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Indie Focus: New perspectives in 'BlacKkKlansman,' 'Crazy Rich Asians' and 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post'

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Dennis Hopper’s 1971 film, “The Last Movie,” is as much a chronicle of its own creation as anything else. Though it was long thought of as a legendary career wipeout for Hopper following the epochal success of “Easy Rider,” it can now be seen as a monumental inflection point between the idealism of the 1960s and the disillusionment of the 1970s. It is a wild incantation at the beginning of the big bummer.

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A new 4K restoration from the original camera negative and sound elements will play at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre on Thursday. Actress Illeana Douglas will be there with original cast members. The film is playing as part of Hopper series that also includes “Apocalypse Now,” “Blue Velvet” and “River’s Edge.”

This week, the Los Angeles Times will have two free screenings and Q&A events. On Monday we’ll have Isabel Coixet’s “The Bookshop” with a special guest, actress Emily Mortimer. On Thursday, we’ll show “Skate Kitchen” followed by a talk with writer-director Crystal Moselle. For info and updates, go to events.latimes.com.

John David Washington, right, and Adam Driver star in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman."
John David Washington, right, and Adam Driver star in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman." (David Lee / Focus Features)

‘BlacKkKlansman’

Ever since its premiere this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” has been one of the most talked-about, most anticipated movies of the year. Directed by and co-written by Lee and produced by Jordan Peele, the movie is the true story of how Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colo., hatched a scheme to infiltrate the KKK with the help of a white colleague (played by Adam Driver). The film is a period action buddy-cop comedy and a searing take on bigotry and hatred that is directly in line with themes that appear throughout Lee’s career.

In The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote that with his new film, Lee “is not only still on fire but has found a story that allows him to be as excited and involved as he was when it all began.… And all that experience allows Lee to be as skilled a filmmaker as he is a committed polemicist, an artist as well as a provocateur who doesn't want us to get too comfortable even as we are entertained.”

The Times’ Sonaiya Kelley interviewed Laura Harrier, who plays a student leader in the film who becomes romantically involved with Washington’s Stallworth. On working with Lee, Harrier said, “At first, it was definitely intimidating and really surreal to just be on set. But once you get to know him, and he gets to know you, he's really nurturing as a director. I felt really comfortable. He's collaborative too; everyone's ideas are welcome.”

The Times’ Amy Kaufman spoke to both Washington and the real-life Stallworth for a story that will be publishing soon.

In the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “‘BlacKkKlansman’ is a furious, funny, blunt and brilliant confrontation with the truth. It’s an alarm clock ringing in the midst of a historical nightmare, and also a symphony, the rare piece of political popular art that works in all three dimensions.”

At Film Comment, Teo Bugbee explored the meaning of Lee’s decision to conclude the film with images of the hateful violence from one year ago in Charlottesville, Va., by saying, “Were ‘BlacKkKlansman’ only to include the 1979 story, it would still be a major achievement for Lee. But in the film’s coda, the director adds a grace note that reframes everything that came before it, giving one last insight into why it matters that this story about the Klan, the police, and racism in America should be told through a contemporary lens.”

At RogerEbert.com, Odie Henderson wrote, “This is not only one of the year’s best films but one of Lee’s best as well. Juggling the somber and the hilarious, the sacred and the profane, the tragedy and the triumph, the director is firing on all cylinders here. ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is a true conversation starter, and probably a conversation ender as well.”

Jon M. Chu, center, director of the film "Crazy Rich Asians," poses with lead actors Henry Golding and Constance Wu, right, at the Beverly Wilshire hotel on Aug. 5.
Jon M. Chu, center, director of the film "Crazy Rich Asians," poses with lead actors Henry Golding and Constance Wu, right, at the Beverly Wilshire hotel on Aug. 5. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

‘Crazy Rich Asians’

Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan and directed by Jon M. Chu, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a fizzy, glamorous romantic comedy about a young woman (Constance Wu) who discovers that her fiance (Henry Golding) is impossibly wealthy when they go to visit his family in Singapore. The movie is also the first contemporary story from a major Hollywood studio in 25 years centered on an all-Asian cast.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Justin Chang wrote that the film, “is many things: a tour de force of lifestyle pornography; a slick, enjoyable divertissement; a surprisingly trenchant study of class and cultural difference. Most of all, it’s a concerted effort by a long-neglected Hollywood minority to storm the big-studio citadel and possibly even beat it at its own game.”

The Times’ Jen Yamato spoke to Chu, Kwan and much of the film’s cast about the importance of the project and what it means to them.

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In a separate story, Yamato also looked at what a single movie like “Crazy Rich Asians” can mean within the larger landscape of Hollywood.

"One cannot represent the whole," Wu said. "I feel for the people who keep hearing that this is the movement for Asian Americans and feel left behind, because there isn't even a reference to somebody who looks or feels like them. That's why we're making this movie — so that other people make movies that reflect them."

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At Vulture, Emily Yoshida digs into the movie’s examination of wealth and privilege, noting “The film is less about their romance and more about the breadth of experience between old money in the old country and those who’ve scraped by for a piece of the American dream and been forever changed by it. The stakes of Rachel and Nick weathering the Crazy Rich storm and ending up together is more about reconciling those experiences than about True Love.”

Chloe Grace Moretz in a scene from "The Miseducation of Cameron Post."
Chloe Grace Moretz in a scene from "The Miseducation of Cameron Post." (Jeong Park / FilmRise)

‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’

Winner of the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is a gently comedic drama set in the early ’90s about a teenage girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is sent to a gay conversion therapy camp called God’s Promise. Directed and co-written by Desiree Akhavan, the film has a strong cast that also includes Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr. and Jennifer Ehle.

Reviewing for The Times, Glenn Whipp wrote “a sincere, gentle coming-of-age story about first love, friendship and, yes, hope… At Sundance, Akhavan introduced the movie saying she hoped to make a queer John Hughes comedy. On that count, she most certainly succeeded.”

I spoke to Akhavan and Moretz for a story about the film and its reception since Sundance. On winning the grand jury prize, Akhavan said, “It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders, actually. You worry, especially in the current climate for films, it’s such an oversaturated market that you make something and it’s a drop in an ocean.”

At Time, Stephanie Zacharek said the film “doesn’t feel like a period piece. You stop thinking of the God’s Promise detainees as misunderstood gay kids and more as misunderstood kids, period: Most of them feel pretty comfortable in their own skin; it’s the cloistered world around them that fails to accept them as they are.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.

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