Thursday, August 16, 2018

BlacKkKlansman and Three Identical Strangers

                                 Identities in Turmoil

                                          Reviews by Ken Burke
                                   BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

Executive Summary” (no spoilers): This powerful presentation’s based on actual events initiated by Ron Stallworth, the first African-American policeman in Colorado Springs, set in 1972, with this rookie cop taking on the task of infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan via a combination of phone calls to Klan members (including Grand Dragon David Duke) and in-person meetings with the local KKK chapter carried out by fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Jewish, another Klan target, further complicating the web of deception needed to continue this scam as “Stallworth” not only becomes a Klan member but is considered by the chapter president as a potential new leader of the group because of his unrelenting racist attitudes—delivered with believable fury by both Stallworth and Zimmerman).  You can easily find historical accounts of what happened (somewhat fictionalized for dramatic purposes in this film), but I’ll leave it that right now for the non-spoiler summary of this review, with only the acknowledgement this is a masterful blend of humor, drama, and effectively-built tension coming to a satisfying conclusion within its decades-ago story only to push us back into current-day reality with actual footage of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, a very disturbing event intended to demonstrate how far we still are from any sense of a post-racist society.  Unless you’re already opposed to the types of narratives explored by Spike Lee (or have sympathies with the KKK, God help your soul) I highly encourage attendance at this film, easy to find in most major domestic markets, a worthy expenditure of time and money.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: To set his tone, Lee begins with a clip from Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) showing the huge expanse of wounded Confederate soldiers (but nothing about the slaves accepting their miserable fates seen throughout this Hollywood landmark), followed by a short clip of Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin) offering his opinion on White superiority because Blacks are a “mongrel nation” (maybe “dogs,” as Agent Orange [to use Lee’s term for President Trump] might say) as opposed to the “Biblically-inspired role of the White race.”  From there, we’re into the story proper in 1972 (identified as we go along by clothing, hairstyles, music, and a “Nixon’s the One” campaign poster left over from the 1968 election)—although the actual events this partially-fictionalized-film’s based on took place in 1978-’79—where Ron Stallworth (John David Washington [son of Denzel]) successfully becomes a rookie policeman (first Black to do so) in Colorado Springs, CO, where he’s immediately put  into a boring job in the Records Room, subject to racist taunts from some of his fellow officers.  Upon an appeal to Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke [no relation to me]) for detective work, he creates his own assignment by responding to a newspaper ad for the Ku Klux Klan, phoning (using a “White voice,” a la Sorry to Bother You [Boots Riley; review in our July 12, 2018 posting]) local chapter president Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) to spew racist hate in his successful attempt to infiltrate the group, although that calls for fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to fill in for Stallworth in actual meetings with the Klansmen, where Walter presents a welcoming attitude in contrast to his more angry/paranoid lieutenant, Felix Kendrickson (Jaspter Pääkkönen), who’s suspicious “Ron” might be Jewish (which Zimmerman is, another primary Klan target), at one point almost forcing him to take a lie-detector-test to prove his Gentile heritage until the real Ron (always around on backup during Flip’s visits with the Klansmen, listening to their conversations through a hidden radio transmitter) throws a rock through Felix’s kitchen window, creating enough of a diversion to stop this dangerous interrogation.

