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Statham Punches Sharks, Lee Returns to Form in Theaters This Weekend

Hope Madden Hope Madden Statham Punches Sharks, Lee Returns to Form in Theaters This WeekendPhoto still from BlacKkKlansmen, via IMDb.
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Jason Statham slips into some scuba gear to brawl with a 70-foot prehistoric shark. You know what that means—summer blockbuster season is officially over and we will see mainly dregs until awards time. But wait, who is that bringing a fascinating, relevant and entertaining offering to the late-summer downslide?

Hello, Spike Lee.

 

BlacKkKlansman

by Hope Madden

Welcome back, Spike Lee!

It’s not like he’s really been gone. He’s made a dozen or more TV episodes, documentaries, short films and basement-budget indies since his unfortunate 2013 compromised vision Old Boy. But BlacKkKlansman is a return to form—to the envelope-pushing enjoyment that showcases his skills as storyteller, entertainer and activist.

Why now? Lee isn’t the first filmmaker to realize how painfully relevant historical tales of systemic racism are at the moment. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Ron Stallworth published the book detailing how he, a black cop in Colorado Springs in 1979, infiltrated the KKK.

You see how it all comes together?

If you don’t, you really should. Lee balances unexpected shifts between humor and drama, camaraderie and horror, entertainment and history lesson, popcorn-muncher and experimental indie with a fluidity few other directors could muster.

The story itself is beyond insane—a zany, hair-raising misadventure destined for the big screen. Stallworth (John David Washington), a rookie in Colorado Springs’ intelligence office, stumbles upon an ad in the newspaper, makes a call, and joins the Klan.

Of course, he’ll need a second officer to actually show up. Enter Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver—perfect), who sounds about as much like Stallworth as he looks, plus he’s Jewish, which could further complicate his face-to-face relationship with the hate group.

Much sit-com-esque absurdity and dramatic police procedural thrills follow, but it’s the way Lee subverts these standard formats that hits home. The insidious nature of the racism depicted in 1979 echoes in both directions—in the history that brought our country to this moment in time, and in the future Ron Stallworth undoubtedly hoped he could prevent.

Yes, there are laugh out loud moments in this film, but there are far more rallying cries.
Grade: A-

The Meg

by George Wolf

You didn’t think Great White-infested tornados meant the pool of shark movie premises was running dry, did you? Not so long as someone is just conscious enough to mumble “Statham fights a shark” in a drunken pitch meeting!

The Meg brings that premise to 3-D life, with Statham wet-suitting up as Jonas, the reluctant hero with a haunted past. After a tragic encounter with a giant underwater beast, Jonas hangs up the scuba mask to drink away his days in the bars of Thailand.

But five years later, his ex-wife is part of an undersea research team at the mercy of the legendary Megaladon, a 70-foot-long “living fossil” of a shark thought to be extinct for over 200 years. Jonas, of course, knew it wasn’t, and now he must tell everyone, “I told you so,” with his most steely glare, go back on his vow to never dive again, and take everything much too seriously.

And that’s the biggest misstep weighing down the entire film. You get the feeling that with a knowing, “Kong: Skull Island” type of monster vibe, this could have been fun, but director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) can’t settle on one charted course.

A Chinese co-production with a clear eye on international markets, the film has moments of promise that are quickly snuffed out by exposition that’s neither needed, wanted or interesting. Where’s the fun, sharky nonsense promised by the trailer? That movie might have been a guilty pleasure.

The Meg is just guilty.
Grade: D+

The Third Murder

by Matt Weiner

“He changes his story every time.”

This early warning might be the only straightforward point made in The Third Murder, a new film from Hirokazu Kore-eda that goes from courtroom procedural to riveting thriller to heady exploration of truth and objectivity in rapid succession.

Defense lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes the lead in re-investigating a murder committed by Takashi Misumi (Kôji Yakusho), with an eye toward helping his client avoid the death penalty. A few small tugs at loose ends cause the official description of the case to unravel, presenting an entirely new take on the crime—and Misumi’s motivations in particular.

Kore-eda’s austere settings and still, unflinching direction for the legal proceedings suggest an air of impartiality at first. But the deeper Shigemori delves into what happened, and the more everyone’s stories start to come into conflict, it becomes clear that Kore-eda’s setup has been as misleading as the characters within it.

As with a typical legal thriller, the ideals of truth and justice are on trial along with the crime itself. Unlike lesser genre entries, however, Kore-eda’s characters are cursed with a hyperawareness that the parts they are playing are bigger than the justice system.

Learning that the legal system isn’t there to get people to tell the truth is punishing enough for even the most jaded lawyers in The Third Murder. Kore-eda’s methodical prodding offers a glimmer of hope that while easy resolutions might forever escape us, there’s a moral victory to be had in the examination, however pyrrhic.

The Third Murder is screening this weekend only at Wexner Center for the Arts.
Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus:
Araby (NR)
Church and State (NR)
Dog Days (PG)
Hot Summer Nights (R)
The Island (NR)
A Prayer Before Dawn (R)
Slenderman (PG13)
Viswaroopam 2 (NR)

Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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