“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

BlacKkKlansman

BLACKkKLANSMAN is the new Spike Lee joint, and it seems like it’s getting way more attention than at least the last decade of his jointography. I don’t remember half this much interest in CHI-RAQ, OLDBOY, RED HOOK SUMMER or MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, and even I haven’t gotten around to DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS yet.

I believe there are a couple reasons for the commotion on this one:

1) It’s produced by GET OUT‘s Jordan Peele

2) and also Blumhouse, who know how to market a low budget movie

3) it’s based on the true story of a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, which is a good hook

and most importantly

4) the fucking walking disaster who currently soils the White House and entire country with every moronically capitalized word that comes out of his dumb asshole fingers has somehow managed to make the god damn KKK actually relevant in 2018. Confidential to Trump: You are the worst American who ever lived and whole families will line up to shit on your grave every 4th of July. Fuck you forever. Even if you gave Spike Lee a boost.

John David Washington (LOVE BEATS RHYMES), a young actor whose voice occasionally makes you say “Oh yeah, that is Denzel’s son!,” plays Ron Stallworth, a rookie cop who is the first black member of the Colorado Springs Police Department, circa 1979. He’s an odd character: he talks with a nasally voice, emphasizes the ‘h’ in his ‘wh’s, but also proudly wears an afro and cool polyester and leather and walks with a certain swagger. There’s a little bit of a trickster quality to him, a dry humor about entering a situation where his very presence will cause waves with a bunch of assholes, and instead of treading lightly he takes the opposite tact, and acts like he doesn’t notice. Yet he is serious about being a cop, pushes to go undercover, and enthusiastically accepts the first assignment they offer: to wear a wire at a speaking event for the civil rights organizer formerly known as Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins, forever Dr. Dre from STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON).

That’s the most interesting conflict in the movie. He’s breaking barriers as “the Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs Police Department,” but is that just making him a sellout, an enemy to his own community? It’s a question also asked in Bill Duke’s true story undercover officer TV movie JOHNNIE MAE GIBSON: FBI. Here it’s asked more forcefully, but answered with more ambiguity than I’d expect – Lee doesn’t moralize against his protagonist like, say, the TV executive at the center of BAMBOOZLED. I’m guessing the director agrees more with Patrice (Laura Harrier – how did I not recognize her as Liz from SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING?), the Black Student Union president who Ron dates after first meeting her while wearing a wire. That’s definitely a violation, but it’s also clear that Ron is a well-meaning person trying to interject himself into situations where he can talk some sense or cool some jets. For example when his bosses flip out hearing talk of arming up for a revolution on the recordings he assures them that in the room it seemed like just talk.

Of course, his white counterpart will say something similar after talking to Klan members, not knowing that they really are planning a bombing.

As you’ve seen in the trailer, one day on a whim Ron calls a phone number from a classified ad for the KKK, gives his real name, pretends to be a bigot. And then he sends a white cop, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, LINCOLN) to be white Ron Stallworth in person. Ron makes the phone calls, including to Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace, PREDATORS), while Flip does all the tense undercover stuff: ingratiating himself with bad people, with the main guy Walter (Ryan Eggold, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM) trusting him while there’s the scary jealous guy Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen, Vikings) who is always really suspicious of him and trying to prove they can’t trust him (in FAST AND THE FURIOUS terms, he’s the Vince).

Sometimes when I see people playing bigots in movies I think about how horrible that must feel, how difficult it must be to get into the mind of that character, to talk like that at all – it must be even weirder when you’re doing it for Spike Lee! The movie gets pretty repetitive because it’s standard undercover investigation tropes without much criminal activity, just a group of assholes saying horrible things. I remember Lee refused to watch DJANGO UNCHAINED because he said “slavery was not a spaghetti western,” and that makes sense, and I can see why this is different because it’s the same kind of degrading talk but it’s just some white morons talking shit, you don’t have to see black actors playing being subjugated by them. But I like DJANGO because we get the cinematic release and wish fulfillment of seeing him stand up against that and get his badass revenge.

Ron does save Flip’s ass through bravery and quick thinking at one point, but mostly he sits in the car listening to people say the n-word. The movie doesn’t make it clear why he even kept talking to them on the phone after they knew Flip’s voice in person.

