Saturday 17 November 2018

Film of the week: BlacKkKlansman

Cert: 16; Now showing 

Adam Driver and John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman
Adam Driver and John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman

There is a moment that comes at the very end of BlacKkKlansman when Spike Lee's 1970s-set comedy-drama changes tone dramatically. As the story wraps up, we suddenly cut from flares, afros and knowing looks to news footage of last year's white supremist marches in Charlottesville.

It is slightly jarring, but while part of you wants to resist the abrupt formal left-hand turn, it had to be done. You consider then that the film's US release was timed for the one-year anniversary of that depressing event, not to mention how bizarrely poor race relations appear to be in the US when you scratch the surface. A Spike Lee film in 2018 could only be concluded thus.

Up to this tone-change, we've had the crazy-but-true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who in 1979 becomes the first African American to join Colorado Springs police. The bemusing hook is that Ron is assigned to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan chapter with partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), in order to investigate unlawful activities and hate crimes. While Flip attends the meetings, Ron converses by phone with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), all the while trying to manage hostility from within his own precinct, never mind from the men in the pointy white hats who are mobilising to bring their rhetoric to the mainstream.

Less giddy than Chi-Raq (2015), Lee's last feature outing, but still walking to a vaguely snazzy beat, this feels like one of those films that Lee's career will be remembered most fondly for.

Those three leads make for an effective engine room, while the style of the era is immaculately presented in the foreground. Lee and his co-writers subvert the Blaxploitation era quite brilliantly by taking the aesthetic and breathing a more everyday tone into dialogue while doing away with cartoonish trope characters.

In terms of the message - the more things change for African Americans, the more they've stayed the same - and the context provided by that chilling coda, BlacKkKlansman is in constant conversation with the future, making it a stealthily effective outing. It is a film that places its politics on view but never at the expense of entertainment.

In other words, smart, but not too smart for its own good. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Alpha

Cert: 12A; Now showing

There are not too many dramas set 20,000 years ago in the Ice Age so already Alpha has one tick for originality. That the sparse dialogue is entirely subtitled is another. The story itself is not an original one, both the coming-of-age drama and the one-boy-and-his-dog themes have been well covered in cinema. However, director Albert Hughes does enough with writer Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt's tale to make it feel quite fresh.

Lying in bed the night before he is to go on his first buffalo hunt, Keda (Kobi Smit-McPhee) hears his mother (Natassia Malthe) fret that Keda "leads with his heart not his spear". His father (Johannes Haukur Johanneson) is the chief of their tribe and believes his son to be stronger than he seems. The men of the tribe set off on a hunt following ancient markers towards the buffalo herd whose meat will sustain them over the winter. During the hunt Keda is lost and the film is essentially his story of learning to survive. This he does with a wolf he has injured - two creatures working together to survive the loss of their respective packs.

It follows a traditional arc and is fairly predictable but it is very beautiful, Martin Gschlacht's cinematography is gorgeous and Smit-McPhee's lovely, vulnerable face adds a dimension too. The wolf is also great. At just 90 minutes long it doesn't outstay its welcome and is an enjoyable, visually stunning take on two tales as old as time which should appeal to older kids and adults.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

Luis and the Aliens

Cert: PG; Now showing

We've been down this road before (on a BMX): young awkward boy, missing one parental unit and bearing the brunt of schoolyard bullying, is tapped on the shoulder by a magical alien buddy for fun and validation.

Of course, young children (the presumed target market of this uninteresting animated offering from German twins Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein) may not appreciate this. To them, this tale might seem to be the freshest recipe for a film ever concocted.

What's more, lots of its humour revolves around matters toiletry and slapstick, so hurrah for that.

Anyone over the age of eight will think to themselves that Pixar won't be losing sleep any time soon. Luis (voiced by our own Callum Maloney) is the lonely lad whose batty "UFOlogist" dad scans the stars, convinced an alien invasion is imminent. One day, he discovers three blob-shaped aliens who have come to get their hands on an infomercial mattress they saw on galactic airwaves.

Rampant gloopy silliness ensues. ★★ Hilary A White

The Happytime Murders

Cert: 16; Opens August 27

My eyes! My ears! My brain! This is a puppet movie with a 16 cert, which may well give you some clue as to the content. Still, nothing can quite prepare you for some of the mind-expanding puppet sex scenarios the film offers. For the first 15 minutes of director Brian Henson's film, which has been 10 years in development, there is distracting novelty value in dirty-talking, porny puppets. But after that, the problems cannot be masked, even by puppets with basic instincts. It's a world where, in not-so-subtle allegory, puppets and humans co-exist, but the puppets are second-class citizens. When the puppet stars of once popular show Happytime start to be murdered, disgraced puppet cop turned private investigator Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) finds himself reunited with ex-police partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). They spar until Phil becomes a suspect in the crimes and relies on Connie to save the day.

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