 Through a good number of hilarious (as long as you can laugh at the stupidity of blatant racism, along with obvious commentary connecting these events to our present-day-dilemmas under Agent Orange) scenes, encounters, or snappy dialogue exchanges contrasted with the deadly serious progressions of this plot, the actual Stallworth pursues dual agendas in which he carries on friendly phone conversations with Klan Grand Dragon (or National Director, as he’s trying to rebrand the KKK as an acceptable political force) David Duke (Topher Grace), who’s so charmed with Ron’s apparent White nationalist attitudes he’s made plans to fly from Louisiana for Ron’s formal initiation, but meanwhile our protagonist is pursuing a budding romantic attraction to Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), head of the Black Student Union at local Colorado College, whom he met while attending (to gather information, in his role with police intelligence, in order to undercut any anticipated violent activities) a rally by Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins)—formerly Stokely Carmichael—in which this nationally-known-activist gives a rousing speech about Black Power (at a time when the Oakland, CA-based Black Panthers were still a social force to be reckoned with; I don’t know if any of this speech was based on transcripts from the time, but even if it’s completely concocted by Lee and his 3 co-screenwriters it creates a show-stopping-scene that could earn Hawkins a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), stirring up inner conflicts for Stallworth as he attempts to balance his sworn duties as a peace officer with his rising consciousness about the need for true Black equality at a time when blatant racism was just barely being challenged by changes in national law (even as covert [at best] biases still plague our society today).  Ron and Flip’s cover story begins to have problems as it’s difficult for Zimmerman to know/remember everything Stallworth’s said in his various phone calls with Klansmen, compounded by Ron making the mistake of using his real name, address, and work phone number (no caller I.D. back then, fortunately) so when Felix pays an unannounced call at Ron’s residence it takes some scrambling for Flip to cover the discrepancy.

 All of this culminates on the occasion of “Ron’s” initiation ceremony because of another dual dilemma: First, for full irony, the actual Stallworth’s assigned as a police bodyguard for Duke (an act, of course, despised by the Klan), but things get even more tense when ex-con Klansman Walker (Nicholas Turturro) recognizes Flip as the cop who sent him away but has trouble interrupting the event to make his accusations.  Second, Ron realizes Felix’s wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson)—a browbeaten spouse who always wanted to do something notable to help her vile husband—has been sent to place a bomb at a civil rights rally but, because of active police presence, has to use Plan B of putting it in Patrice’s home mailbox (all of this is intercut with Jerome Turner [Harry Belafonte] at the Black Student Union describing a brutal 1916 lynching).  Even that option goes wrong because the bomb won’t fit in the box so she leaves it under Patrice’s car (after briefly hiding when Patrice came home from the rally).  Ron races to the scene, attempts to arrest Patrice, but he’s thwarted by White cops who believe her story of being accosted by him until Flip also roars onto the scene to free his partner.  The final arrivals are Felix, Walker, and dim-bulb Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser), who, unaware of the others at a slight distance, park next to Patrice’s car, assume the bomb’s at the house, detonate it, killing all 3 of the Klansmen.  Stallworth and Zimmerman then do another sting on racist cop Andy Landers (Frederick Weller), who hassled Ron at the beginning of the film, to get him fired, but upon getting praise from Chief Burke for defusing potential violence from the local Klan find themselves with no further authorization to continue this infiltration (despite the only witnesses to their scam now dead from the car bomb), so Ron decides to move on from his police career.  However, just before he leaves he takes one last phone call from Duke (still unaware of all the undercover action), finally telling the Grand Dragon he's been duped by this Black man.⇐

 In what’s clearly an added ending to this prior activity, though (based on events as production wrapped), Ron and Patrice are now together (after he admitted his truth to her, which she accepted given he saved her life) but their home harmony’s disrupted by a night scene of Klansmen burning a cross in a nearby field, then actual footage from the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA where riots occur between far-right bigots and leftist counter-protesters, Heather Heyer’s killed by a White supremacist, President Trump makes his infamous statement about there being “very fine people on both sides of this conflict,” then we have the actual David Duke further justifying what happened at this violent event (echoing the concern/dreams of Kwame Ture/Felix Kendrickson race war in America is coming—a fear this film implies great caution about).  The final image is an upside-down American flag (acknowledged symbol of distress) fading from color to black & white.