Patrice says at one point that it’s impossible to make a change from inside the system, and the movie doesn’t exactly refute that. But there’s a scene where they work together to bust a racist, abusive cop, and it’s a satisfying gotcha kinda moment but it feels weirdly uncynical and full of shit for Spike Lee, and sure enough it’s a cinematic invention. With DJANGO we all understand that it’s not what really happened, it’s how we wish things could’ve turned for people who went through what Django went through, just like we wish some basterds could’ve blown away Hitler. But this scene, I think, most people will accept as real, as a comforting bed time story that people will do the right thing in the end.

To be fair, it is used as kind of a false happy ending followed by disappointment. Any progress they make in the KKK investigation seems to be derailed by a lack of support from the top.

The hopeful part is that even if they didn’t fix the system, the specific individuals of this police force seem to have benefited from knowing Ron, and they’re all buddies at the end. I like his attempt to educate them in small ways, by insisting on correct word usage: they can’t call suspects “toads,” they have to call him Kwame Ture because he changed it from Stokely Carmichael, also he argues with Patrice about whether all cops are “pigs.” Most of these people have never been forced to stop and think about his point of view until they met him.

And it’s notable I think that Lee, who used such anti-semitic stereotypes in MO’ BETTER BLUES, deals with a co-protagonist beginning to care more about his Jewish heritage in solidarity with Ron. This apparently does not come from the true story.

On most of Lee’s movies he’s the only screenwriter – for this one he and Kevin Willmott (C.S.A.: THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA, CHI-RAQ) rewrote a spec script by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz, which they based on the book and their own interviews with Stallworth. I got my guesses which parts Spike contributed. For starters: that extra ‘k’ in the middle of the title. I bet he wrote that ‘k’ (unless it was a legal thing forced by Ted V. Mikels’ THE BLACK KLANSMAN [1966]).

As a Spike Lee fan, my favorite parts are all the “oh yeah, Spike came up with this one” parts, even the ones I don’t get. Like, I don’t know why one of the opening scenes is Alec Baldwin (MIAMI BLUES) spouting white supremacist nonsense for an old timey instructional film, angrily yelling and starting over as he screws up takes. Maybe Spike wanted to cast him because he played Trump on SNL. Maybe he just thought “that Alec Baldwin is a blowhard, I’m gonna get him to say a bunch of racist shit.” I don’t know.

Most of the cultural references seem like the work of Spike. For example, Ron and Patrice discuss blaxploitation films (I agree with her, CLEOPATRA JONES is the best). She doesn’t like “pigs” but at least she chooses SHAFT over SUPER FLY because she prefers a private eye to a pimp. When Ron talks about Carmichael’s name change, a cop brings up “that draft dodger Muhammad Ali” and it sounds just like when Pino brings up Louis Farrakhan in DO THE RIGHT THING. I used to think that was kinda forced but especially in the age of social media and Fox News you see that all the time, guys who have their little fixations that they will bring up the second they see a window. This guy loves a good chance to complain about Ali.

There’s a scene where the KKK members watch BIRTH OF A NATION and enjoy it like it’s TALLADEGA NIGHTS or some shit. To be honest I didn’t really buy this part. I totally believe these idiots all talk during movies, but I’m not sure they’d be saying some of this stuff. Nevertheless, there’s a charm to knowing that film history buff was like “well, I put GONE WITH THE WIND at the beginning, I gotta comment on BIRTH OF A NATION here.”

One of the most effective only-Spike-would-do-this scenes is the speech by Kwame Ture. Hawkins delivers the shit out of it and Lee doesn’t abbreviate – he has the entire speech, with the faces of the black and beautiful listeners he describes floating into frame, listening, absorbing, sort of like the young women watching Meryl Streep leave the courthouse in THE POST.

Oh shit, but what about the unexpected appearance of (UNEXPECTED APPEARANCE SPOILER) Harry Belafonte (THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL) telling a true story about a lynching? And then holding up photos? I had heard there was a scene intercutting people chanting “white power” and “black power” and I thought “ooh, that sounds like a really dumb false equivalency there,” but the context of the scene is that the “white power” people are preaching a fictional genetic superiority while the “black power” people are talking about standing up to an actual history of violent oppression.

Still, definitely the one that got me most was the end – SPOILER I GUESS? – when he cuts to real footage from the Charlottesville rally, Trump and Duke talking about it, and graphic footage of the car and witnesses on the scene talking about it shortly afterwards. And then he gives us a long silence where I and my fellow audiences members somehow managed to not sob out loud, let alone breathe or swallow.

(They were less respectful once the credits started. CAN’T YOU HEAR THAT PRINCE IS SINGING?)

