Ben McDonald: August marks that time of the year when blockbuster season starts to flicker out and awards season movies begin to trickle in. One such film that will likely garner Oscar attention is Spike Lee‘s new project, BlacKkKlansman, which took home the Grand Prix award at Cannes this year.
I managed to catch the film during my brief time at Cannes and it left a remarkably strong impression on me. The film follows the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African American detective in 1970s Colorado Springs, who manages to infiltrate the area’s local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of another detective, played by Adam Driver. Despite taking place in 1970s America, Lee often alludes to and makes parallels with today’s volatile political landscape in some memorably uncomfortable ways.
Since I’ve already seen and praised the film, what are you looking forward to in BlacKkKlansman Kevin?
Kevin Jones: When it comes to BlacKkKlansman, one of the elements I’m most curious about has to be John David Washington. Going from a football career to acting is quite unusual, though he has seemingly handled the transition quite well between landing the lead role in this film and in the HBO television series Ballers. However, this will be my first time seeing him in anything, so I am incredibly curious as to how he will be able to carry the film as its protagonist. Alongside Washington, seeing Adam Driver in any film is always great so seeing his performance in the film is, of course, of great interest.
It is hard to mention BlacKkKlansman without also thinking about recently released films such as Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting as all comment on the current state of American race relations in very, very different ways. It will be interesting to see what BlacKkKlansman is able to add to the conversation and how its approach to the topic differs or resembles those films.
Since you’ve seen and reviewed the film, is there anything you’re looking forward to regarding its theatrical release and how audiences respond to it?
Ben: Oh definitely, I’m very interested to see the audience reaction to BlacKkKlansman, but more in the sense of an individual theater’s reaction. It was unique and fascinating to watch it with a global audience at Cannes, but the film is truthfully an American movie aimed at Americans, so I imagine more of the film’s punch will land even harder when I see it domestically.
I haven’t seen Blindspotting, but I suspect that in the case of Sorry to Bother You, the audience reception is more due to the film’s uncanny storytelling decisions than anything else. The film definitely tackles race relations as one of its issues, but as I mentioned in my review, it’s not really “about” any one topic. Spike Lee is obviously a more experienced director than Boots Riley, and BlacKkKlansman is a far more explicitly political statement about race than Sorry to Bother You even tries to be, so I will be anticipating how audiences react to such a slap to the face.
Kevin: Also coming out this month is The Miseducation of Cameron Post. The film is directed by Desiree Akhavan and stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, and John Gallagher Jr., telling the story of a teenage girl outed as a lesbian and sent to a “treatment center” that specializes in gay conversion therapy. Not to continuously compare this month’s release to other films coming out this year, but it will be quite interesting to compare The Miseducation of Cameron Post to Boy Erased when that film is released later this year as both show the experiences of young people forced to experience gay conversion therapy.
For this film alone, I’m very interested to see Moretz in this role. Between this film and Suspiria, she definitely seems to be picking better roles after a few years of trying to find her way into adult roles. Also intriguing is Sasha Lane who was phenomenal in American Honey and recently came out as gay during this film’s press tour. Considering the story of this film is obviously quite personal for her, it will be interesting to see her performance and how she is able to tap into that emotion.
Ben: It’s also worth pointing out that this is only Desiree Akhavan’s second directorial effort following her 2014 debut with Appropriate Behavior, a film where Akhavan herself stars as a bisexual woman. As this film will also handle sexual identity, it should be interesting to see the direction Akhavan decides to take the issue. The trailer seems to suggest that the film is somewhat of an expose on these horrendous gay conversion camps crossed with a coming of age tale. I haven’t seen Appropriate Behavior yet (something I plan to fix before seeing Cameron Post), but I did thoroughly enjoy Akhavan’s performance in Patrick Brice’s Creep 2. She seems like a very talented young artist, and I’m looking forward to seeing her new film.
Speaking of actors directing and directors acting, Ethan Hawke also has a movie coming out this month. It’s called Blaze, and it’s surprisingly his fourth film as a director. A biographical film following the life of real country musician Blaze Foley, the film premiered at Sundance back in January, and has already earned comparisons to the 2013 Coen brothers masterpiece Inside Llewyn Davis. Blaze stars first time actor Ben Dickey in the titular role, alongside Alia Shawkat, Sam Rockwell, Kris Kristofferson, and Josh Hamilton. Amusingly enough, frequent Hawke-collaborator Richard Linklater even seems to have an acting role in the film.