So What? The real-life-Ron Stallworth (whom you can get a lot of direct information about by watching the first video far below connected to this film in this posting's Related Links section) continued to work in law enforcement (although mostly in Utah) until his retirement in 2005, after which he finally revealed his Klan infiltration (known only until then by the other cops he worked with and some feds, resulting in the transfer of a couple of Klan members from the nearby NORAD airborne-attack-defense-center to somewhere away from a crucial military site [maybe David Duke knew too, if that last phone call scene’s accurate, but Duke would never have revealed how he was hoodwinked by a “Negro”]) in a newspaper interview, then his own book, Black Klansman (2014), which eventually led to this cinematic adaptation.  It’s an event that certainly gives support to the old adage of “truth is stranger than fiction,” because many have speculated it would be unlikely such a purely-fictional-account of Klan infiltration could have been greenlit by a studio, likely rejected as being too preposterous to be accepted by audiences (although after the critical/financial success of Get Out [Jordan Peele, 2017; review in our May 11, 2017 posting] maybe the limitations on what can be depicted about racism in our society are eroding with absurdity taking satire to new heights, allowing outrageous situationsalong with some of the most blatantly racist on-screen-language I can recall since Django Unchained [Quentin Tarantino, 2012; review in our December 30, 2012 posting], a bloody, brutally-revisionist attack on the entire institution of Southern slaveryto be appreciated).  That Lee’s also able to inject effective humor within this disturbing-on-many-levels-story is also testimony to his skill as both a filmmaker and a social provocateur, a guy who pulls no punches in his media work (as an extreme example of that, see his scathing presentation of Blacks starring in a blackface sitcom, Bamboozled [2000]) and his public commentary on what drives the motivations behind such work (if you don’t mind his rampant obscenities, watch his interview in the 2nd video with this film in the Related Links section far below).  He’s unabashed in his criticism of re-emerging nationalist, racist attitudes that are eroding societies worldwide, eager to show how what needed to be exposed and stopped in the 1970s still must be eradicated today.

 There’s no doubt there are intended parallels in BlacKkKlansman to today’s America under the influence of hate-mongers such as the vicious Stephens in the Trump entourage, Miller and Bannon (even if the latter’s no longer in the inner circle, yet his vile rhetoric’s still intact) in such scenes as Stallworth proclaiming our country would never elect someone with David Duke’s sensibilities as President or Klansmen shouting “America first!” at one of their rallies, although those initial implications became blatant when the Charlottesville riots occurred, with Lee knowing immediately he needed to incorporate aspects of that grotesque low point in our national identity, just as he’d already worked in footage of The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915) in parallel with the Klan initiation scene.  (He even has them watching it in spellbound fashion, as I’m sure was the case a century ago when the immense popularity of this racist defense of the South’s post-Civil War response to Northern occupation—along with its absurd depiction of Blacks and mulattoes in that era—celebrated the original emergence of the Klan as violent, clandestine [to some degree] protectors of that “Civilization” that Margaret Mitchell declared was “gone with the wind” [although, for her, Scarlett O’Hara, and other “knights” of the Old South {Midwest, California Central Valley, etc.}, “tomorrow is another day” in which such cruelties might return in the hopes of “Make America White Great Again,” just as Birth … actively brought about the re-emergence of the KKK in the early 20th century]).  Still, Lee doesn’t overplay his hand here (although he’s emphatic in purpose, releasing his film on the 1-year-anniversary of the Charlottesville tragedy), in the sense there are no scenes showing White cops shooting unarmed Black men (although racist Officer Landers is responsible for unwarranted hassling of Ture [and his driver, Dumas] after the rally), but it’s clear enough the decades-long-connection between the calls for Black Power and Black Lives Matter, even as Lee pushes the envelope somewhat with a confrontation scene between Stallworth and Zimmerman as Flip’s ready to abandon the Klan ruse after he was on the verge of being killed during the lie-detector-showdown even as Ron pushes for him to acknowledge the Klan’s parallel-rejection of Jews, Mexicans, and anyone else without “pure White Aryan blood,” while Flip’s been content with blending in rather than pressing his identity in a multicultural-society.  Overall, they’re in league with, in support of each other, but the point is raised that those who look “acceptable” (except to Felix)—even very-light-skinned-Blacks—often enjoy the benefits of the dominant culture, leaving the front-line-battles to those who more obviously differ from the current hegemonic “norm.”