In the story of the film, these Klansmen and neo-confederates, once exalted in epic cinema, had been reduced to yahoos, Elmore Leonard b-villains at best, and that’s after dramatic license. They even have Paul Walter Hauser as an even more ridiculous dumbass than his fake security expert in I, TONYA. Apparently the David Duke stuff – the membership card, the security detail, the Polaroid – all comes from the book, but the bombing plot (in which they SPOILER only blow themselves up anyway) didn’t really happen. Ron and the team mostly just stop cross burnings, and then they get taken off the case.

So it is confounding, shocking, appalling that forty years later those yahoos are the president, the advisers, the speech writers, the social media stars, the Fox News personalities, the young people given many platforms to openly spout this horse shit in public, to identify as anti-anti-fascist and anti-black lives mattering, to band together with torches and sticks and chant about Jews and beat up and murder some of the normal reasonable kind people who say hold on, fuck you, not in this civilization. It’s a gut punch. The use of that footage almost seems like a cheap shot, but it’s also a way of saying “Let’s not fall too far into the comfort of this movie, here is documentary proof that it didn’t work.” Sometimes Lee likes to launch you back into the real world at the end and ask you to make a difference. “WAKE UP!” or “I am Malcolm X!” This one is less inspirational but very potent.

To be honest I’m almost offended by how many claims I’ve seen that this is Lee’s best, or one of his best. I think the majority of his movies are more stylish and more uniquely his, and I really can’t imagine what would possess anyone to prefer this to DO THE RIGHT THING, which gives us characters that we actually want to spend time with and handles types of racism that more of us will encounter and have to learn how to defeat. But I understand that people are getting pumped up by the timeliness of a movie about this stuff, and anyway it doesn’t have to be a director’s best movie ever to be worth your time. I liked BLACKkKLANSMAN.

I wonder if Blumhouse is gonna make this a whole series now like THE PURGE and INSIDIOUS and shit

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018 at 10:57 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

49 Responses to “BlacKkKlansman”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    August 22nd, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Good review, and I honestly appreciate you spoiling the “big surprise” at the end. I’m glad Lee included it.

    I do want to briefly say that while Trump is a disgusting racist piece of shit with a rotting brain, he didn’t make the KKK relevant again. All of the Confederate monuments scattered around the country didn’t just appear with his inauguration. It’s important to remember that racism has been baked into the DNA of this country from the beginning and will always appear whenever African Americans make meaningful political gains or whenever the economy gets captured by the rich. So please, as I always like to remind people, getting rid of Trump is not the end of the fight, it’s the beginning. He’s the symptom, not the cause.

  2. I am curious, have you read Boots Riley’s response to this film?

  3. Chrushinator, I agree the problem has allways been there. Trump pandering to them has only forced us to acknowledge it.

  4. This didn’t explode my mind the way BAMBOOZLED did back in 2000, but I was a lot younger then and newer to the world. I do feel this plays similarly as an essay film, as a few of the Joints tend to do. I’ve heard it argued that BKKKM lacks a central thesis, and that may be true, but it worked for me as a micro tour through America’s racist legacy.

  5. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’m dying to check it out when it hits DVD. This is the first I read that the KKK are seen watching Birth of a Nation, and that might seem strange, but in the 70s David Duke did in fact use the film as a propaganda and recruiting tool. They mention it in this NPR article:

    100 Years Later, What's The Legacy Of 'Birth Of A Nation'?

    D.W. Griffith's film premiered in Los Angeles a century ago Sunday. In many ways, the movie — three hours of racist propaganda — was the beginning of Hollywood.

  6. I really loved this one. It is most definitely not his best but I can see where the ‘one of his best’ is coming from.

    Despite that, that ending though. I made my nephew come with me as I thought it was important to expose him to such things and it sure did inspire some very deep conversations afterwards… Made showing him FRIDAY THE 13TH: NEW BLOOD afterwards a bit awkward because we were still discussing what this one brought up.

  7. Charles, I was going to ask Vern the same thing…Boots Riley makes what I think is a pretty valid criticism of the cops’ role in this, as a diehard Spike fan.

  8. I have to agree that anyone who considers this Spike’s best probably isn’t a fan of and/or isn’t familiar with his filmography. I thought BlacKkKlansman was quite good, but we are talking about a man who has made more than his share of great movies. This decade alone we’ve gotten CHI-RAQ, RED HOOK SUMMER and season 1 of SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, all better, bolder, more unique projects. But as you say, I think people tend to overrate things just for being timely, and also I think some critics like that this is closer to a normal movie with a straightforward story than Lee usually delivers, which is also a sign to me that these people aren’t fans.

