DVD Reviews Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

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Confident and determined, Ron Stallworth is ready to prove his mettle as the first black officer of the Colorado Springs police department. His opportunity comes when a casual inquiry into an advertisement from the Ku Klux Klan pulls him into a web of connections he didn't imagine. Spike Lee directs BlacKkKlansman, with the screenplay written by Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott, and stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Laura Harrier.

Why should we trust anything we see in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman? The narrative comes from a memoir penned by Ron Stallworth, revealed decades after the events of both film and memoir, and is poised to comment directly on our slide into white fascism. Spike addresses any suspicion with a pair of parallel stories told by Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) and pseudoscience peddled by the vile David Duke (an excellent Topher Grace). On the side of Mr. Turner we listen and watch a crowd of black humans coming into themselves over oral tradition, settling on twin philosophies of never again and power to all people. Duke begs credibility in the form of a Nobel Peace Prize winner's eugenic research that conclusively proves white humans are better than black.

The oral tradition is backed by historical fact and bolstered through community uplift. Spike's closing scenes, which shocked me even with advance warning to emotionally guard myself, reinforce that oral tradition as the warning constantly echoed but rarely heeded. Black stories have warned us of the evil behind phrenology and eugenics which roll right into today's incel community embrace of skull size as a determination of what your standing will be in life.

What is it going to take to get us to listen?


First Reformed (2018)

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The cold weather does little to encourage attendance at First Reformed church. Reverend Ernst Toller's dispassionate approach to his sermons provide little reason to stay. When one of his parishioners comes to Ernst with ecological concerns, Ernst begins an uneasy journey through what remains of his faith. Paul Schrader wrote the screenplay for and directs First Reformed, which stars Ethan Hawke.

"Courage is the solution to despair. Reason provides no answers."

Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) offers the above line of cold comfort to Michael Mansana (Philip Ettinger) in the opening passages of Paul Schrader's First Reformed. Michael despairs over the condition of the planet, neatly presented with charts and factoids aplenty as the stunned Reverend listens. The difference between Michael and Ernst is Michael has reason to despair and Ernst is so mired in codependency he's latched on to Michael's despair as a way to build reliance on himself in a way religion failed to do so.

Ernst's codependency is a fascinating subject that receives little attention outside Schrader's specific aim - to show what happens when a Reverend meets an atheist and goes online for what seems to be the first time. This places First Reformed into broad cynicism, not informed despair, and shallow nature of Schrader's pessimistic screenplay gets no favors from Hawke's equal parts self-pitying and growling performance.  First Reformed is a bad film, one that continues Schrader's downward trend from The Canyons, and so thoroughly lacks in compelling attributes that I started to wonder how this man could also be responsible for Bringing Out the Dead and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.


Isle of Dogs (2018)

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A boy falls downward
Among abandoned canines
They will soon fight back

Wes Anderson wrote the screenplay for and directs Isle of Dogs, which stars Bryan Cranston and Koyu Rankin.

Wes Anderson's niche of whimsy by way of dry dialogue and meticulous visuals already found a successful animated venture in The Fantastic Mister Fox.  After Isle of Dogs, I would be content if Anderson never made another live-action film.  Isle of Dogs is - without question - his most brutal film and a surprise considering his humor lends more to melancholy than violent reality.

Anderson's appreciation for world cinema has never been more thoroughly integrated into the substance of his film. There's an extensive list of Akira Kursoawa references throughout Isle of Dogs, but Anderson is not content to rest on the laurels of one Japanese master. In Anderson's unblinking look at violence I thought most often of Masaki Kobayashi, whose samurai films and humanist epics rivaled Kurosawa in length, style, and the depths humans must go through to adhere to their moral codes.  The moments of quiet recall Yasujirō Ozu alongside a quiet running gag of cats appearing in the corners were Ozu's red teapot might have. Anderson goes beyond Japan, calling on The Plague Dogs (the British-American animated follow-up to the childhood-wrecking Watership Down), 101 Dalmatians, and the food preparation of Korean cinema à la Oldboy.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

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Morgan Neville directs Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about the life and work of Fred Rogers.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? could have embraced Fred Rogers' teachings in its presentation.  The stillness and beauty he inspired is too often interrupted by talking heads on or off-screen.  This disrupts Mr. Rogers' serenity and, in its worst moments, director Morgan Neville and editors Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden craft montage that comes across as insincere instead of heartfelt.  Worse still, there are aspects of Mr. Rogers that are brought up only to be lightly brushed aside to keep up his aspirational image.

Still, this is a documentary about Mr. Rogers and you'd be hard-pressed to find another film this year that provides a comparable amount of sincerity, catharsis, and vulnerability.  The near wall-to-wall keys plunked down in the music by Jonathan Kirkscey along with choice selections from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood find an easy home with the older and more recent footage.  There are insights, some I had a sneaking suspicion about and others I was not prepared for, that keep intrigue up even when treading well-known territory.


Hereditary (2018)

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The Grahams know no peace. After Annie's mother dies, she fills the vacuum of conflict and emotional pain by sniping at her husband Steve, son Peter, and daughter Charlie.  As Annie's wounds fester in the handcrafted details of her miniature art she begins the cycle of trauma once more for the next generation.  Ari Aster wrote the screenplay for and directs Hereditary, which stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne, and Ann Dowd.

Toni Collette, and - to a lesser extent - Gabriel Byrne, sensed a tremendous horror film inside Hereditary.  Both function as stars and Executive Producers working in front of and behind the camera of writer / director Ari Aster's debut film.  That's a mighty twosome, and when Hereditary centers specifically on Annie (Collette) it conjures an unpredictable edge that rivals similar traumatized home horror film The Babadook.

The rest of Hereditary could use some of the unpredictable energy Collette brings to her role.  It's rigorously composed with the steady sway of the camera attempting to lure the audience hypnotically into the Graham family's tense and empty home.  Hereditary always looks excellent, but the aesthetic served to keep me at a distance from the open nerve of trauma.  Right up until the end, the traumatized Grahams function mostly as gruesome puppets in a sterile home with the artifice of the former unfortunately highlighted by the cautious framing in the latter with the threads of horror's past wafting into view.