Tag Archives: John David Washington

New Travel Agent Wanted

Beckett

by George Wolf

The jury may still be out on the level of acting chops passed from Denzel to John David Washington, but Beckett proves once again JDW can handle a physically taxing role as well as anybody in the business.

He’s taxed early and often as the titular man on the run in Netflix’s Beckett, a moderately satisfying throwback to political thrillers of the 1970s.

While on a “get far, far away from it all” vacation in the mountains of Greece with girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander), Beckett loses control of their car on a steep curve. Crashing through the door of a remote home below, Beckett catches a glimpse of something he’s not meant to, and the threats on his life soon begin.

The local police tell Beckett that April is dead, but they won’t let him see her body, which is the least lethal reason he quickly realizes these cops can’t be trusted. The U.S. embassy in Athens is hours away even by car, but Beckett sets out on foot to beg, borrow and fight his way to safety – and the answer to why he’s a marked man.

As capably as Washington handles the action, he’s never quite able to get Beckett’s frantic paranoia to a level that rings true. And once he gets help from a determined activist (Vicky Krieps), the bad guys become easier to spot and the lack of overall intensity brings a sluggish feel.

Director/co-writer Ferdinando Cito Filomarino delivers some picturesque and well-staged set pieces, but the political conspiracy that’s brewing underneath wears thin despite worthy intentions. The point about how easily anyone can become a marginalized pawn in the game becomes a bit frayed, lost in workmanlike global thriller threads.

Time Out Of Mind

Tenet

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

A not-at-all funny thing happened to the movie calendar this year. And now, instead of kicking off the summer blockbuster season with a bang, the stakes for Tenet are a wee bit higher: rescue movie theaters.

As you may have heard, writer/director Christopher Nolan has been adamant that this film be experienced in theaters. He’s not wrong.

Tenet is a sensory battering experience, one not to be paused or downsized. The ideas are big, the visuals are full of wide-eyed wonders, and the persistent mind-bending immediately invites second helpings (maybe more).

An agent known only as The Protagonist (John David Washington) is introduced to technology that has the power to invert time. Time travel? Sorry, that’s Bill & Ted kid stuff. We’re talking the ability to move forward in a space where everything else is moving backward.

Nolan is returning to a familiar playground that manipulates time and reality. From Leonard looping through a constant present tense in Memento to Cobb forever bumping into his own past in his attempts to shift the future in Inception, back to The Prestige, forward to Interstellar and again to the braided timelines of Dunkirk, Nolan is a filmmaker who orchestrates universes by playing with time and consequence.   

In Tenet, the future is talking to the past, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. To put things right, our Protagonist and a mysterious partner named Neil (Robert Pattinson) must gain the trust of a high-end art dealer (Elizabeth Debicki) on the way to taking down her Russian arms dealer husband (Kenneth Branagh) who’s thinking bigger than Thanos.

A dialog heavy first half benefits primarily from the oily charm and sly humor of Pattinson’s character, whose arc is made more fun and more interesting by the way the film loops its realities. As elegant as always, Debicki exists to give the film a truly human character, which is to say, one whose behavior is too often (and too conveniently) impetuous.

The film’s biggest drawbacks are some cliched dialogue and its tendency to present itself as a SciFi James Bond movie with well-dressed characters popping up in gorgeous locales to impressively (and too conveniently) offer well-timed information. (Washington does impress as a potential Bond, though.)

The two and a half hour running time is not a concern, because once we hit the midpoint, Nolan (with a big assist from cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and stunt coordinator George Cottle) decide we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Past and present collide in some of the most interesting, tense and downright fun action sequences Nolan’s ever put together—and fan or not, that’s a feat to acknowledge.

That’s merely a summary that doesn’t require a physics degree, but as Nolan’s own screenplay admits, “Don’t try to understand it.” We’re back to big screens, baby, let’s make it count!

Ball of Confusion

BlacKkKlansman

by Hope Madden

Welcome back, Spike Lee!

It’s not like he’s really been gone. He’s made a dozen or more TV episodes, documentaries, short films and basement-budget indies since his unfortunate 2013 compromised vision Old Boy. But BlacKkKlansman is a return to form—to the envelope-pushing enjoyment that showcases his skills as storyteller, entertainer and activist.

Earmarks of his most indelible marks on cinema—Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X—these three elements have rarely joined forces since 1992. You might get one (Get on the Bus) or two (Inside Man, Chi-Raq), but not all three.

Why now? Lee isn’t the first filmmaker to realize how painfully relevant historical tales of systemic racism are at the moment. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Ron Stallworth published the book detailing how he, a black cop in Colorado Springs in 1979, infiltrated the KKK.

You see how it all comes together?

If you don’t, you really should. Lee balances unexpected shifts between humor and drama, camaraderie and horror, entertainment and history lesson, popcorn-muncher and experimental indie with a fluidity few other directors could muster.

The story itself is beyond insane—a zany, hair-raising misadventure destined for the big screen. Stallworth (John David Washington), a rookie in Colorado Springs’s intelligence office, stumbles upon an ad in the newspaper, makes a call, and joins the Klan.

Of course, he’ll need a second officer to actually show up. Enter Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver—perfect), who sounds about as much like Stallworth as he looks, plus he’s Jewish, which could further complicate his face-to-face relationship with the hate group.

Much sit-com-esque absurdity and dramatic police procedural thrills follow, but it’s the way Lee subverts these standard formats that hits home. The insidious nature of the racism depicted in 1979 echoes in both directions—in the history that brought our country to this moment in time, and in the future Ron Stallworth undoubtedly hoped he could prevent.

Yes, there are laugh out loud moments in this film, but there are far more rallying cries.