Movies I’ve Recently Seen: BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, 49th Parallel, & Dark Victory

My current collection includes one film from Oakland which I saw in Canada, and one about Canada I saw at home in the East Bay.

BlacKkKlansman (2018), California Theatre (Berkeley)

Until the very end, this is the most conventional Spike Lee Joint I’ve seen. But the normal approach was the right one for this very effective comedy-laced thriller. In the 1970s, two cops, one black, one Jewish (John David Washington and Adam Driver) investigate the local KKK chapter. On one level, this is a very entertaining movie – suspenseful, funny, and comically nostalgic at the music, clothes, and especially the hair of the time. But it’s also a serious study about the vicious racism and antisemitism in our country, and the different ways blacks and Jews deal with it. Clips from Gone with the Wind, The Birth of a Nation, and last year’s Charlottesville riots provide context.

BlacKkKlansman is based on Ron Stallworth’s memoir. I don’t know to what extent the movie has been fictionalized. I suspect it’s quite a bit, but that doesn’t bother me.

Blindspotting (2018), Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire Market Cinemas

My wife and I saw this very Oakland movie in Canada (Calgary, to be specific). Kind of a strange experience. There were maybe six other people in the theater, and we were the only ones who applauded at the end.

Collin (Daveed Diggs) is only days away from the end of his extremely harsh one-year probation. If he breaks any rules, he’ll go to prison for a year. That’s a big problem since his best friend from childhood, Miles (Rafael Casal), happily pulls out his gun at any or no provocation. They’re both Oakland ghetto kids, but Miles is white, so he gets away with things that could get Collin shot. The film has no conventional story structure but lets us in on the lives of several Oakland natives, and how they react not only to the police, but to the gentrification all around them. For an almost plotless movie, it’s extremely suspenseful.

A- 49th Parallel (1941), FilmStruck

A war-time thriller intended to celebrate Canada while the USA was still sitting out the war, this early Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger collaboration concentrates on the bad guys. After their submarine is destroyed in Hudson Bay, six German sailors – all fleshed-out characters – do what damage they can while they make for the border and its neutrality. But these “pure-blood supermen” find it surprisingly difficult to go up against the “decadent democrats” of a free, ethnically diverse country. Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, and Raymond Massey get top billing despite their modest roles. Eric Portman, who plays the top Nazi, truly carries the film.

C- Dark Victory (1939), FilmStruck

Bette Davis was a great actress, but that didn’t keep Warner Brothers from putting her into some awful weepies. In this one, she plays a rich socialite dying of a brain disease, who is also falling in love with her doctor (George Brent). All of the characters are basically nice people, but none of them are believable enough to make you care for them. Max Steiner’s overwrought score beats you over the head with whatever emotion you’re supposed to be feeling. Humphrey Bogart and Ronald Reagan, not yet major stars, play supporting roles.

2 thoughts on “Movies I’ve Recently Seen: BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, 49th Parallel, & Dark Victory

  1. BlackKKlansman and Blindspotting are a memorable set of bookends for me. Though the KKK film was more engrossing, the other kept me glued to the screen. Seeing so many familiar Oakland locations in the latter engaged my undivided attention. Thanks for your excellent weekly reviews.

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