Kevin: Blaze definitely has a great cast as you mention and it will certainly be interesting to see Linklater in a role. Now that the shoe is on the other foot after their many collaborations, seeing the end product will certainly be intriguing. For his part, Hawke has seemingly spent many of the years playing musicians or making films about them, such as in the documentary he directed about Seymour Bernstein or the recent Born to Be Blue in which he starred as a jazz musician. As such, Hawke being interested in the story of a musician is definitely no surprise and it will be interesting to see how it does compare to Inside Llewyn Davis.
I am also really interested to see Ben Dickey in this film. For a debut role, it is a big ask to have the lead character in a film named after that character. Thus, I cannot wait to see what Hawke and the film’s producers saw in him and what Hawke is able to get out of him in his performance.
August will also see the release of The Little Stranger. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, the film is his follow-up to Room. As I absolutely loved Room, I am eagerly anticipating what he is able to do with The Little Stranger. A gothic horror, the film is set in 1948 and is centered on a country doctor working for a once-powerful family. Now, with their time of influence coming to an end, they are haunted by both the past and something far more sinister. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, and Charlotte Rampling.
Since Room often played like a horror, it is not too shocking to see Abrahamson take on a pure horror film, especially one that seems to be infused with so much emotion. It will be quite interesting, as always, to see Gleeson in the film but I am really looking forward to seeing Poulter in the film. He was brilliant in last year’s Detroit– and robbed of more Awards recognition, in my mind- so seeing him in another film that likely promises another intense performance from him is definitely quite welcome.
Ben: What struck me the most about The Little Stranger– from the trailer at least- was its unique, gothic atmosphere. It looks like the kind of horror film devoid of overt scares and instead relying on a deeply immersive mood, more akin to something like Robert Eggers‘s The Witch than say The Conjuring series. Even The Witch doesn’t seem to be an apt comparison though, as this strikes me as the kind of film that isn’t conventionally scary by any means.
I too am looking forward to Gleeson and Poulter. Gleeson is always a welcome addition to any cast, and I think his character actor gravitas will make a fine inclusion to the film. Though I didn’t care too much for Detroit, I agree that Will Poulter was phenomenally repulsive in that and I’m very much anticipating his next major role.
Finally coming up this month is Criterion’s release of Terrence Malick‘s widely acclaimed, experimental epic The Tree of Life [Editor’s Note: The Criterion Collection release of The Tree of Life has since been delayed till September 11, 2018]. This is no ordinary Criterion package, however. According to Wikipedia, The Criterion Collection has been planning this release since Cannes 2011, and it includes a complete, 188-minute alternate cut of the beloved film, along with of course a brand new 4K restoration of the original. Also coming with this superb release is a documentary about the film’s making, interviews with Andrew Desplat (the film’s composer), Jessica Chastain, Dan Glass (the visual effects supervisor), and much more. Since I ashamedly haven’t seen this commonly-hailed masterpiece, why don’t you tell me what I’ve been missing out on and what I can expect from watching this for the first time?
Kevin: One of the most beautiful films ever made. From the themes to the visuals from DP Emmanuel Lubezki to Terrence Malick’s ambitious and expansive vision, it is had to think of a film more beautiful than The Tree of Life. Wikipedia labels it “experimental”, which is fair since it is largely genreless, encompassing all of human existence and much of human emotion within a previously 139-minute runtime is certainly “experimental”. From what I understand, the 188-minute cut that will be included on the Criterion release also features a different color grading from the original theatrical release which will be interesting to see in practice.
For me, the 139-minute cut is an already perfect film, making me feel emotions that few films can accomplish. It is the film that Malick had been building up to for almost 40 years at that point and one that only he could make. Whatever he changes or adds to this theatrical runtime will, hopefully, have great purpose and provide further insights that the 139-minute cut could benefit from. I am eagerly anticipating receiving the release later this month to begin diving into the package that Criterion has put together and experiencing the film all over again.