Bottom Line Final Comments: Many other critics have taken the position I do that BlacKkKlansman is among Lee’s finest work* (some even call it his best, but for me that’s a hard choice to make, to rank it fully above such impactful, easily-remembered-successes as She’s Gotta Have It [1986], Do the Right Thing [1989], 25th Hour [2002], Inside Man [2006]; however, if I’m being true to my own evaluative decisions then I have to put Malcolm X [1992] as his finest because my list of 10 Best American filmsnot counting Intolerance [D.W. Griffith, 1916], City Lights [Charlie Chaplin, 1931], Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941], 2001: A Space Odyssey [Stanley Kubrick, 1968], which are part of my All-Time Top 10 choiceshasn’t changed in years, with Lee’s masterpiece at #3 [after The Godfather trilogy {Francis Ford Coppola; 1972, ’74, ‘90} and Raging Bull {Martin Scorsese, 1980}]).  All-time best for Spike or not, he’s certainly convinced the critical establishment this one’s worthy of great praise, with Rotten Tomatoes offering 97% positive reviews, Metacritic delivering an 82% average score (quite high for them; more details in the Related Links section below).  Audiences have been supportive as well, with the debut weekend yielding $10.8 million in the domestic (U.S.-Canada) market (plus another $400,000 from overseas venues)—which is already on-track to resolve the efficient $15 million budget—currently playing in 1,512 domestic theaters (sadly, the big money last weekend went to The Meg [Jon Turteltaub] with a worldwide gross already of $151.5 million [about $50 million of that domestically], playing in 4,118 domestic venues, so don’t ever assume you’ll lose money financing a tale of an enormous shark on the rampage).  I can only hope consistent accolades (and timely subject matter) connected to Lee’s film propel increasing success, with no doubt Washington'll find further feature film work, displaying a solid command of the screen nicely resembling the presence of his famous, Oscar-winning father. 

*Here’s one article with more content on such a supportive claim, offering much substance.  Here’s another where Lee himself is interviewed, expressing his very clear views on what he’s up to and why.  (I thank my just-returned-from-London-friend, Jim Graham, for steering me to this latter one.)

 The only thing about BlacKkKlansman that gave me a bit of a problem was coming up with an appropriate Musical Metaphor for it (regular readers of Two Guys reviews—What? You’re not one yet? Jump on board!—know that’s my standard trope for finishing up a cluster of comments on whatever’s under review), which my insightful wife, Nina, solved in 2 seconds after I’d wrestled with it for 2 days, through her suggestion of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” (a 1970 hit single, on their 1970 Greatest Hits II album) dealing with the very kinds of conflicting situations so well explored in Lee’s latest film: “People moving out, people moving in Why, because of the color of their skin Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth Vote for me and I’ll set you free Rap on, brother, rap on […] Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon Politicians say more taxes will solve everything And the band played on So, round and around and around we go Where the world’s headed, nobody knows” (Of course, she had the advantage of remembering it from the soundtrack [it’s also throughout the trailer], but she still wins this match of “Overcoming Attention Deficit Disorder”). You can appreciate The Temps’ performance style in this video (place and date unknown to me, seems to be early ‘70s just like the film) at https:// watch?v=zQLdDfU_FNk&frags=pl%2Cwn, but you might also like to see the music in conjunction with added images that mirror the spirit of the lyrics in this video, the most interesting of several I found putting pictures with the song (they move at a rapid rate, though, so you may need to watch more than once to even process it).  Spike Lee certainly wasn’t confused about what he wanted to convey with his powerful statement in BlacKkKlansman, although it’s reasonable for us to be confused as to why such rejection and hate continue to pollute the minds of so many Americans (as well as others worldwide, as “real news” continues to inform us), so maybe having it thrown in our faces like it is here will help voters seriously question whether they can continue to support politicians who thrive on such bile when election decisions come around again for us in November.
(the intention was) SHORT TAKES (but the reality’s not even close) 
(please note that spoilers also appear here)
                  Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle)

A fascinating documentary about triplets separated at birth who find each other when they’re 19, having lived close enough after being adopted that chance and news reports brought them all together, initially in happiness until they found out they were part of a secret experiment trying to test the role of nature vs. nurture in human development.

