I know it has been a while since I’ve seen or written about movies but I have been going and loving the new AMC A-List service as an excellent alternative to the now imploding MoviePass. I’m going to hit the three major flicks that I’ve seen recently (BlacKkKlansman, The Meg, and The Happytime Murders) in this roundup or digest, or whatever you want to call it.
Movie #1: BlacKkKlansman
Okay, see here’s the thing. You can have a great true story with compelling characters and an important message and loads of talent….and still not make a good movie, as was the case here. I have to keep this short since this is a roundup, but as a movie and a story, Blackkklansman misses the mark. I humbly believe that Spike Lee’s hubris got in the way of making what could have been a truly amazing feel-good and fun movie about battling racism and winning – and YES you can have a feel-good summer movie on this topic – a passable and meandering tale that barely clings to its plot which teeters on the edge of story structure oblivion.
There is no shortage of dark, disturbing, and discomforting movies on the topic. Instead what we get here is a mishmash of awkward segues moving the story forward (barely) and struggles to maintain a false narrative: that this is Ron Stalworth’s story and he stopped the Klan from doing something huge. The reality is, that this is a story not about a black police officer infiltrating the KKK, it’s a story about a black police officer who convinced a WHITE JEWISH police officer to infiltrate the KKK. That’s right, the reluctant hero in all of this is Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman, and yet you can tell that at the insistence of Lee, the story was rejiggered to focus on Stalworth and it comes across as awkward. At many points throughout the movie, you get inklings of a movie that might have been, whether it was the correct one featuring Driver/Zimmerman as the lead, or another where Stallworth’s assigned to David Duke’s security detail and hilarity ensues. But instead we just get a black rookie police officer who one day decides to call up the klan (for no reason really…) to stop an improvised assassination attempted on the leader of the black student union, and confusion ensues. The film is pockmarked with weird artsy moments, is largely shot out of focus and blurry, the musical score (not the soundtrack, the actual score) is a bit odd and uncomfortable, and in the end the film is wrapped up in a tight stupid little bow at the end when all our favorite characters form a cutesy sting operation to entrap the one dirty cop in the Colorado police station, just so we can nab every racist in the movie and feel good about ourselves, but Lee then decides to end of a low note, with the snuff film from the protests in Charlottesville, North Carolina. All of this is a far cry from the awesome buddy cops vs stupid racists movie that the trailer promised us. So, kudos for making it, but demerits for not making it well. Simply put: It’s not a good movie. Sorry to say.
Movie #2: The Meg
The Meg was, in my humble opinion, quite an interesting movie that combined Asian funding and sensibilities with western storytelling and cinematic know-how and the result is a hybrid film that is difficult to truly critique given the fact that it has a footing in two completely separate cultures and is trying to balance its delivery for both. As far as killer shark movies go, it is TAME and it doesn’t come close to knocking Jaws off its pedestal and Deep Blue Sea remains the best killer shark movie in recent memory (despite its notoriously bad CGI). Now, you can fault it for its low body count and tameness or you can realize that this is likely a byproduct of being made for the Chinese market and Chinese censors who may not be receptive to arms and legs being torn off people while they’re still alive. Sure you could argue that different edits could have been produced for the US and Asian markets, but if it’s Chinese money that’s contingent on delivering one film for both markets, then you roll over and do it and if box office receipts are any indication, it’s working. You could also point out that the no-touching/kissless love story between Statham/Taylor and BingBing Li/Suyin is just strange…but again, you have to look at the target market and what your funders want. Look at Bollywood films, all those couples ever do is hug. But the flicks accomplish their goal of making a lot of money. My point is that this is clearly a film meant for a certain audience in the east and they felt they could get a fair shake here in the US. It’s debatable as it currently hasn’t made back its production cost of $130 million in the US, but then again it’s tripled its budget in box office receipts overseas, so it’s connecting with a lot of people somewhere and that’s important. Did I like it? Yeah, its shortcomings didn’t bother me that much but believe it or not, it actually had a better put together story than did BlacKkKlansman so I give this an edge.
Movie #3: The Happytime Murders
If ever there was a movie I wanted so badly to enjoy, it was Happytime Murders, and wow did it just simply not work at all. I feel guilty saying this but there was nothing to be gained by making this a movie with puppets. The laughs were few and far between and it would have been far better as an R-Rated whodunit comedy with all humans than it turned out. I can’t figure out what went wrong here. The trailer was so great for this film as was the premise. Did producers mess up the edit? Was it the myriad of funders each having their say (this was a frequent topic tied to The Happytime Murders in the trades, just how many funders the film had)? The trailer had non-stop funny moments and so many were missing from the final film that I want to believe there’s an hysterical director’s cut out there that might some day grace the screens of smart TVs around the globe, but no, just no. This movie just didn’t work. While many don’t realize that the Henson company has NO affiliation with the Muppets any longer (they sold the property to Disney, lock, stock, and barrel), it is fair to draw comparisons here as the Henson company DID make the Muppet films up until 1999 so what we have here is basically a demonstration of what puppets are and are not good at. They excel at being clever character devices. They don’t at being raunchy character devices. Of course you might bring up Avenue Q, but then you make a separate point: This had already been done, and it was too late to try and come up with something else. This is the same reason the Ice Pirates failed after Star Wars. Star Wars was clever, Ice Pirates tried to be raunchy. Too late. So sadly, I found myself disappointed in THM, but won’t give up hope on a director’s cut some day, and will absolutely fork over $3.99 on iTunes to rent it and see if it’s better.
Wow, this roundup did not go as expected. I thought I would love BlacKkKlansman, I thought I would be crazily entertained by the blood bath that was the Meg, and I thought Happytime would have me in stitches. Funny how things work out sometimes.