Spike Lee has never been one to shy away from a fight or push an idea far enough that you can't help but notice. And for over 30 years, he's set out to make films that make a difference.
Do the Right Thing might not have cured racism in Brooklyn but it introduced an entire generation of white kids to the music of Public Enemy. (See also: Malcolm X, Bamboozled, When the Levees Broke, 4 Little Girls, Jungle Fever and Chi-Raq).
And the latest Spike Lee joint, BlacKkKlansman, hitting screens at the Whistler Village 8 this week, might be among the best work of his career. Based (loosely) on a true story, BlacKkKlansman stars John David Washington (Denzel's son—slaying it) as Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs department back in the late '70s.
Figuring the smartest course of action is to swing for the fences, Stallworth decides to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. It's as easy as picking up the phone, but soon Ron recruits a more seasoned (white and Jewish) colleague as a stand-in for Klan events and meetings. What could possibly go wrong?Lee is an audacious filmmaker, fearless and creatively rambunctious with jump cuts and unexpected juxtapositions, but when he finds a groove, he can lock the viewers in and ride/crash them into any revelation he pleases. And he does it here. BlacKkKlansman has the feel of a screwball comedy, the tension of a heist flick, and an emotional resonance that cuts the crap.
The easy discussion around BlacKkKlansman is about how it ties into the state of race relations in today's Trumped-up America. Lee expects this, and finishes his film in a way that ensures it. But the reality is that even though the events depicted happened in the 1970s and Ron Stallworth's source-material book was written in 2014, the point here transcends current events, and instead acts as a look at systemic oppression over the ages, and a provocation for change.
BlacKkKlansman is, like most of Lee's work, a "big picture" story. And, in this day and age, with the online echo chambers and media fear-mongering, it's refreshing to watch a film that easily sees the cultural trainwreck right in front of it, but hasn't forgot to check the rearview for context and insight. BlacKkKlansman is worth a look.
The other flick opening this week, speaking of trainwrecks, is Kin, a sci-fi crime thriller about a working class kid who finds an alien-tech laser gun, or something. I only saw the trailer but it looks like some space bad guys show up, there's sibling rivalry (or is it love?) and Zoe Kravitz. Then James Franco pops in. The plot looks as smooth as scrambled eggs, so proceed with caution here.
The Stream of the Week is Summer of 84, a brand new, Canadian-made teenage coming-of-age thriller based on the idea that every serial killer lives next door to someone, and it might be you.
Davy is a typical '80s 15-year-old with sex-obsessed friends, a sick BMX, and a foxy, couple-years-older girl next door who sometimes changes with the blinds up. Life is good, until Davy starts thinking that the friendly cop in his cul-de-sac is actually a serial killer who's burying dead kids in his yard. What evil lurks in the suburbs of America? Davy and his crew set out to find out...
The concept is not new—Hitchcock set the mould for voyeur thrillers in 1954's Rear Window (see also Brian De Palma's Body Double, Philip Noyce's Sliver, Tom Hanks in The 'Burbs, the classic Simpsons episode "Bart of Darkness" and the more recent and similar 2007 Shia LaBeouf vehicle, Disturbia), but Quebec filmmaking team RKSS (Anouk Whissell, Francois Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell) make a solid entry into the subgenre.
This is the team behind the incredible piece of post-apoco-cinema-nostalgia Turbo Kid, except this time out they transcend their own style-over-substance roots (and the Stranger Things comparisons) with solid acting, real tension (the soundtrack slays) and the kind of ending that will piss off as many film fans as it hooks. Summer of 84 is derivative, but for a late-night thriller that makes you lock the door before you go to bed, it slays.