22 posts categorized "African American Cinema"

August 14, 2018


BlackkklansmanSpike Lee’s latest failure “BlacKkKLansman” is all the more disappointing for its squandered potential bite as a satirical take on modern race relations between whites and blacks in America (see “new boss same as the old boss”).

Lee creates a safe pastiche of commercial embraces that include a 1972 approved “Soul Train” vision of [dancing] black activists, and a storyline without a dramatic arc. Lee ends up equating black activists (read radicals) with David Duke’s motley crew of Klansmen (a group that does not always exclude women). These insults are exacerbated by an overlong running time that turns the movie into a dead-end marathon. Things get tedious. 

Spike Lee’s dramatic sins are many in this picture. Stylistically, “BlacKkKLansman” has a cliché riddled design that reads as mundane when Lee manages to properly light the shot. Thematically, the film is preachy without ever throwing down on its ostensible political agenda.

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However the hairstyle that Lee’s lead actor John David Washington wears (courtesy of Shaun Perkins and La Wanda M. Pierre), for his character Ron Stallworth, is exquisite. Washington works his fro with a deadpan delivery that borders on cartoonish but stays firmly tongue-in-cheek. Still, Washington never gets the chance to run with the story due to a by-committee script (with four credited screenwriters) based on Ron Stallworth’s autobiography. 

Audiences will always fall for the old “based on a true story” ploy. Don’t believe the hype.


Newbie police officer Ron Stallworth is a lucky guy. Not only is he Colorado Springs' first black cop, but he moves up from file clerk to undercover detective overnight. Stallworth strikes up a groovy romance with Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), president of the local Black Rights group. The group’s message of “all power to all people” hits home when Stallworth attends a rally featuring keynote speaker Kwame Ture (a.k.a. Stokely Carmichael) in fine form.

Ron keeps Patrice in the dark about his occupation, which involves teaming up with his police partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, i.e. “the organization.” The movie could potentially go in an entertaining direction, but it does not.


Stallworth and Zimmerman make a pass at matching their voices to avoid suspicion since their ruse relies on Stallworth’s ability to sound immaculately white while talking on the (police precinct) phone to various Ku Klux Klansmen, including David Duke himself (as played blankly by Topher Grace). Did no one on Lee’s team consider that using the police precinct desk phone might not be the best way for an “undercover” officer to remain undercover. What happens when David Duke calls Ron Stallworth, and the voice on the line says, “89th police precinct”? Busted. Yet these screenwriters got paid.

Still, plot holes are sadly the least of this film’s worries. Spike Lee and his band of merry writers never settle on this film’s genre. “BlacKkKLansman” sounds like a social satire, think Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” It could be a true crime biopic (see "Serpico"). On paper it should be a buddy flick a la “Lethal Weapon.” It could also be a black comedy, which would must needs involve a murder or three (think “Fargo”).


Instead we get a mediocre, [politically] middle-of-the-road movie that shows its tell card at the film's end when Spike Lee editorializes over the closing credits with violent scenes from the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where Heather Heyer was the victim of a car attack. Lee’s effort at commentary is ham-fisted as it is naive. Lee only  points out what this film needed to be if it was going to address America's ongoing incremental genocide of black people in any meaningful way.

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What would it have taken for Spike Lee to go balls to the walls like he did on his best film "Do The Right Thing"? We'll never know.  

 Rated R (135 mins)

Two Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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Cole Smithey on Patreon

March 21, 2018



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon


Colesmithey.comLars von Trier’s second installment in his Brechtian trilogy of American culture stays true to the stage bound theatrical setting of his first installment (“Dogville” 2003) even if his protagonist heroine Grace seems not to have kept any continuity from her traumatizing experiences in Dogville, i.e. multiple rapes, torture, and various humiliations, including being enslaved before ordering the massacre of a small town.

After all, murderers are humiliated by their own bloodlust.

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Perhaps that is as it should be. That was a lot of baggage. Bryce Dallas Howard takes over the role that Nicole Kidman portrayed in “Dogville,” just as Willem Dafoe fills James Caan’s shoes as Grace’s gangster father this time around.

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Under von Trier’s fluid handheld camera there is no mistaking the parable aspect of his rigorous dramaturgy, this time dedicated to a slave plantation operating 70 years pat the abolishment of slavery. If you do the math you know that it’s Depression Era 1933. You don’t have to ponder long to realize that slavery in America continues albeit under a transmogrified state of incremental genocide glossed over with pretty words such as democracy, freedom, and capitalism.