Here’s the trailer:

        Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
 I must embarrassingly-admit I didn’t fully realize what this documentary was truly about because when it came out there were a lot of other films opening at the same time I knew were going to take priority so I didn’t read the reviews that carefully, thinking it was mostly a feel-good-testament to how 3 brothers (identical triplets, actually) came to discover each other after having been raised by separate adoptive families; thanks to my persistent wife, Nina (with interests and some undergrad coursework in psychology), we finally got to it last weekend whereupon I now realize it also features a disturbing dark side probing into the realms of social/medical ethics, making these middle-aged-men (born in 1961) simultaneously thankful they’ve been united but sorrowful over the full situation of their circumstances.  Composed of extensive present-day-interviews, re-enactments of earlier events using actors, old family photos and movies (from each childhood home) along with print clippings/newsreel footage from the time in the early 1980s when their reunion led them to become local, then national celebrities, this doc grows from joy (gleefully-shocked at how similar they were in attitudes, interests, appearance) to serious challenges as the then-young men along with their adoptive families learned the full situation of their placements and upbringings.  As all of the information is slowly revealed to us (just as it was to them), we start with Robert (Bobby) Shafran who describes how, in 1980, he enrolled in community college only to have many people on campus call him Eddy, because his (previously-unknown) brother, Eddy Galland, had also attended this school the year before.  With helpful friends of Eddy’s, Bobby connected with his brother, their situation making a heartwarming-story in NYC-area-newspapers, leading to the meeting with their other brother, David Kellman (all of them having grown up in about a 100-mile-radius of each other).

 Their initial joy turned traumatic, though, when some research revealed at about age 6 months they were all intentionally sent to specific Jewish families (of varying socioeconomic backgrounds) by the Louise Wise adoption agency working with Manhattan’s Child Development Center (affiliated with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services) in an secret experiment run by Peter Neubauer, an Austrian-born, Jewish, Freudian psychiatrist (studied with Sigmund’s daughter, Anna), using a small group of twins and triplets to study the long-standing-human-development-argument about which is more crucial in one's personal growth, nature or nurture, that is, genetics or environment.

 The study, at least where these 3 guys were concerned, also placed a slightly older girl with each family then the scientists claimed the frequent visits, testing, and 8mm movies were standard follow-up procedure but actually were means of learning what each family setting was like prior to sending in the biologically-connected-siblings; then they were studied as well, although thousands of pages and other materials remain locked away in 66 boxes at Yale University, not to be made public until 2066, given the study behind all this manipulative research was, for some reason, never published.  One thing the triplets found out, though, is their birth mother had emotional problems, which began manifesting in each of them as they grew older, with a major break coming when Robert pulled out of the mutually-run-restaurant they established in Manhattan, which traumatized Eddy ⇒who eventually committed suicide in 1995,⇐ even though all of them have had some problems with depression.  The darker aspects of this story are revealed to us through the most useful interviews Wardle can present, as Neubauer died in 2008.  However, 2 of his associates talk about the scientific value of this study, giving us the initial impression nature has the dominant impact, until we get more specifics on the emerging lives of Robert and David, with the general agreement David’s gregarious father was a much healthier influence on him than Eddy’s more-stern-military-dad, seemingly throwing the weight back to nurture, with this article about the film going into some of the complexities that aren’t dwelt on enough while this one raises ethical questions about the focus and presentation of the doc, just as the film raises its own disturbing questions about what Robert calls Neubauer’s “Nazi” experiment. As a result of this film, about 10,000 (heavily-redacted) pages from the study have been made available to Robert and David, but with no info to them about others in the study so they can’t contact anyone who doesn’t already know they were part of it to help them avoid what these siblings and their 3 families have suffered.