    Honestly, it was a little disappointingly straightforward for the first 2/3rds or so, although I do think it builds in intensity and meaning and emotion in the last chunk of the film. The way the thriller plot manages to climax in the same instant that the movie climaxes emotionally and thematically is particularly powerful and impressive.

  9. I haven’t seen the film so I can’t speak to the validity of Boots’ criticism, but just reading about it (The criticism, not the movie). It reminds me of why the shitheads always win. They might not agree on every little thing but they’re not tearing each other down. They all got their eyes on the prize. It gives them a frightening solidarity that belies their comparably small numbers. Progressives/liberals/non-shitheads are so busy arguing amongst themselves about the methods that they lose the message. The shitheads are rocketing toward their destination while progressives are still sitting in the driveway bickering about the best route to take, when in reality, there’s no one true path. We needed both Martin and Malcolm, and we still do.

  10. Good point, Majestyk.

    It’s just that police in America still harasses and kills a disproportionate amount of black people, which belies a point I think the movie wants to make, that things are different but very much the same.

    It IS strange that Lee would present such a varnished and heroic version of Stallworth, who seems to have spent more of his career busting guys like Kwame Ture than making any of the effective (fictional) moves on the Klan that juice up this movie.

  11. Yeah, I definitely am not taking anybody’s side. I support Spike’s right to tell whatever fuckin’ story he wants to, and I also think it’s kind of weird that he chose this one. It just kind of bums me out, all this division between allies.

  12. So, question here since you bring him up. Would it be fair to say there’s people even worse than the 45th president of the US? As of yet he hasn’t started two wars like the 43rd, at least one of which was based on a complete falsehood and then ineptly prosecuted both of them (even though anything is possible in future to move him past them).

    I knew a lot of Iraqis from work and some of them had to flee for their lives leaving everything behind, and they still consider themselves among the luckier ones.

  13. Shan: the way morality works is that a person is judged for what a person does

    the way morality does not work is “i knew some guy who did some really evil shit, so i think we should disregard this guy’s evil shit right here”

    if hillary clinton drank the blood of iragi children out of the skulls of dead Navy SEALS this does not mean we somehow judge donald trump’s racist authoritarianism softer, or harder, or anything other than exactly what it deserves

  14. I think he was just reacting to Vern’s assertion that Trump is “the worst American who ever lived,” not trying to let Trump off the hook because arguably Bush was worse.

  15. obviously the civil war did more damage to the country, but i believe the trump presidency is doing more damage to the country than 9/11 or pearl harbor

    and since this damage is embodied in one whiny manchild: yes, worst american who has ever lived, the way he is dragging us backwards and empowering ignorance and hate

  16. Mr. Majestyk is correct. I think Mr. 45 is hated (and rightly so) partly because he’s loud and brash i.e. in our face and says what the others in the past have been thinking but not saying but that’s the point, they’ve still been thinking it – and more importantly, acting on it. I’d still rate 45 > 43 so far because he’s yet to start any wars to slaughter even more people by their thousands (he’s just continuing actions in the ones already going – sure it might be because he and his administration are so inept that they are tripping over each other and this could change but for now, that’s where we are).

    I know that saying 45 > 43 is like comparing the bottom of the septic tank to whatever leaked through the rust at the bottom of the tank but I don’t like 43 especially getting a pass with the “he wasn’t so bad in retrospect” crowd which for some reason seems to be a bit of a thing these days for some reason.

  17. I agree that Bush’s disastrous wars have killed more people than Trump has (including Puerto Rico), and I hope it stays that way. But I stand behind my hyperbolic statement because to me Trump represents all of the worst that our country has to offer and a nearly satanic reversal of what we were taught to believe the country stood for. “The American Dream” is supposed to be a meritocracy where anyone no matter their circumstances or background can work hard enough to provide for their family, but Trump is a guy who was born rich and has failed upward his entire life, showing a complete disregard for legality, ethics, honor, kindness and charity while catastrophically fucking up every venture and continually being rewarded anyway, up to the point of even becoming president! As president he has promoted cruelty, greed, bullying, exploitation and racism, using his speeches, policies, court battles, storm troopers and, he hopes, an actual physical structure to block and violently oppose the “melting pot” concept that I grew up being taught the country was founded on. And he is literally a traitor who conspired with enemy countries and organizations to thwart democracy and now defraud the country through numerous scams. And he has done all of this while convincing his cult of feeble minded stooges and toadies that THEY are the true patriots and the people trying to save the country are partisans, communists and pedophiles.

