Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


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

Ocean’s 8

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Ocean's 8

What’s the test of a good comedy? In the case of Ocean’s 8 you know you’re having fun when you feel yourself rooting for the bad guys. When does that happen in this one? In the first scene. As Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean concocts a grand lie to convince the parole boss to let her out of jail, we realize she has already created an entire plan for her next heist. She invites us on board and we jump.

She goes straight from jail to a store where she steals a few things to get back in thieving shape before assembling her new team. Her first enlistee is former partner Lou (Cate Blanchett). The two take a research tour through the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they plan their heist of a necklace worth $150 million.

You will be confused, as I still am, by the number of thieves and their operating speed but credit them all: Anne Hathaway (public focus), Helena Bonham Carter (down-on-her luck fashion designer), Mindy Kaling (jewelry maker), Rihanna (sublime mechanic), Awkwafina (pickpocket), and Sarah Paulson (suburbanite thief).

When else would they plan the heist except on the night of the Met’s annual gala? The team does its thoroughly confusing work while we watch the staff setting the elegant tables for top tier New Yorkers. As they arrive, we follow the men in their unimaginative black as they escort their dates in designer dresses, all of them ready and striving for press coverage. The fakery of that procession whets our appetites for the perfectly timed activities of the burglary team who are now executing their assignments – some in plain sight, some in hiding.

Following the robbers through the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a delight and whenever Debbie Ocean’s intricate theft plan becomes confusing, just enjoy the glorious art. It’s all right there as background for the gang of smart, sophisticated crooks who blend in with the tourists while executing their complex assignments.

The gang of eight is after a necklace and their way of getting it is intricate and full of fun. But getting it, as you’ll see is just the beginning of the plan. Each member of this unique gang has special skills along with a particular assignment from Ocean. The reason it adds up to wacky fun is that it never once pretends to be possible or serious. They give moviegoers a holiday from taking movies as seriously as most of us now do.

Sandra Bullock establishes all that in the first scene. “Here,” she is saying, “Take a rest from your serious life and have some wacky fun.” That’s precisely what we do. Bullock doesn’t dominate the screen but captures us with her sly smile and sharp brain. She has a very adult, quiet sophistication that draws us into all the fun she designs as Debbie Ocean including a wonderful final surprise. Take two hours off from your serious life to chuckle at the craziness she gives us.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Ocean’s 8
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:50
Rating: PG-13
Date: June 24, 2018