There’s a scene in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing when Señor Love Daddy, the neighborhood DJ on We Love Radio played by Samuel L. Jackson, reads out a litany of the names of great African-American musicians —””WE LOVE ROLL CALL, Y’ALL! Boogie Down Productions, Rob Base, Dana Dane, Marley Marl, Olatunji, Chuck D, Ray Charles, EPMD, EU, Alberta Hunter, Run-D.M.C., Stetsasonic, Sugar Bear, John Coltrane,…”— that stands as a declarative paean to Black musical culture.
Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, the true story of a black police detective in Colorado Springs who in the 1970s infiltrates the KKK, has a number of such tributes. It’s in the soundtrack, of course, and the dancing. It’s in the clothing, the hair, the jewelry, but most powerfully, Lee focuses in on the faces, sometimes filling the screen with collages of faces, loving and lingering images of beautiful young African-American faces, as they listen and learn from their elders and leaders as they talk of the struggle for rights and dignity.
That is one of tones in this film.
There’s another scene in Do the Right Thing where the bigotry and hatred is at the boiling point and Lee cuts from character to character as each spews racist slurs at their particular object of prejudice and bile, (Italians, Koreans, Blacks, Jews, Puerto Ricans) until finally Señor Love Daddy, once again, jumps in and tells them, “Ya need to cool that shit out!”
That’s another tone in this film. There is lots of verbal hate in BlacKkKlansman. Lots. As you would imagine nearly all of it is directed at African-Americans, though the Jews get their fair share, as well. It’s ugly language, vicious and violent, and it never loses its dehumanizing impact; dehumanizing the speaker, that is.
Did I mention that BlacKkKlansman is a comedy?
It is indeed a comedy. And a campy homage to the Blaxploitation films of the 70s. And a true crime story. And a political diatribe. And like nearly all films that try to be so many disparate things, it does some better than others; and in the end, the combination of it all weakens the film. It feels more scattershot and uneven than it needed to be.
As a comedy, the laughs don’t come easy. And at the same time, they come way too easy. The humor arises from the display of prejudice, but given the film’s embrace of the campiness of Blaxploitation genre, many of the characters … several of the Klansmen, the racist cop, the Klan wife … are so over-the-top that the humor doesn’t have enough solid ground to bounce. And when the talk turns serious, like the conversations between Ron (John David Washington) and Patrice (Laura Harrier), the black student leader/loveinterest, it’s so jargon and rhetoric heavy that it often sinks.
But really this movie is about rhetoric, about persuasion and figures of speech; it’s an argument that the troubles of today, both the vile racism that is so public and the insidious racism that lies barely hidden in contemporary slogans and rallying cries, is the latest manifestation of the historical snake of racism that is wrapped around the heart of America.
Lee leaves no doubt what he’s getting at. Nor should he.
There’s an early scene where former Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael (who changed his name to Kwame Ture) is giving a rousing speech. It’s full of the turns of phrases and powerful exclamations that characterizes an effective rallying cry to action. As a speech, though, it stands apart in a narrative. It gives a context to the action and characterization, but it engages in a different way than a story. This film is filled with speeches, formal and informal. Sometimes when the characters speak, it’s as if they’re giving speeches. In-between there’s a story, but it plays second fiddle to the rhetoric. With the exception of Adam Driver’s character, Flip Zimmerman, who sometimes seems like he’s acting in a different movie, a realistic drama, nearly all the characters seem like rhetorical devices fashioned to drive a point home.
Adam Gobnick pointed out recently that “mockery cleanses cliches, then restores emotion.” For me, the mocking tone in the film, directed at the Klansmen, particularly at David Duke, who is comically captured by Topher Grace, was too diluted by all the other tones Lee was pitching.
To be honest, I found that by the end, when Spike Lee caps the film with contemporary footage from the White Power rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, that I was stuffed numb from the cornucopia of Blaxploitation campiness, hate speech, earnest appeals, and heavy-handed treatment that had proceeded it. I understood it politically and intellectually, but the film’s hopping from tone to tone had so emotionally disengaged me that I didn’t feel the gut kick like I should have. Perhaps that is Lee’s point: When one is constantly hammered by hate and prejudice, even if done “in jest”, that ultimately we lose the ability to feel.
But it was clear that Lee was going for something more than illustrating the deadening effect of racism. He wants us to wake up.
No Question Mark Box Here; Super Mario Delivers a 1-Up in Theaters
If you were born in the ’80s, ’90s, or literally ANY decade after those, you know about Super Mario. A cultural phenomenon was brought to life on the big screen this last weekend. One that has not only stood the test of time but reinvented itself time and time again. This wasn’t even the first time it’s been made into a movie but, well, let’s be honest.. some of us choose not to acknowledge the LIVE action adaptation of the beloved game from 30 years ago.
