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BlackKKlansman

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

BlackKKlansman

In a strong, undeniable way, director Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman is his accusation that few of us understand the depth of racial segregation as it exists today. This isn’t a story set in the distant past. It begins in the 1970s, a time when much of the populace assumed slavery and segregation were over. Spike Lee’s movie is a sharp reminder that what we thought had been accomplished had simply gone underground with progress confined to liberal areas in the Northeast and far West. This movie is an attack on our ignorance. Slavery may be over; segregation isn’t.

Adam Driver plays Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish cop who has to hide his own feelings as he assumes the identity of a right-wing bully in order to enter the Klan. He must listen to fellow bullies spout their certainties – “I’m a white non-Jewish American citizen.” And there Flip stands, wearing the hood of the Klan. He endures all the indignities of pretending he is a segregationist bully while his new partner, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) can only work from the office because he is black. He delivers Flip’s white telephone voice in their joint efforts to expose the Klan.

Laura Harrier plays Patrice Demas, a firm opponent of the segregationists who, rather than discuss the problems with her new friend Flip, lectures him from her righteous position.

The story is Spike Lee’s way of delivering the message that while many of us believe that changing laws has changed behavior, the reality life for a black person walking down a street is still frightening. Hands out of pockets, silence, no reactions, no sudden moves.

As Flip and Ron become the team that delivers both the nuance and the ugliness of this story, it would be hard not to sink into some level of fear, guilt, and confusion, living as we do in a world where so much is still unfair. Their acting is so good that their story hits us with the sharpest edges of accusation. Topher Grace creates the Klan’s Grand Wizard with calm born of his total commitment to the consuming hatred that has become his core.

BlackKKlansman is both serious and provocative. It comes from Spike Lee as a command to reexamine our own beliefs and actions. When, near the end, he jumps into present day politics, the movie acquires even greater force. There is no question that the depth of feeling in the audience at the close is due to the uncanny way Lee forces us to sink into this continuing problem of our own creation. He doesn’t allow us for a second to retreat to believing the job had been done with the passage of anti-segregation laws. His power comes from skillful use of a fine group of actors to examine the problems as they exist right now. The depth of feeling as the theater empties is due to Spike Lee’s uncanny skill at pulling everyone deeply into this continuing American problem of our own creation.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: BlackKKlansman
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:15
Rating: R
Date: August 19, 2018

Damsel

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Damsel

During the first hour of Damsel, we are introduced to Sam (Robert Pattinson), a determined man heading west to find Penelope (Mia Wasikowski), the woman he has decided to marry. He has by his side a miniature horse named Butterscotch, in his pocket a wedding ring for Penelope, and on his shoulder a guitar. He searches for the Parson who will perform the marriage and finds him dead drunk lying on his back in the dirt. As they set off to find Penelope, we are wondering why we are supposed to like a movie about an oddball man searching for his woman, a drunk Parson, and a miniature horse.

Our wondering begins to melt when the two men find the cabin where Penelope lives with Anton, the man she loves. Sam and the timid Parson (David Zellner) sneak forward until Penelope’s lover comes outside to relieve himself. Bam. The lover goes down. When Penelope emerges to the awful sight, the movie takes off in the direction it has been preparing us for. This story that unfolds in pre-feminist 1870 is a comic modern take on the real-life roles men have been playing for generations.

Now we begin to understand what writer/director brothers David and Nathan Zellner are up to. The pony, of course, is treated well by everyone; no discussion about that. The men are simple minded relics as they continue to expect to have everything their own way.

Doesn’t every woman wait for the man she likes to make all the moves toward permanence? If the man has decided which woman he wants, doesn’t he already own her even if she loves someone else? For a man, isn’t the whole outdoors his private bathroom? Isn’t it the man who chooses the ring and decides when to give it? Isn’t the miniature horse the perfect anchor for a woman? Once in charge, won’t the man announce where they will live and what each will do? Doesn’t the man always use weaker men to advance his schemes? Hasn’t this all been happening for centuries?

Wrapped in grand exaggeration, Mia Wasikowski’s Penelope hammers home historic male entitlement. She fires back the modern feelings women have toward male dominance. Silent only when the men’s words and behavior are beyond believing she makes us laugh in recognition. As Wasikowski stands strong and ridicules traditional male ways, her performance is made of steel.

Damsel is the brainchild and questionable gift of David Zellner and Nathan Zellner who wrote, directed and acted one of the roles. Their clash of modern values erupts against beautiful western scenery where they create two dense traditional men against one smart woman who has already evolved into the norms of today. It may be set in 1870 but its roots are still present and the two Zellners make us cringe as they face Mia Wasikowski’s terrific Penelope who saw through it all many decades ago. This is a strange one. Odd plot, odd acting. Only you can guess whether you’ll like it.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Damsel
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 1:53
Rating: R