    So that’s my definition of the worst American who ever lived. No one else has every fit it so well.

  18. Great to have you back.
    Fight the Power!

  19. Ah, you know who I thought of who falls under a lot of what you just described, Vern? Richard “Dick” Cheney, another verifiable monster than shouldn’t be forgotten. His own heart tried to kill him five times before he had it replaced. Tells you something, doesn’t it?

  20. Are we living in times more depressing for America than even the aftermath of 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war?

    9/11 was an unprecedented event, but it was an attack on America by outsiders and for a brief moment brought Americans together, the Iraq war was calamitous but it was all happening “over there” and here it was basically business as usual.

    But now, we live in an era of Americans turning on each other, of America rotting out from the inside and coming undone at the seams, 9/11 hurt us but it didn’t kill us but this? This feels like the end of this nation.

    So I would say this is the most depressing time to be an American in my lifetime, but I was young during 9/11 and it’s aftermath, it didn’t have the full impact on me that it may have had if I was an adult, I don’t know.

    Serious question, is this it? Is this how America dies? If Trump somehow gets reelected in 2020 will it be the start of a second Civil War? It sounds crazy to talk about stuff like that and yet when I really think about what’s going on I get this sinking feeling in my gut that tells me something apocalyptic is right around the corner.

    Here’s another question, how did we fuck up the new millennium so badly not even 20 years into it? Remember how much hope and optimism there was at the start?

  21. Nabroleon dynamite

    August 23rd, 2018 at 7:05 am

    Haven’t read the review yet, but make sure to get around to “Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus”.

    It’s kinda ill.

  22. I get what Vern is saying. Trump might not be the worst human who’s ever been an American (Andrew Jackson probably still has him beat) but he very well might be the worst at being American. He’s just terrible at it. No aptitude for Americaning at all.

  23. Trump is a terrible person, a terrible American, and a terrible president. But I have a problem when we focus too much on this single person rather than the system as a whole, which has broken down. Trump has revealed how rotten America has become. If we weren’t already hollowed out from the inside, then he never would have become president in the first place.

    He’s the result of both thirty years of unfettered capitalism and a centuries old constitution that doesn’t accurately represent the current population. If we ignore the disease and just focus on the symptoms, then we’ll never get out of this mess.

    The only thing that makes me optimistic is that Trump is so egregious that we can no longer ignore how broken we are as a society and country. We either fix what’s wrong with the nation or we watch our slow, sad decline.

  24. Griff, for me a scary part of thinking about unlikely-but-shit-man-these-days-who-knows type of dramatic future events is the idea that the US government is never going to call anything that happens here a civil war, no matter how bad it gets. They will just solider the fuck on with their heads jammed willfully into the sand until everyone they’re not related to by blood is dead and it’s safe for them to come out again. Most likely thing that happens if Trump is re-elected is some version of: a “Million Millennial March” or whatever they decide to call it is planned for Washington DC; it devolves into a ton of violence, deaths, & arrests; the day ends with the White House being stormed by protestors and burned to the ground. Was it staged? Was it real? Nobody will ever know, and it won’t matter. The image of the White House burning against a night sky will immediately become iconic, police will get yet more unchecked & safeguarded power, and feelings will be against the law. (not saying i am predicting that this exact scenario will happen, but something along these lines)

  25. I have a feeling we’re gonns go with Option B.

    It’ll be awful while it’s happening but it might work out in the end. Look at Spain. Spain ran the show for a long while, but then it’s time at the top came to an end. It went through a fascist phase to try and reclaim some half-remembered vestige of its glory days, and when that didn’t work out, it settled into a comfortable semi-retirement from the world stage. Just focused on its own affairs and let somebody else run the show. America could do that, too. Give up its ego and just be W. in his post-warmongering gentleman painter days. It could be the best thing for everybody.

    Or our death throes could take the whole world with us. Could go either way, really.

  26. (That was a reply to RBatty, in case that wasn’t clear.)

  27. Also, I totally agree that Trump is a garbage human being, just a pitch-perfect encapsulation of the very worst aspects of our species, but there’s no way a healthy society let’s a guy like that rise to the top. That’s on us. Absolutely, we need to kill the infection as soon as possible, but we also need to look at our lifestyle as a whole and start taking our vitamins and exercising and shit so this doesn’t happen again.