It was pretty bad… But this was animation. ILLUMINATION animation at that. The Universal company that brought us Gru and his Minions, showed us the Secret Life of Pets, and gave us a reason to SING! Still, I had my reservations and even some concerns, especially when the casting was announced.
Eyebrows were raised. As big of stars as they were on paper, could they really deliver on voicing characters from a staple of our childhood? They did.
Chris Pratt and Charlie Day may not be Italian, and Jack Black may not be a King or Turtle creature from the Mushroom Kingdom, but they make the characters their own all while paying homage to the lore of a video game.
From the jump, the story reintroduces us to the brothers that just want to save Brooklyn one clogged sink at a time. We feel an instant connection and relate to these “underdogs of the plumbing world”. The movie is riddled with easter eggs, each of which tugs on the heartstrings of every generation of Mario fandom. And the soundtrack was beautifully put together to not only make us feel like we’re taking a walkthrough of the game but like an experience all its own with some familiar favorites thrown in.
Every word in the movie is pure eye candy for both those that are casual fans, and those analyzing every frame to see what they’ll catch next. Bowser’s ship, the Mushroom Kingdom, Kong’s arena, and the Rainbow Road.. They’re all meant to give us just enough of a “new” look at these amazing worlds, but stay true to how we remember them.
The movie itself moves along at the perfect pace. Although, if you don’t really know ANYTHING about the Super Mario Bros, you may have gotten a little lost and felt left behind in the green tunnel. But that’s ok! It’s an adventure of the imagination and a classic story of a boy that meets a girl and tries to save the world from a monster that wants to destroy it.
What’s funny is that you could easily say this is a story about two characters who couldn’t be more opposite if they tried, battling to win the heart of a princess. Who would’ve thought that the King of the Koopas was just trying to impress his crush?
And that song? Ohhh THAT song! It’s my new ringtone and deserves the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Back to the movie.
Universal and Illumination clearly understood the assignment. Is it missing some things or could things have been done differently or even better? Absolutely! We’re the worst critics of the things we hold nearest and dearest to our hearts. But if you’re up for going on a 90-minute adventure through amazing worlds, with awesome music, and characters that’ll make you smile and laugh, then this is the perfect movie to spring you into that warm summer feeling.
Plus there’s the whole part with karts and shells, and banana peels and oh my goodness how amazing was that?? It’s enough to make you want to stand up and cheer, then go home and destroy your friends and family on your favorite track haha.
The bottom line, it pays homage in all the right ways to the little guy with the mustache, while giving us something new and exciting. Take the kids and go see Super Mario Bros. You’ll be glad you did!
Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment returns to WonderCon 2023
Justice League x RWBY: Superheroes & Hunters Opening Act Saturday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. on North 200A. Talent confirmed so far to participate in the post-screening panel is Natalie Alyn Lind (Big Sky, The Goldbergs, Gotham) as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince and longtime RWBY cast member Lindsay Jones (Camp Camp) as Ruby, Kara Eberle ( RWBY: Ice Queendom) as Weiss, Arryn Zech (Detective Now Dead) as Blake and Barbara Dunkelman (Blood Fest) as Yang – along with Jeannie Tirado (Soul, Saints Row) as Green Lantern and Tru Valentino (The Rookie, The Cuphead Show!) as a cyborg. Also attending the panel will be producer/director Kerry Shawcross (series RWBY) and writer Meghan Fitzmartin (Supernatural, Justice Society: World War II).
Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment returns to WonderCon 2023 with the big screen debut from DC Animated Films: highlights this year include the world premieres of the highly anticipated Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham and Justice League x RWBY: Superheroes & Hunters Part One the weekend of March 24-26 in Anaheim, California. Both screenings will be followed by panel discussions with actors and creators. Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham premieres at The Arena on Friday, March 24 at 6 p.m. Tati Gabrielle (Kaleidoscope, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Uncharted) as Kai Li Cain, Christopher Gorham (The Lincoln Lawyer, Insatiable) as Oliver Queen, David Dastmalchian (Dune, Suicide Squad, Ant-Man) as Grendon, producer/co-director Sam Liu (The Death and the Return of Superman), co-director Christopher Berkeley (Young Justice) and screenwriter Jase Ricci (Teen Titans Go! and DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem Across the Multiverse).
Both films will have encore screenings in the Arena on Sunday, March 26. Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes & Huntsmen, Part One will screen at 12:15pm, followed by Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham at 2:00pm