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Monsters Back from the Past

BlacKkKlansman and The Meg

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BLACKKKLANSMAN. I've never subscribed to the notion that hatred is borne of fear. There's truth to it, I suppose, but it has always seemed to me an attempted defense of something indefensible. Fear is natural and necessary, hatred is useful only in fomenting hatred. To offer fear as the source of hatred seems to downplay the cultivated ignorance, the willfulness and inherent violence required to turn one into the other. It's a rhetorical maneuver that provides undeserved leeway to the intentionally shitty among us. Racists, for example.

Which isn't necessarily the optimal starting point in discussing Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman but it is the point to which I arrived after watching it, so here we are. And that, to me, is one of the masterful things about the movie: It carries us through such an immersive story set in a re-imagined past with such perceived ease that we can almost forget the ongoing national crisis to which it speaks. Almost.

In the mid-1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) joins the Colorado Springs Police Department. As the first African-American on the force, he navigates a perhaps not-unexpected course among his cohort, some of whom are virulent bigots. (Just for semi-contemporary context, Colorado Springs may be one of the whitest cities in the country. It is home to NORAD, the US Air Force Academy and, at least at one time, both The Promise Keepers and the Ultimate Frisbee Players Association). As Ron transcends the needling and outright racism of his workplace, he continues to climb the ladder to detective. Sent undercover to monitor a speaking engagement by Kwame Ture (Corey Franklin) hosted by the Colorado College Black Student Union, he is immediately taken by the organization's undeniably charming president Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier). And as much as he believes in his work as police, Ron is equally drawn to the words of Ture and the electric, nourishing atmosphere of the student union. Just as he and Patrice begin a tentative relationship, Ron calls a phone number from a newspaper ad and sets in motion an undercover investigation of the Ku Klux Klan. While Ron infiltrates the local chapter by phone, white detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) becomes Ron Stallworth in person, earning the trust of an assortment of variously vicious, maniacal and outright stupid white men (played with uncomfortable aplomb by Ryan Eggold, Jasper Pääkkönen and Paul Walter Hauser, among others). As the investigation wears on, it becomes clear that the local Klansmen are planning an attack, possibly on the Black Student Union, possibly to coincide with a visit by the Klan's national head, the ridiculously pompous David Duke (Topher Grace), with whom Ron has become phone-pals.

As much as this is a crackling tale of intrigue, Lee refuses to bow to cinematic convention. There is tension and excitement aplenty, but in his hands BlacKkKlansman becomes as much a character study as it is a procedural or an action movie. Flip is forced to confront dormant notions of his own ancestry, aspects of himself he found inconsequential until he came to denigrate them vocally to play a role. Ron sits with the idea that, to many of his peers, being a cop will always mean he is the enemy. All of this is buoyed by the gorgeous, throw-back aesthetic of the piece. Shot on film by Matthew Libatique, the movie has the saturated, deep shadowed look of a mid-1970s blaxploitation picture, and moves with similarly deliberate, loping pace. It is possessed of a sort of cultural context and narrative nuance that few, if any, of that genre could boast, of course. It's made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that, while it so effectively summons the looks of a bygone era, the crises it discusses — the notion of hatred as currency, of racism as acceptable — are as immediate as ever. R. 135M. MINOR.

THE MEG. There isn't any cultural relevance to this. Nothing about it is important, or significant even. Jason Statham goes after a gigantic prehistoric shark (a megalodon, for those keeping track) and that is enough.

Statham can be/has been problematic over the years, in as much as he is one of the greatest action leads of all time who has appeared in some absolute drags. Like a certain Fast and Furious spin-off co-star, most of the movies in which he appears are beneath him. Which is all well and good, ultimately: at least he's not trying to be something he will never be. But it's better for everybody when the movies are at least fun. And The Meg is just that: brisk, pacey with better effects and far better performances than any of us had any reason to expect. Even in 3D, I enjoyed it immensely. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— John J. Bennett

See showtimes at  www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richard's Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

ALPHA. Dramatization of an Ice Age hunter who teams up with a wolf to survive. PG13. 96M. BROADWAY

CRAZY RICH ASIANS. Constance Wu stars as an American who travels to Singapore to meet her fiancé's (Henry Golding) wildly wealthy family, including his disapproving/terrifying mother (the iconic Michelle Yeoh). PG13. 120M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE KING. Road-trip documentary by Eugene Jarecki exploring the legacy of Elvis and America's crumbling democracy. R. 147M. MINIPLEX

MILE 22. Mark Wahlberg frowns into more gunsights as he transports a cop who knows too much for the CIA in this Peter Berg action movie. R. 95M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Richard Dreyfuss finds out it's ... aliens. PG. 138M. BROADWAY.

Continuing

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Tiny Paul Rudd tackles big problems with his new, flying partner (Evangeline Lilly). A less portentous Marvel movie than we›ve seen of late. PG-13. 125M. BROADWAY.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. Pooh gets real with Ewan McGregor as the boy from the books. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

DOG DAYS. Intertwined stories of Los Angelenos who share a love of pooches. PG. 112M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

EATING ANIMALS. Natalie Portman narrates a documentary about American animal agriculture based on Jonathan Safran Foer's memoir. Maybe skip the butter on your popcorn. NR. 94M. MINIPLEX.

EIGHTH GRADE. Elsie Fisher plays a girl struggling through the final days of junior high in director Bo Burnham's film, capturing the terror, intensity and immediacy of adolescence with rawness and compassion. 93M. MINOR.

HOTEL TRANSLYVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION. Monsters on a cruise in this animated sequel. PG. 97m. BROADWAY.

THE INCREDIBLES 2. This fun, clever and funny sequel is worth the wait, with the returning cast and the right villains for our times. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. PG. 118m. BROADWAY.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN. A fun jaunt to Greece with Cher, Meryl Streep, a whopping 16 ABBA numbers, a wedding, reunited octogenarian soulmates, unplanned pregnancies and Pierce Brosnan unfortunately singing again. PG13. 114M. BROADWAY.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT. A lean, engaging return for the MI team, led by Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt. Excellent stunts, fights and effects raise the bar in this sixth and best installment of the franchise. PG13. 147M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE SLENDER MAN. Teen girls summon the internet-driven urban legend to rescue their friend. PG13. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME. Neither the formidable Mila Kunis nor the genius weirdo Kate McKinnon hits her stride in this movie that aims for kinetic, ultra-modern movie violence and gendered high-comedy. R. 116M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. An engrossing, frustrating documentary about triplets separated at birth, whose happy reunion is blighted by questions surrounding their adoptions. PG13. 147M. MINIPLEX.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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