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Movie Monday: BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman is the story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who goes undercover to join the KKK. He does this by talking to Klan members on the phone, while fellow (white) detective Flip goes to meet with them in person.

John David Washington shines as Stallworth. He gets across the character's earnest belief in the system, which simultaneously exists with his frustration when confronted by the racists and other bad apples on the force. He's a character who is sometimes fierce and sometimes fearful, but always believable. He plays especially well off of Adam Driver, particularly in scenes where Flip confronts his own heritage as a Jewish man.

BlacKkKlansman is based on the memoir BLACK KLANSMAN by Ron Stallworth and it takes many liberties to make the story more cinematic. After all, a cop story needs shots being fired and an explosion.

I think the best change is that the movie adds women to the story. Laura Harrier plays Patrice, a militant young woman who organizes campus speaking events and marches and believes the police can never be trusted. She's based on actual women who worked with the Black Panthers and other radical groups. She's intense, but can also slow down and discuss which films and stars she likes best. On the opposite side, a woman is added to the Klan group as well, a wife whose efforts to host go unappreciated. It's an excellent portrait of how these women get wrapped up in supporting and championing a cause that sees them as second-class citizens.

By turns, BlacKkKlansman is hilarious, exciting, and a punch to the gut. I was crying by the time I left the theater, due to Spike Lee's effortless connection of the events of the past to the ones of the present. He's a masterful filmmaker and he's made a movie that's both an entertaining summer comedy-thriller and a haunting piece of art. I thoroughly recommend going to see it, or renting it once it is available on video.

This article originally appeared on In Bed With Books

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Movie Monday: The Dark Tower

One of my favorite book series is Stephen King's The Dark Tower. It isn't a perfect series. There are innumerable continuity errors and the last three books were clearly rushed. But they're weird in the most wonderful way, and I love every one of the main characters: Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, (and Oy).

Thus, the movie adaptation of The Dark Tower had a lot to live up to. It had great source material, a built-in excuse for why things weren't the same as the book, and excellent casting.

Reviews had me worried and lowered my expectations. I think that might've helped the movie. It is a nice breezy length, explaining the basics and getting down to business. In this turn of the wheel, Jake (Tom Taylor) is a troubled young man in modern New York who dreams of kids being used to power a machine attacking the Dark Tower. He follows the clues in his dreams to find a gate to Mid-World, where he finds the gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba). Roland is the man he needs to fight the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey); however, Roland is more interested in revenge than protecting the Dark Tower.

McConaughey is a delight as the menacing Man in Black and I thought he captured the spirit of the character well. I think Elba is brilliant casting for Roland, but he felt somewhat lacking in the intensity needed. At the same time, he is playing a less obsessive (in some ways) version of Roland. Taylor holds his own against them quite well and honestly impressed me. Jake's character changes the most, but I was sold on this kid as haunted and driven. I only wish we'd gotten more of him learning to be a gunslinger, especially as he ends up a 'damsel' in distress several times.

The Dark Tower is a fun fantasy movie with a few cool action scenes and a touching father-son relationship that develops through the course of the film. The movie misses some obvious chances for references to the book, but manages to weave in events from the first three books as well as a wealth of Easter Eggs. It's not everything I hoped and dreamed for, but neither is it a disaster. It's a start. If they do continue it with a TV series, I can't wait to see Eddie and Susannah and I hope this Roland and Jake return.

This article originally appeared on In Bed With Books

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Movie Monday: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

I am a massive geek for everything to do with the Matter of Britain, so it was a foregone conclusion I'd go to see King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Getting to see an early screening at the local AMC was a bonus.

I wasn't sure about Guy Ritchie doing King Arthur, since his focus tends to be fast-talking criminal sorts and hyperkinetic action. I found, however, that his style meshed well with the subject. His King Arthur does grow up a fast-talking criminal, in the manner of an ambitious boy who grew up with nothing. There are many moments of gloriously daffy banter, and many montages set to hard-driving music that keep the epic story moving along swiftly.

Let me tell you, I'm not one who usually notices scores, but I am buying this soundtrack. It's percussive, hooky, and will get your pulse pumping.

Charlie Hunnam is a good fit for Arthur. He's got a natural confidence that meshes well with leadership roles. He also seems very grounded, which makes him a great foil for the theatrics of the villain King Vortigern, played by Jude Law. I think Law was having a great deal of fun playing a ruthless, cruel man who would nonetheless like to believe that his people love as well as fear him. There's a nice touch of vulnerability to his performance. I honestly wish they shared more scenes.

The supporting cast is also quite game, including the always fantastic Djimon Hounsou, although I wish the story involved more women. Neither of the most famous women of King Arthur legend make an appearance in Legend of the Sword. There are clear hooks for a sequel, but surely there was room for Guinevere or Morgan to make an appearance? (For trivia buffs, Katie McGrath played Morgana in BBC's Merlin and has a small role in this film.) The mage is cool, and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey plays not-quite-human very well, but I'd have loved more women as main characters.

This is not a serious take on the legend, nor one that plays true to the most common tales. But it is a fun movie, and one that understands the heart of the story.  King Arthur brings all parts of society together, and ushers in a rule of equality and respect. That's a bit of escapism I can get behind.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword opens May 11.

This article originally appeared on In Bed With Books

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Movie Monday: Logan

Logan As a superhero movie fan, I couldn't resist going out opening weekend to see the final X-Men movie featuring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier.

Logan is set in the future of 2029, where many mutants have died off and none are being born. Tired of his long life and poisoned from the inside, Logan is working as a chauffeur across the Mexico-Texas border to provide from himself and the aging Professor X. Age is interacting with Charles' telepathic powers in deadly ways; when he has a seizure, everyone around freezes in pain. But Logan can't abandon the man who has been like a father to him.

Of course, a wrench has to be thrown into the works. That wrench is Laura, or X-23, an eleven-year-old mutant with suspiciously familiar powers being tracked down by government goons.

Don't go into Logan expecting slick bombast. James Mangold has taken clear inspiration from westerns, most obviously the classic Shane. It's an elegiac film, albeit one that does have plenty of brutal action scenes and sprinklings of humor. Since Deadpool proved to Fox that R-rated superhero films can make buckets of money, Logan leans into its higher rating. The violence is bloody and the language is salty.

I enjoyed seeing two of my favorite characters playing off of each other, and Dafne Keen as Laura works perfectly in the mix. She's an adorable ball of rage with flowered sunglasses who spends over half the movie communicating only in grunts. When she does finally speak, she still accompanies it with a punch to help Logan get over his self-pity. (And let me say that I appreciate Logan's linguistic efforts. Characters born in Mexico speak Spanish.)

 Logan is a moving film about the regrets of the past and the hopes of the future. It also happens to feature Wolverine vs. Wolverine action, for the best of both worlds. I don't think fans of these characters will be disappointed.

This article originally appeared on In Bed With Books