  28. Mr. M,

    I can’t help but feel sometimes that America got the piece of shit president that we deserve. Our shitty culture celebrates and rewards mediocrity, fetishizes wealth and treats rich people like role models. It’s no fucking wonder that we ended up with Trump.

  29. Dan, I sometimes feel that way, but then I realize that a majority of voters didn’t vote this asshole in. We don’t deserve this shit. Or at least most Americans don’t. We have to deal with thirty-eight percent of the population that are true morons or self-interested rich assholes. But that means that there are sixty-two percent of the population that can be reasonable.

    That doesn’t mean that America’s foundation isn’t infected with mold and dangerously close to collapsing. It is. But it also means there are some good people here that don’t deserve to be trapped with all these jagoffs.

  30. Mr. Majestyk – We are likely to take down the rest of the world with us and even if we don’t, do we really want Russia and China to be the next number one global superpower?

    That is though where a lot of America’s problems stem from, the stress of having to be number one has weighed heavily on our soul.

    But it’s a catch 22, if we’re going to have one superpower that dominates the rest of the world it may as well be America, but the stress of that is causing us to snap.

    Fascism may simply be where the world is headed, if America falls to it the EU will probably collapse next leading Europe to turn into a Children of Men type deal and the rest of the world will be bullied around by Russia and China, who certainly aren’t going to play nice.

    This grand global experiment of trying to turn the world into the Star Trek utopia has failed miserably.

  31. Nabroleon dynamite

    August 23rd, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    Fuck Trump!!

    But 2020 is his if motherfuckers don’t vote straight Democrat in the mid-term elections and even then as weak and bought off as many Democrats are he may still win.

    Bernie or Biden with a dash of Harris or Warren will do the trick (maybe).

  32. I don’t know, Griff, I bet that’s what Spain thought about the English. I think if we go down, we’ll take China with us because they’ll have no one to sell their cheap consumer goods to. And in my barely informed opinion, Russia will still be Russia: perpetual also-ran of human civilization. They have never not gotten totally fucked by their leadership, they lack the infrastructure to compete on a level playing field, and without an America to undermine, their inadequacies will become apparent (like the Republicans, they really only function in opposition). I think (hope, actually) America will be the last superpower and we can quit with all this dick-swinging and get down to working together to solve our problems and explore the universe and shit.

    Or we Mad Max it until the survivors are little more than desperate, starved animals. One or the other.

  33. When the Republican party sold their soul to the tea party asshats, they made Trump inevitable. The ones who weren’t just corporate shills out to make as much money as they could forgot why they went into public service to begin with. It became all about having that power and sticking it to the liberals. I honestly thought after Trump won the Republican leaders would say, “holy shit, what did we do” and start working on making things right. Instead they’ve just doubled down until our reality has become a South Park episode that makes me say, “how is this happening?!” on a weekly basis.

  34. I agree this movie is getting some recency bias. I haven’t seen CHI-RAQ, so I can’t comment there, but I’m not firmly convinced this movie is way better than INSIDE MAN or 25th HOUR. And no way do I have time for anybody that earnestly argued this movie was better than DO THE RIGHT THING. I think I’d insist that they’d watched this 3x at least before I’d even entertain an argument like that from even a close friend or family member.

    Here’s some critiques, I’d put out there:
    -I know some people really like the Harry Belafonte and Birth of the Nation/KKK cheering juxtaposition. Personally, I didn’t mind the Birth of a Nation section as much as just how long, drawn out, and visually uninteresting the Belafonte section was. It smacked completely of bad visual moviemakin. By that I mean that if I divorced myself from the politics and historical significance to it, it was just there. Maybe that moment was more impactful to people that weren’t as familiar with lynching history, and so I’m looking at it wrong, but I really was left cold by the presentation despite agreeing with the ultimate message. (I’d compare the moment to how I’ve felt watching movies and think to myself…welll that was an exposition dump or whatever…like a key ending monologue to the movie AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, where it’s like…ok you threw the ideas out there on the table all right, and to some extent that was necessary but how about trying some JAWS like shit exposition work arounds filmmakers? Does it have to be mostly all dialogue dumping without creative visuals or editing thrown in?)
    -The plot logic can be picked at of why Ron Stallworth keeps doing the on the phone voice after it becomes clear it’s not as memorable as people thought. Although, in fairness, it is at least acknowledged (allergies…but not followed up again because I guess to avoid inconsistency…and because back in the day some people did sound WAAAAAY different over the phone for whatever reason).However, the plot logic of putting Stallworth on the security detail where his voice would get recognized by numerous KKK members is just baffling, and it’s more baffling in light of the movie-making happy ending with the higher-up police looking to get rid of the super racist cop. It’s all just movie logic and excuses so that they can stage the whole both Stallworths in the same scene at the same time, and who will get exposed first and how will the other one react double chase, which is admittedly great.
    -The bumbling Baldwin opening does seem unnecessary and strange. I think Spike included it as a heat check. While it is comedic and sets the stage for that tone at parts, it also gets across the message that white supremacy isn’t merely “ignorance” as people try to pretend. Rather it’s a whole system of knowledge and beliefs that people pass onto eachother, even if it’s stupid and doesn’t withstand rational scrutiny.
    -Living in the DMV area and seeing this movie the same day as the Charlottesville 2.0 rally, I couldn’t help but find this movie’s depiction of the KKK/white nationalists as right on the money. First of all, dangerous and more prolific than people think. But at the same time, most of these people are lazy, bumbling buffoons where anything that requires extensive logistical effort or planning, they’ll just fall short on–like how apparently the logistical nightmares of rainy weather and the DC metro system cut down hundreds of nazi protests down to barely two dozen nazis.