So it is that our minimalist tale of colonialism, best intentions, and hidden agendas comes into microcosmic view when the headstrong Grace arrives at Manderlay in the company of her smarmy dad and his gun-toting henchmen and lawyers.

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A slave (Isaach De Bankolé) is strapped to a grate, about to be whipped by one of his white masters when Grace intercedes and takes the whip away from the brute with the aid of her dad’s goons. The plantation matriarch Mam (Lauren Bacall) appears from her mansion with shotgun in hand, but put in her place by Grace. Mam wasn’t long for this world anyway as it turns out but she does leave behind a book (“Mam’s Law”) which includes a “code of conduct” for the plantation. Most appalling, if informative, is the book’s dilatation of seven slave character types with titles such as “Proudly,” “Clownin’,” and “Pleasin’.”

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Grace decides to stay on at Manderlay in order to oversee the slaves’ transition to freedom. She keeps her father’s lawyer and a few of his guards. Under von Trier’s seven remaining chapter headings, Grace learns the hard way the unseen forces and brutal tactics that undo her naïve attempts at leading the slave community to any form of holistic equality.


Not since Ingmar Bergman’s trenchant Cinema has a filmmaker so efficiently tackled universal truths of human behavior that predictably veer toward duplicity, greed and the lowest common denominator of groupthink that priests, politicians, judges, and corporate CEOs wield under the guise of democracy. “The lesser of two evils” is still immoral, n’est-ce pas?    

Not rated. 139 mins. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

March 20, 2018



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Cole and Mike dig Shirley Clarke's magnificent cinéma vérité work which showcases a gay black Mark Twain of African American experience up to this film's 1967 filming. Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout Nitro gave us the craft beer delight we desired for our movie chat. Bon appetite!

Portrait-of-JasonShirley Clarke’s 1967 cinéma vérité masterpiece remains a scathing social and character study of race in America for the enigmatic quality of its unreliable subject, Jason Holliday (nee Aaron Payne, 1924-1998).

Filmed in her Chelsea Hotel penthouse apartment on a cold winter night over a 12-hour period, from 9 pm to 9 am, Clarke uses out-of-focus segues to interview Jason, a gay African-American hustler as he talks about his troubled life and uncertain future. Jason Holliday is nothing if not a performer, and a tragic figure for the ages. 


Jason is at once candid, guarded, jovial, sad, articulate, affected, and presentational as he tells of working on a cabaret act, that we the audience may be witnessing excerpts from. The movie lights up when he breaks into song. He is talented.

Clarke and her partner (actor Carl Lee — “Super Fly”) goad Jason from off-camera, peppering him with questions or prompting him to tell specific stories from his troubled past.


Jason tells of hustling all of his life to avoid the 9 to 5 grind. His involuntary laugh is constant. Infectious as it is revealing of the deep sadness he carries with him, it is Jason’s laughter that keeps you on pins and needles. You can sense him wanting to cry throughout the interview, but he lets the sound of his own laughter carry him through edifying stories about working for rich white folk as a “house boy” or talking to prying psychiatrists about his sex life.

“I’m a stone whore, and I’m not ashamed of it.”


Jason drinks a cocktail while standing in front of a fireplace mantle, wearing stylish coke-bottle glasses that magnify his heavy-lidded squint. His Oxford shirt’s collar is unbuttoned so that the collar falls over the lapel of a dark blazer, giving him the appearance of a black James Dean whose better survival skills have given him passage in upper class white culture. He may be stoned from drink and pot, but his speech is never slurred. His word choice is rarely less than erudite. The stories he tells of his interactions with Miles Davis ring with anecdotal truth, especially a funny one involving the drummer Philly Jo Jones.

How much of Jason’s stories are real or fiction never comes into question because the force of his being is so convincing. So whether Jason’s sly delivery is merely a persuasive form of carefully constructed editorial narrative or not, doesn’t matter; there is too much intrinsic truth in every word he utters with damaged conviction and regret.   


Aaron Payne studied acting at the Actor’s Workshop in Hollywood under Charles Laughton before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He recorded a comedy album that was released in 2007.

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Not rated. 105 mins. Five Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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