David Kellman (left) and Robert Shafran
 While Three Identical Strangers may raise more questions than it answers (largely because those answers need to come from Neubauer or at least his extensive compiled materials), the impact of this film is uplifting then haunting, first in depicting the unbridled happiness these teens felt when they came to know each other, then in showing us how sometimes what you think will be useful answers to mysteries about your life (even if you hadn’t yet realized you have mysteries, as was the case with these triplets) may prove to be more troubling than you’d imagined when you obtain that previously-unknown-information.  I say this from the perspective of someone who himself was adopted (upon birth, through prior arrangement), knowing nothing about my biological father, only a small amount about my biological mother (revealed to me by an aging family friend years ago), leading to a failed attempt to meet with her which she refused so my existence wouldn’t become known to the family she’d grown secure with, my life an unpublished footnote where they’re concerned.  David and Robert have each other, along with their respective families, for solace, but it’s clear from their concluding interviews what they learned about their heritage has left them much more troubled than resolved.  Critics aren’t troubled by this film, though, with active acceptance: 96% positive RT reviews, a healthy 81% average MC score; although, audiences haven’t been able to share this unique experience very much yet, with the film having been out for 7 weeks yet now down to 326 domestic theaters yielding a mere $9.7 million in ticket sales so—as I often say—if this content interests you I recommend reserving a spot on your video queue for some future availability.

 Until then, maybe you’ll find some interest in my Musical Metaphor for Three Identical Strangers from The Beatles, “What You’re Doing” (on the 1964 UK Beatles for Sale album, 1965 US Beatles VI), either at (with photos of the Fab Four, lyrics in both English and Spanish) or here if you just want to hear the song, which—despite its overt content about a romantic relationship gone wrong—in a symbolic manner speaks to the pain this secret experiment caused for these triplets: “Look what you’re doing, I’m feeling blue and lonely Would it be too much to ask of you What you’re doing to me […] Please stop your lying, you’ve got me crying […] Why should it be so much to ask of you What you’re doing to me?”

 Now, for a really long (even for me) Short Takes finale: One item quite important for the cinema industry and its supporters bursting on the scene last week I didn’t have time to explore then (but which I must wade into, knee-deep or higher) is the recent decision of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to add an Oscar category for Best Popular Film to its awards ceremony in 2019 (they’re also going to insure a maximum 3-hour-broadcast by giving some of the statuettes during commercial breaks), in an attempt to boost steadily-declining-TV-ratings of the event.  I’ll give you links to 2 negative responses from the industry-focused-publication Variety if you want to see what people in the biz have to say about this drastic decision (after 90 years of other modifications, although in the inaugural event [May 16, 1929] this concept existed for 1 year with separate prizes for Best Picture [Wings]* and Best Unique and Artistic Picture [Sunrise], the latter category dropped in 1930 leaving us with just Best Picture ever since, assuming anything—artistic, entertaining, foreign language, animated—could become a nominee [although most of the winners have come from that first designation, while no feature documentary has yet been honored at this highest award level, just in its own category]).  From one viewpoint I don’t care for this change at all because it feels to me like Best Popular Film is a consolation-prize intended to simply boost ratings, producing nominees more in tune with those from the Golden Globes and People’s Choice awards, cheapening the whole concept of the Oscars.  However, you can’t argue that what’s popular (depending on how you—and the Academy—determine such criteria; one writer offers 11 movies over the past decade that could have contended for that honor, based on arbitrary minimums of $100 million in domestic box-office-receipts, an average Metacritic score of 80%, 90% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes) hasn’t been paralleled with the Oscar Best Picture noms all that often.

*I’m skipping my usual director citations for the many filmic notations in these next paragraphs to keep the text at a reasonable (?) length.  Please look up any where you want to know this extra info.

