Saturday, 18 August 2018


Universal Pictures

It's been 12 years since a Spike Lee joint released in Australian cinemas. Whether that is because of the inconsistency of Lee's output or local distributors' seeming reluctance to release 'black' films is a debate for another time.

That last cinema release, however, was the entertaining mainstream thriller Inside Man, starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. Lee's latest film, BlacKkKlansman, arguably his most mainstream and entertaining since that 2006 release, stars Denzel's son, John David Washington.

He plays Ron Stallworth in this 'fo' real' true story of how a black police officer in 1970s Colorado Springs managed to successfully infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. No, not by using white face (this isn't a Wayans brothers comedy, though there's much humour to leaven the incendiary drama) but by means of a proxy: Jewish detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).

Having established, via telephone, a rapport with the local leader of the Organisation (that's what the KKK prefer to call themselves, for PR purposes), Officer Stallworth needs Zimmerman to act as him to gain access to the group's inner sanctum. "You can do anything with the right white guy," he quips to his higher-ups, who aren't so happy that their rookie, and only black officer, sees himself as capable of more than desk duties.

Before long, Zimmerman, posing as Stallworth and wearing a wire, is attending local KKK meetings, get-togethers and target practices; gathering intel about the members and any possible criminal activities. Meanwhile, Stallworth observes from a distance while also managing to forge a long-distance friendship (again over the phone) with Klan, sorry, Organisation national director, David Duke (Topher Grace).

Originally intended as a project for Jordan Peele (a producer here) following his Oscar-winning, box office hit Get Out, BlacKkKlansman doesn't lose any of its ferocity or humour with the change of authorship (Lee co-wrote the screenplay with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott, adapted from Stallworth's own book).

Lee, now aged 61, is just as energised, angry and on point as he's ever been; his delivery may not be elegant but his intent is never in doubt. And while the allusions to America's current political climate are not subtle, they're also inevitable. Like the opening title card says, this is some fo' real, fo' real shit, whether it's early 1970s or modern-day America.

Some audiences may find BlacKkKlansman a little too in-your-face at times, and it is, but only those who have more sympathy for (white) racists than they do for black lives, on and off screen, will be truly offended.

Sunday, 17 June 2018


Universal Pictures

Much like the ethics surrounding cloning, producers of the Jurassic Park/World franchise don't seem to have ever stopped to question whether their ability to produce film after film of dino misadventures means that they should. But much like the villains in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, sequel to the surprising box office behemoth of 2015, and the fifth Jurassic film overall, Colin Trevorrow, (swapping directing for writing duties) and new helmsman JA Bayona (The Impossible) seem to have decided on the rationale of why do good when you can make money. After being tricked into rescuing dinosaurs from the now twice defunct adventure park, Claire (Dallas Bryce Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) have to stop corporate bad guys Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) and Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones) from using the dinos for nefarious purposes. Of course, as always happens, all hell breaks loose but very little in the way of genuine fun, thrills or wonder.


Studio Canal

Perhaps not as scary as the Sundance hype would have us believe, Ari Aster's self-assured feature debut, Hereditary, is still a rather unsettling film experience that means to get under your skin - and does. And that's even before things go bat shit crazy for Annie (Toni Collette) and her family, including husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and adolescent son Peter (Alex Wolff); still mourning the loss of Annie's mother when an even greater tragedy strikes, an even greater grief takes hold, and things go from bad to worse for the Graham family. It says a lot for Aster's skill for establishing mood and character that Hereditary succeeds at discomforting the audience long before things take a turn for the supernatural; the action may get bloodier in the third act but Aster's spell is also broken somewhat. Collette's performance, however, never wavers. She starts in high gear and accelerates from there.

Saturday, 26 August 2017


Universal Pictures

When TWA pilot Barry Seal, who's already dealing in contraband Cuban cigars, is recruited by the CIA in 1978 to fly photographic reconnaissance missions over Communist-threatened South America, he discovers a knack for field work.

But it's a gateway drug to, well, drugs when he's enlisted by the soon-to-be infamous cartel, operated by Pablo Escobar, to fly plane loads of cocaine into the US.

Rather than be thrown in jail when arrested, Seal's CIA contact (Domhnall Gleeson) decides Barry is the perfect wingman to fly arms to the Contra, and bring them back to the US for training. Bags and bags of cash, as well as a big old adrenaline rush, are Barry's reward.

Pretty soon he and his pretty blonde wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright not required to do too much more than fulfil that description) are living the high life, albeit in small-town Arkansas, where it becomes abundantly clear that you can buy everything but class.

American Made is about the American dream, corrupted, as always, by greed and hubris. If he's not flying too close to the sun in this Icarus-like tale, Cruise's Seal is sailing too close to the wind; legally and morally.

Doug Liman was wise to deploy the star power of Cruise (they worked together on 2014's terrific sci-fi, Edge of Tomorrow) to make his anti-hero so gosh darn likeable. (Not so wise to deploy those annoying camera angles and movements.) Barry doesn't want to hurt, or disappoint anyone: he wants to provide for his family, perform to the best of his abilities, and have some fun while he's doing it.

How much of Seal's exploits as depicted here are factual is probably contentious but American Made, penned by Gary Spinelli, provides some intermittent fun (and occasional political commentary) while playing entertainingly with the facts. Much like Barry Seal himself (who recounts his fantastical tale via a series of to-VHS-camera tapes).

And if nothing else, it's a reminder not only of Tom Cruise's ability to carry almost any film -- he truly is one of the last old school movie stars -- but also of his comic abilities. As he approaches 60, and his action man heroics become too much for his body to handle (or the audience to swallow), he would be wise to seek out projects and directors that can tap into this seemingly rich deposit. That's an adventure you just know Barry Seal would've jumped at.