, that’s pretty much perfectly OK even more so than in Rogue. That’s because the team of people making the action are the best at it. We’ve seen plenty of car chases, helicopter battles, and bathroom brawls in our time. This franchise excels at it in ways few others do.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF squad (including Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) pick up two years after the events of the fifth installment. Learned Mission watchers know the plot will likely be convoluted and a secondary consideration. That’s true here, but let’s go over the basics. We have lost plutonium that IMF must find or risk nuclear attack. Part 5’s villain (Sean Harris) is involved. Ethan is forced to partner with a bulky CIA agent (Henry Cavill). MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) from Rogue resurfaces. She continues to be one of Hunt’s more interesting partners. And the short-lived wedded bliss that we witnessed Ethan in during part 3 with Michelle Monaghan becomes a focal point. Oh… and there’s plenty of double crosses. And those masks. Fallout also features the most satisfying use of a CNN anchor ever committed to film.

Of course, all of this leads to Ethan globe-trotting from London to Paris to Kashmir. And the song remains the same: our hero is the only one capable of figuring out how to keep the world from crumbling. What’s often startling is just how much care is expended in creating the impossible situations he finds himself in. McQuarrie’s biggest contribution may just be the go for broke style vibe to Ethan’s dangerous exploits. As always, Cruise is a more than willing subject and he even broke his ankle during one stunt.

Cruise and McQuarrie simply refuse to allow Mission to coast on auto pilot. The franchise continues to come up with new and exciting ways to put our mega star in peril. Six films in, that is quite a feat.

***1/2 (out of four)

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Box Office Prediction

Now in its 22nd year of existence, Tom Cruise’s signature franchise keeps rolling along as Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth offering in the series debuts stateside next weekend. Christopher McQuarrie is the first director to come back behind the camera (he made 2015’s predecessor Rogue Nation) for repeat work after Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird made their stand-alone entries. Returning cast members from previous installments include Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, and Alec Baldwin. Newcomers include Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett.

The buzz for Fallout indicates it could be a high mark in the long running franchise. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 93% with some critics claiming it’s the best of the bunch thus far. It’s particularly being praised for its action scenes and stunt work (which actually caused its mega-watt star to break an ankle on set). Even with the generous helping of sequels and genre pics out there (Skyscraper will be in its third weekend of release with The Equalizer 2 in its second), this series seems to be going strong.

In order to achieve the largest opening of all the M:I features, Fallout would need to top the $57 million achieved 18 years ago by part 2. Rogue Nation came close three summers ago with $55 million. I believe this should have enough juice to do so with a low to mid 60s gross.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout opening weekend prediction: $63.6 million

For my Teen Titans Go! To the Movies prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/18/teen-titans-go-to-the-movies-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

For 22 years now, the Mission: Impossible franchise has been a sturdy and profitable one for its star Tom Cruise. Two weeks from now, the sixth picture in the series Mission: Impossible – Fallout hits theaters stateside. Early reviews have been quite impressive with some critics hailing it as the best movie of the bunch so far. One prominent critic went as far to say it’s the best action flick since Mad Max: Fury Road. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 96%.

In case you forgot, Fury Road got itself a Best Picture nomination. That seems highly unlikely for Fallout, but it’s fair to speculate whether voters will choose to honor it in any way. If they do, it would probably be in a technical category or two with Sound Editing and Sound Mixing being the most obvious. Fallout is being hailed for its amazing action sequences (if there was an Oscar category for Best Stunts, that race could be a wrap).

Of the five Mission‘s that have preceded this, they have a collective Oscar nod count of zero. Just that fact makes it a long shot that part 6 receives any attention. However, if some of the tech category voters want to throw it a bone, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Downsizing

Blogger’s Update (09/19/17) – What Venice giveth, Toronto and Telluride taketh away. Since my original writing of this post on 08/30, Oscar prospects for Downsizing have dimmed due to mixed reaction from the aforementioned festivals.

A major piece of the 2017 Oscar puzzle has come into focus today with the debut of Alexander Payne’s Downsizing at the Venice Film Festival. This picture has been circled on the calendar of Academy Awards prognosticators since it was announced. Why? For starters, this is Payne’s seventh directorial feature and his previous five efforts have all received Oscar attention. For 1999’s Election, Payne received a nod for Adapted Screenplay. 2002’s About Schmidt landed two nominations in the acting races for Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. 2004’s Sideways nabbed five nominations, including Picture, Director, and a win for Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor for Adapted Screenplay. 2011’s The Descendants also received five nominations, with Payne winning once again for Adapted Screenplay. His last film, 2013’s Nebraska, garnered six nominations including Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. His last five movies have resulted in a total of seven acting nods.

So yeah… pretty much anything Payne puts out is an automatic Oscar contender. That does not look to end with Downsizing, his science fiction comedic drama that has drawn rave reviews out of the gate. It’s not out until December 22, but trade reviews are up and they’re glowing with praise. The Hollywood Reporter: “Big and beautiful” and arguably his best film. Variety: “playful, spectacular, mischievous, and audacious”. Interestingly, both reviews reference it as like as a live-action Pixar feature.

Downsizing has a highly recognizable cast that includes Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, and Jason Sudeikis. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Damon in the mix for Best Actor, based on early word. Yet it’s a name you probably haven’t heard that you’ll soon become familiar with. Playing a Vietnamese refugee, Hong Chau has been singled out for her work and I’d venture to say she will be receiving a Supporting Actress nomination here.

Before today, Dunkirk was the only picture that I feel confident saying will receive a Best Picture nomination. Downsizing is now the second and it will probably land Payne directing and original screenplay (along with Jim Taylor) recognition. Beyond that – Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and even Visual Effects categories are all feasible.