 You can look much more carefully than I've had time to accomplish this week if you care to by comparing these lists of All-Time Domestic Box-Office Champs by year and decade (although not all sources come up with these same results) and Oscar Best Picture Nominees and Winners, but what I found by doing this quickly is for each year’s box-office-champ there are usually few correlations with Best Picture noms: late 1920s—1 (Wings, 1927**); 1930s—4 (It Happened One Night, 1934**; Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935**; The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938; Gone with the Wind, 1939**); 1940s—2 (Sergeant York, 1941; Going My Way, 1944**); 1950s—4 (The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952**; The Ten Commandments, 1956; The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957**; Ben-Hur, 1959**); 1960s—5 (West Side Story, 1961**; Lawrence of Arabia, 1962**; My Fair Lady, 1964**; The Sound of Music, 1965**; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969); 1970s—8 (Love Story, 1970; Fiddler on the Roof, 1971; The Godfather, 1972**; The Sting, 1973**; Jaws, 1975; Rocky, 1976**; Star Wars [Episode IV—A New Hope], 1977; Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979**); 1980s—3 (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981; E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982; Rain Man, 1988**); 1990s—3 (Beauty and the Beast, 1991 [1st animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture]; Titanic, 1997**; Saving Private Ryan, 1998); 2000s—2 (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003**; Avatar, 2009); 2010s—2, so far (Toy Story 3, 2010; American Sniper, 2014).  Along the way, others (of many) earning a spot in their decade’s Top 10 box-office-champs that didn’t get Oscar Best Picture noms include King Kong (1933), The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (both 1939), many Disney animated features (1940s-‘60s), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Thunderball (1965), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Grease, Superman, (National Lampoon’s) Animal House (all 3 from 1978), none of the original follow-ups to the first Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies (all 1980s), Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop (both 1984), Back to the Future (1985), Batman (1989), Home Alone (1990), Jurassic Park (1993), The Lion King (1994), Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace (1999), The Passion of the Christ (2004), Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (2005), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), none of the most recent Star Wars episodes or those prequels (2015-2017), Jurassic World (2015).

** Also won the Best Picture Oscar for releases from that year.  (This notation will be repeated a lot.)

 I’m not saying any of these noted just above but not chosen for Oscar’s top honor consideration should have secured such a nomination, but it’s very clear how so many of these audience favorites don’t factor into Oscar competition, lowering TV viewer interest over time when there’s such a disconnect since the 1960s-‘70s between what most people see and what gets Oscar attention/gold (except, in several cases for movies just mentioned, various technical categories—the ones most likely to now be reassigned to commercial breaks during the telecast).  If you simplify this situation by looking only at, say, the Top 25 All-Time Domestic Grossers there’s little change with only the original Star Wars, E.T. …, Titanic, Avatar, and Toy Story 3 getting those prized noms (Titanic the sole winner), although another 4 from 2018 are on that list (not surprising, given constantly rising ticket prices in recent years), with all of those as possible contenders for this new category, Black Panther the odds-on-favorite (for now, at least) to win it.  However, if you shift those Top 25 to being Inflation-Adjusted—a fairer comparison, reflecting actual numbers of tickets sold rather than how actual dollar amounts leave us with only 5 top-grossers released before 2000—then 15 of the 25 have been Best Picture nominated, 6 of them winners (Gone with the Wind, Ben-Hur, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, The Sting, Titanic), but despite these slight numerical gains it’s still clear there are many audience-embraced-movies on even this list that haven’t merited Best Picture consideration, all of which are either Disney animated features, Star Wars episodes, or feature cloned dinosaurs.  OK, I’ve likely provided enough evidence to support the Academy’s decision to add this Popular Film category, so why, might you ask, am I opposed to it being added?

