Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review of 'Black Klansman'

A really good tense thriller, with quite a lot of humour, a great soundtrack and a visual delight - with absolutely no doubt as to where its poltical sympathies lie.

There are some plot holes and gaps that don't entirely make sense. The newly-appointed first black cop in Colorado Springs somehow manages to launch his own inflitration investigation into the local KKK, and though the police chief is a racist he still gets enough support and resources to make the investigation work. Although our black cop does the phone calls to the KKK his Jewish colleague does the actual in-person infiltrating...I'm not at all sure why that should be necessary as it makes the whole thing more risky for no obvious gain. Why can't the Jewish cop do the phone calls too? But it does provide some scope for some humour as KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke tells our hero that he can always tell a black person (not the word he uses) from his accent.

There is some real edge of seat stuff when we fear that the Jewish infiltrator is going to be fingered as a cop, and some parallel stuff with our black hero's infiltration of the local Black Students' Union, which includes several gorgeous leather-clad women militants with big Angela Davis afros. The KKK are really frightening - not the funny sheet-wearing buffoons that sometimes appear in films. Harry Belafonte has a cameo role as speaker to the black students.

There's a sort of coda to ensure that we understand that the monsters of the far right haven't gone away - something that it's easy to forget in films about say the Civil Rights movement, where the racists often look old and ridiculous and the narrative seems to say "isn't it uplifting that no-one thinks like that any more?"

Lots of cinematic references, to blaxploitation films among others (surely not everyone in a small-town Black Students Union would have looked that fantastic?), and some others that I could recognise were references but nevertheless didn't quite get.

A small personal note: in 1976 the same David Duke depicted in the film (set in 1972) came to Brighton, and to the University of Sussex campus at the invitation of the local Federation of Conservative Students.

Watched at the Everyman Cinema in Muswell Hill

Friday, August 24, 2018

Review of Barkskins by Annie Proulx

A rather wonderful huge novel (does Annie Proulx write any other kind?) about the timber industry in North America over four centuries. It's told as a tale of two families, both descended from two indentured French migrants to Canada, though the lines intertwine and some of the 'descendants' are actually descended from adoptees. It's about the fate of the forests, of indigenous people, and the hard life of the men (and sometimes women) in the process of logging, and lots more. It's more about other forms of ecological devastation than climate change, though that gets an appropriate level of discussion towards the end too.

The last fifty pages or so felt a bit slack, like she was tidying up a bit, but the very ending was worth waiting for.

Review of 'The Illusionist'

A fictionalized version of the Mayerling incident (for my money Private Vices, Public Pleasures was a better film account of this), in which the Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire committed suicide in a hunting lodge, with ramifications for the succession and thus the future of the empire. One of a spate of magician-inspired period dramas, like The Prestiege.

This one is quite good, with nice acting (Rufus Sewell always good as a Teutonic villain) and a nicely-achieved period look (though I wasn't sure about some of the sepia-toning - I mean, the past wasn't actually sepia, was it?). Shot in various locations in the Czech Republic rather than in Vienna where it's set - presumably cheaper and more authentic-looking. Odd to make some of the characters speak English with slight German accents...either they are speaking English, or German; either way the accent thing is silly.

Because it's a film about a magic trick, the plot turns on how this is achieved - though it's only revealed in a sort of montage sequence at the end, and I can't say I followed all of that. But it didn't detract from the enjoyment.