Bottom line: Downsizing just announced itself as a potential force this awards season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Rules Don’t Apply Movie Review

A film focusing on a meticulous and eccentric legend who’s bedded scores of women would seem to be right up Warren Beatty’s alley, but Rules Don’t Apply is a rather big letdown for the director’s first effort in nearly two decades. It’s a passion project for Mr. Beatty that partially focuses on the life of reclusive aviation and movie making billionaire Howard Hughes. Unlike the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio biopic The Aviator, however, Rules isn’t nearly as concerned with historical accuracy and is as much an old-fashioned Hollywood romance.

Beatty plays Hughes circa 1958-1964, a time where his OCD and reliance on pharmaceutical relief had reached massive levels. He’s still running RKO Pictures and flying girls in from all over the country for screen tests. One such prospect is Marla (Lily Collins), a devout Baptist from Virginia who flies into La La Land with her equally proper mother (Beatty’s spouse Annette Bening). She’s never had a drink, never “gone all the way” (as is the common term in this screenplay), and certainly never met a character like Mr. Hughes. Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) is one of Hughes’s many chauffeurs who’s actually yet to meet the man himself. He’s tasked with driving Marla around and they soon begin a courtship, even though Frank is engaged to his childhood sweetheart.

Further complications arise when Hughes (who strictly forbids such interaction between his many employees) gets to know Marla better. The screenplay (by Beatty and his longtime collaborator Bo Goldman) juggles the romance with some of Howard’s business and government dealings as his abnormal behavior continues to increase. We do not see the grotesque and totally shut off character that DiCaprio showed us a dozen years ago in his Oscar nominated role. Rules is much lighter stuff and feels considerably less consequential.

Some welcome comedic hey is made of the many people who wait on Hughes hand and foot, including Matthew Broderick’s assistant and Candice Bergen’s secretary. There’s many familiar faces who pop up in smaller roles (most of them likely just wanted to work with Beatty) and they include Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, and Oliver Platt.

Part of the problem is that while Collins and Ehrenreich are perfectly fine in their performances, their chemistry is adequate at best. A bigger issue is that Rules feels a bit all over the map in plot and tone. The arc of Howard’s disintegration into madness is an odd mix of humor and drama that never gels despite Beatty’s best efforts. It’s also hard to ignore that he’s about 20 years older than Hughes at this particular point in his life, but if anyone can pull that off…

For a director who’s known to be incredibly particular, this one contains only fleeting moments that you’ll remember. The rest, sadly, don’t apply.

** (out of four)

Todd’s Top 10 Most Awaited Fall 2017 Movies

Well folks – summer is winding down and on the movie calendar, that means fall ushers in Oscar contenders, film festivals, and all kinds of other eagerly awaited releases! Today on the blog, I bring you my 10 most awaited pictures of the season. Getting the list down to that number wasn’t exactly easy, so I’ll cheat a bit and mention some that just “missed the cut”. They include sequels (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Thor: Ragnarok), star vehicles like American Made with Tom Cruise and Roman Israel, Esq. with Denzel Washington, and Academy contenders like Battle of the Sexes, The Greatest Showman, Suburbicon, Darkest Hour, All the Money in the World, and The Disaster Artist.

Yet here are the ten that my personal movie calendar is most looking forward to (listed alphabetically):

Blade Runner 2049

Release Date: October 6

35 years after Ridley Scott made his landmark sci-fi pic, Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve enters this visually stunning world with Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, and Robin Wright and Harrison Ford returning as Deckard.

Downsizing

Release Date: December 22

It may not be out until Christmas, but buzz will be out soon for this Oscar hopeful as it screens in Venice in just days. Alexander Payne’s fantastic filmography includes Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. His latest is a sci-fi comedy/drama starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Sudeikis, and (get used to hearing this name) Hong Chau, who’s already garnering Supporting Actress talk.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

It

Release Date: September 8

Fall essentially kicks off with this adaptation of one of Stephen King’s greatest works. Trailers for It looks scary as hell and it could compete for both biggest September debut ever and highest horror opening of all time.

Justice League

Release Date: November 17

DC’s version of The Avengers has been the subject of shaky buzz, but I’m curious to see how Batman, Aquaman, The Flash, and others meld together. Oh… there’s another one in the form of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who just happened to headline the summer’s unexpected largest domestic hit (beating out other superheroes like the Guardians and Spidey).

mother!

Release Date: September 15

Darren Aronofsky’s latest looks to be in the vein of his Oscar nominated Black Swan and that’s a very good thing. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer star and if this trailer is any indication, we’re in for something very intriguing.

Murder on the Orient Express

Release Date: November 10

Michelle Pfeiffer makes another appearance on this list as she’s part of an impressive ensemble embroiled in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famed novel. Kenneth Branagh directs himself in the lead as Hercule Poirot. Other familiar faces include Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, and Josh Gad.

The Papers

Release Date: December 22

As in the Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post‘s battle with the Nixon administration to release them. You think this one has Oscar bait potential? It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Phantom Thread

Release Date: December 27

Here’s how little is really known about this project… we’re not even sure Phantom Thread is its title. What do we know? It’s master filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest and reunites him with his There Will Be Blood star Daniel Day-Lewis.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

The Shape of Water

Release Date: December 8

Visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s latest looks to be a visual and potentially dramatic winner judging from its trailer. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon star in this 1960s set tale of a woman’s friendship with a strange creature.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Release Date: December 15

Last, but oh so far from the least. Rian Johnson takes over directorial duties for the year’s most anticipated release with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gaining significantly more screen time and Carrie Fisher making her final bow as Princess Leia.

And there you have it, folks! Let us look forward to a hopefully glorious autumn season…