 My reasons are essentially these: First, although I clearly make my own distinctions between “films” and “movies” when writing these reviews, with my highest respect for the artistic qualities of the former category (that’s all you’ll find in the Summary of Two Guys Reviews [all done by me; Pat’s still working on getting his computer plugged in] at the 5- or 4½-star-levels, most of what you’ll also find at my 4-star-level, although you’ll note some recognition to The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, 2014), Wonder Woman (2017), and 1 each of the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises), I think everything released in a given year should be on equal-footing as far the Oscar competition goes where the whole-picture-package is concerned—which I admit gives a fundamental edge to those entries with higher than genre-entertainment/social-reinforcement intentions, even though it appears to me most other critics are willing to dish out their highest ratings to any successes within recognized genres or narrative formulas. So, for example, Black Panther, an identifiable member of the fantasy superhero genre, gets the same superlative rating as BlacKkKlansman from such critics, despite what I see as a higher calling, greater aesthetic intention, a more personally/socially-impactful result with the latter than the former; I respect both of them, gave them both 4 stars, but if I had to put one in a time capsule for future generations to learn about the 21st century I’d take Lee over Coogler, with the self-criticism that maybe to verify my own philosophy I shouldn’t be so cautious with BlacKkKlansman (along with some others on my 4-star-list), in terms of rating it even higher (although I’m intentionally stingy with those levels of accolades, preferring that to the embarrassment of over-generosity after time allows the option of reconsideration), but at least I have those higher-star-levels for films to aspire toward whereas others will also offer their highest praise for formulaic movies that simply succeed well within the limitations of generic-expectations.

 Second, as evidenced by the lists cited above, there have already been a good number of popular films recognized by the Academy for Best Picture consideration, some of which have even scored the highly-desired-win (there are plenty more actual popular film nominees for Best Picture over these last 90 years of the Academy beyond the ones I cited above [where I focused on just the #1 income-champs of given years] that would have likely met whatever criteria are finally decided upon for what constitutes a “popular film” [or movie, as I’d call it, but that term may be too colloquial for the Academy], then applied retrospectively to their years of release), so I don’t think there’s been a gross-mistreatment of entertaining movie vehicles over the Oscars’ history of nominations nor do I think most of the excluded “popular films” cited above are truly worthy contenders for the top prize (although a good number of them—especially … The Empire Strikes Back [1980] and Toy Story 3, in my opinion—would have been worthy inclusions if the Best Picture nominations had been expanded to 10 over all of these past 9 decades).  Yet, it looks like we’re stuck with this new, mercantile-driven Best Popular Film category—for 2019, at least—so if you want some further thought on who the finalists might be, beyond the successful ones already cited above, here are some ruminations on how the big-ticket-releases from the major Hollywood studios have fared so far this summer.  All in all, rummaging around through these lists should keep you busy until my next posting, but if you find some other insights I’ve missed, please feel free to share them with me.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about BlacKkKlansman: (47:57 interview with actors Topher Grace, Ryan Eggold, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, Jasper Pääkönen and real-life ex-cop Ron Stallworth [begins with the same trailer used in the review above]) and (22:27 interview with director Spike Lee [be warned, his anti-Trump and anti-global-right-wing-actions language isn’t sanitized at all, nor should it be given what he’s talking about during the first 6 min. or so of the video]; actors John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier are there but don’t speak during this clip) and (10:10 interview with actor John David Washington)

Here’s more information about Three Identical Strangers: (22:04 interview with director Tim Wardle and the 2 of the triplets, David Kellman and Robert Shafran, along with their friend Ellen [didn’t catch her surname]—you’ll have to keep boosting the audio up when Robert talks)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 5,877 (we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll be regular readers, especially those of you from the Unknown Region, which is either Russian hackers in hiding, Wakanda [I'm still hoping for readers from Africa, even fictional ones], or is somewhere I hope shows up on a map someday); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. I must say, Three Identical Strangers had more impact on me than Spike Lee's film, possibly because of different expectations. I would rather see Identical Strangers investigated further with more light on the subject.

  2. Hi rj, Sorry I’ve been so long in getting your comment published and replying to it but there was some kind of glitch so I wasn’t even notified you’d sent it in. In the future, I’ll go into my Blogspot mailbox once a week to make sure I’m aware of any submitted comments. The more I watched Three Identical Strangers the more I got caught up in it, but--as noted--I do have a personal interest in this subject matter. See the Short Takes section of my blog of 8/23/2018 for some surprising commentary from Boots Riley about Spike Lee's film. Ken