Directed by Spike Lee
In 1970, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the film adaptation of MASH: A Tale of Three Army Doctors was released as just “MASH,” later spawning the long running television series “M*A*S*H.” The book had been set during the Korean War, and based on the actual experiences of an army doctor who served there, but the timing of the film (and also the start of the show) caused it to be more of a commentary on Vietnam.
I’m reminded of those circumstances, and the parallel events, by the release of Spike Lee’s excellent new film “BlacKkKlansman.” Set in the late 70s, it recounts the remarkable, true story of a young black officer in the Colorado Springs police department who infiltrated a new local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. As improbable as that sounds, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) had simply called in response to an ad in the local paper, seeking new members. Obviously, when asked to meet the local Klansmen he couldn’t go along himself, and so a colleague (Adam Driver) went in his place, setting in motion the beginning of an investigation that exposed Klan members and their activities.
As with “MASH,” although the film is set decades earlier and based on real events, it clearly resonates as an indictment of present day events and continuing circumstances. For almost every moment in the film that causes a “Wow, that really happened!” kind of reaction, there’s an accompanying “And it’s still happening now” reaction that closely follows. And but for the hairstyles and clothes, it rarely ever really feels like it’s a film about 1979.
Stallworth goes on to exchange multiple telephone calls with then Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke (Topher Grace) and references are made to his and the organization’s political aspirations and desire for sympathetic politicians. Watching that knowing that Duke later served in the Louisiana House of Representatives, and ran multiple times for national office, and that today organizations like the KKK are marching more openly in political rallies than they have in decades reinforces the sense that “BlacKkKlansman” isn’t simply a period drama, just as “MASH” wasn’t. It’s more important and timely than that.
The film crosses that divide itself, more literally, by ending with news footage of recent rallies and violence. It’s hard to criticize the inclusion of such images but, in a sense, they both reinforce and undermine the significance of the film’s unfortunate timelessness. While some things have improved in 40 years, the underlying divisions and racism are still too prevalent today. But by pinning the film itself to specific events from within the last year or two, it runs the risk of dating the film unnecessarily for future audiences.
The parallels within the film are already profound and, while we may hope for this not to be the case, those parallels may play better in another 10 years without those specific, present day images. Or else it’s a film that will need to have its last few minutes routinely edited and updated to demonstrate to a newer audience, or to those who need less subtle approaches, how little some things have changed. Looking at where we are today, sadly, it doesn’t look like there will be any shortage of new footage to add and 1979 might as well have been yesterday.
“Dog Days” feels a little like a more family-oriented remake (or re-imagining) of 1998’s “Dog Park.” That film had so many coincidences and chance encounters that it made LA seem like a small village of a few dozen inhabitants. “Dog Days” isn’t quite that bad, but at times it does seem a little like a city of four million people has only one working vet and some pretty loose zoning laws. It’s basically a loose ensemble comedy/dramedy about a group of people whose primary connection is through their dogs or their love of dogs. These include the pair of clashing morning talk show hosts whose dogs get along first, the old man who bonds with his teenaged pizza delivery guy over a lost dog, and the coffee shop employee who lusts for the (only) vet across the street without noticing the “Some Kind of Wonderful” nerd who runs the local dog shelter. It’s all very light and clean and safe and pleasantly unremarkable.
“The Meg” is basically “Jurassic Jaws,” with the assumed long extinct giant shark-like Megalodon having been trapped for millions of years in a perfectly functioning eco-system under a thermal boundary layer in a deep ocean trench. Naturally, of course, there’s a conflict between those who want to study it, profit off it, or who want to kill it as soon as possible. Jason Statham plays a rescue diver who claims to have seen such an animal before and who has been dismissed by most as either crazy or as a coward who’s making excuses for failing to save all of the lives in an earlier disaster. He’s the typical cinematic high functioning alcoholic who goes from washed up binge drinker to heroic fine motor control clear thinking savior with one shower and two scene changes, with just enough time for us to be reminded of who holds which opinion of him. Just for good measure, the size of the Meg is even bigger than found in the fossil record, because apparently a 20 meter shark isn’t scary enough. It’s not as awful a film as trailers might suggest but it is as unoriginal. And for all of the upscaling, it isn’t any more scary or tense than “Jaws” and largely serves as a reminder what a great film that was.