    I’m curious for other people’s thoughts on this subject. But one other thing I really liked in this movie is how right after the white police harass, abuse, and practically sexually assault the minority activists in a road stop scene, Spike jump cuts to the dance scene. I can’t speak from personal experience at all, being a white guy, but I’ve always been struck by how many people in minorities can brush off or at least compartalize and move things to the side while they get back living their lives. I thought how the movie didn’t dwell on the oppression was a great edit because it’s true to life. People who get hit with in your face interpersonal and systemic racism have to dealt with it, and then a few hours later, hey it’s time to party. They’re not letting it go, but they’re not letting it beat them down either.

  35. Mr. Majestyk – “And in my barely informed opinion, Russia will still be Russia: perpetual also-ran of human civilization.”

    I would reaaaaaaaaaaaaally not bet on that, no offense but “barely informed” opinion indeed.

    They have the number 2 nuclear arsenal behind us and they’re quickly playing catch up, they just launched a new nuclear submarine that is 30 years ahead of our Trident subs for example, they are not guys to be fucked with.

    And bringing America down from inside with Trump may have been their plan all along.

  36. The collapse of the Soviet Union hit the Russians hard.

    I believe the US has 11 state of the aircraft attack carriers. The Russians have 1 (less so). Which had to be towed to Syria by a tug. Which broke down. Their defence budget is something like 1/100th (or less) of the US. Not saying it’s always going to be that way but it’s going to be a while before we see a live performance of Red Dawn anytime soon.

    “a majority of voters didn’t vote” full stop is the problem – or at least a huge minority.

    I appreciate they don’t make it as easy as a lot of other countries though.

  37. Yeah, about those aircraft carriers, they have a missile system specifically designed for sinking those.

    America might spend more money on our military but you know what they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, plus our military is very predicated on air superiority, you take out our aircraft carriers, you severely weaken our ability to project air superiority and you’ve severely weakened the whole thing, shit, I’ve even heard the Russians now have radar than can detect our stealth aircraft.

    All I’m saying is they aren’t guys to be underestimated, the fact they might have pulled off a successful infiltration of our election process is proof enough of that.

  38. Griff — Yeah, Russia has nukes, but it also has an economy smaller than Italy and South Korea, no infrastructure, no significant investment, and an extraction-based economy barely more diverse than Venezuela. Its economy is 1/19th the size of the US, and only moderately bigger than Mexico. India, by contrast, has an economy twice the size of Russia, more than ten times its population, a diverse economy with multiple cutting-edge industries both domestically and globally, and also has nukes.

    Russia isn’t a success story, it’s basically the story of a keptocracy which has been able to mask its worst abuses with pugnacious nationalism for a decade or two. It’s barely more relevant than North Korea, and is only worth thinking about very much these days because it has proven quite adept at using targeted propaganda to exploit fault lines in open societies, which it does only because its relative regional power grows as other world powers focus on internal battles. But even so, its reach is basically limited to a few Soviet-block eastern European countries which it wants to control as vassal-states. Russia should worry you if you live in Estonia, but anywhere else, they’re a paper tiger. They have some limited impact due to their propaganda arm and their aristocratic willingness to bride generously, but that only matters because other states are so much more powerful and influential than they are.

  39. I think Subtlety and Majestyk have it right when it comes to Russia. Focusing on their military might is making the same mistake the U.S. currently does in confusing the strength of our nation with the size of our arsenals. Russia has been muddling along based on the cult of personality surrounding Putin. Their economy has been badly hit by economic sanctions following their invasion of Ukraine, which is why they want Trump in power. They want him roll back those sanctions. (This was clearly a part of the conversation that Trump Jr. was having before the election in Trump Tower). So far, that’s been politically untenable, thankfully.

    The only thing that keeps America in the number one position is the simple fact that so many other major players have real economic and social problems. China has been doing well thanks to some expansive economic growth, but that won’t continue forever. When the economy starts to falter, it’s not clear that the people will be as excited to live under a dictatorship. Europe has a problem with xenophobia like the U.S. And with Brexit you can see dissatisfaction with the EU, which many see as undemocratic. And as you see with Greece, having a single currency for the entire continent causes problems during recessions. I don’t know. Maybe Germany will become the new number one, or more likely we’ll go back to a multi-polar world order.

  40. Thanks for the fire and brimstone Vern, always appreciated in these cataclysmic times.

    I haven’t seen the film but a few of the 4-star reviews I’ve read make it clear that this film is being treated with “overdue lifetime-achievement status”. Spike Lee is one of the great, great American filmmakers; probably the only post-70s director to achieve that golden Spielberg/Kubrick/Scorsese/Coppola/(Altman? imo) tier. I think that, intersected with the unfortunate relevancy of the film’s subject matter as others have mentioned, prompted the reception this film is getting.

    I dug Walter Chaw’s review of this as well, he does some good historical context / journalism and approaches it from the perspective of a Colorado native and Chinese American.

    Lastly, I’d submit that SUMMER OF SAM is prime Spike and just as good as DO THE RIGHT THING.

  41. Rbatty — A multi-polar world order wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world, but we’d need some new structures for it. The UN was a good and ambitious idea, but it has completely failed to bring any kind of meaningful organization or governance to the world, and has essentially lost credibility as much of anything other than a fig leaf for powerful countries to throw their weight around with a tiny bit of legal legitimacy. It needs to be reformed or replaced by a body which has the power and authority to meaningfully mediate between countries of wildly divergent power profiles, just as any legitimate government does for its citizens. As much as the phrase “world government” strikes terror into people, I think there’s no way of dodging the necessity of one, unless we’re willing to instead choose to become a planet of regional warlords vying for power and resources. We’ve tried that, it’s bad. It’s time to evolve a little.

    renfield — Finally, someone else who likes SUMMER OF SAM! I always

  42. renfield… (sorry, got cut off there) Finally, someone else who likes SUMMER OF SAM! It’s one of my favorite films, and hands down the best punk rock movie ever made. Lee, never one to settle down and focus on just one story, always does best when he can make a whole community –or better yet a whole city– the protagonist of his work, and SUMMER OF SAM does that for NYC as well as any film ever has. (the only sour spot to me is the end, which kinda peters out and then concludes with an appropriate but not exactly satisfying reference to NAKED CITY).

  43. I like SUMMER OF SAM more than most people seem to, but Lee’s cartoon-Guido portrayals in that (and in JUNGLE FEVER) bothered me. It’s part of why I think MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is really underrated in his canon. But I realize this is a personal hangup which could sound trivial in the scheme of things.

    My sense at the time was that most people who disliked SOS didn’t understand that it wasn’t a story of a serial killer so much as a community breaking down. It’s like the words “Summer of” flew over everyone’s head. Also, the talking dog. The joke about Adrian Brody turning into an English punk after his overseas visit is something I still bring up a lot.

  44. Yeah but each of those aircraft carriers is part of a battle group that includes other big ships which you’d also have to sink, so …

    Also, there’s loads of other stuff especially in terms of aircraft (quantity and quality) that the Air Force and U.S. Navy (owners of the world’s second biggest air force so I hear) have. The big problems aren’t going to be coming from the battlefield most likely, as we’ve seen so far … it’s been elsewhere to date.

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  48. BrianB seems to be only person here who didn’t forget that we were watching movie not documentary. As a movie it felt pretty weak – having Belafonte in movie or bashing Trump doesn’t make it automatically good. This movie didn’t have strong antagonist or big obstacles for protagonist to overcome – stupid villians are never good ones, except in slapstick comedy.

  49. Nonsense, in Vern’s review he makes it clear that there’s plenty in the film that doesn’t work for him on a narrative or filmatistic level.

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