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Cinema Toast: Audacious “BlacKkKlansman,” massive “Meg”

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BLACKkKLANSMAN (R)

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Harry Belafonte, Alec Baldwin

Directed by: Spike Lee (“Do The Right Thing”)

Spike Lee opens and closes BlackkKlansman with brilliant set pieces. The first involves screening the famous camera-crane, dolly-shot from “Gone With the Wind” where the screen ends up being filled with thousands of dead and dying Confederate soldiers. Then the clip stops, and a white supremacist (Alec Baldwin) steps to the podium with a diatribe about miscegenation and mongrelization. The final scene involves the reminiscences of a Civil Rights leader (Harry Belafonte) about the Klan, showing D.W. Griffith’s silent film, “Birth of a Nation” (aka “The Clansman”), with juxtaposed images of anti-racism activist Heather Heyer being run over and killed by a driver at the Charlottesville white supremacist rally. In between, the movie is ostensibly the “based on a true story” of Ron Stallworth, Colorado’s first African American policeman, and how he ended up infiltrating the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan. The whole thing is punctuated by Terrance Blanchard’s music, which adds a “Mod Squad” vibe to the 1970‘s-era scenes. Lee’s tendency to “soap-box” issues through a megaphone gets in the way on occasion, but I have to remember that most of the viewing audience isn’t old enough to remember the 1970’s, and may need this grab-you-by-the shirt perspective.

3-and-1/2 pieces of ‘Spike Lee is a brilliantly provocative filmmaker’ toast

THE MEG (PG-13)

Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Winston Chao, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Robert Taylor, Cliff Curtis

Directed by: Jon Turtletaub

The people who made this summer’s shark movie decided the bigger the shark the better. So they populate the screen with 75-foot Megalodons - prehistoric sharks that disappeared 2-and-1/2 million years ago. Ignoring scientific facts, the filmmakers blithely have these creatures surviving in a thermally heated trench off China that is 30,000 feet deep. Obviously made for the lucrative international market, the deep-sea researchers, shark fishermen and assorted love interests are played by Asian, American and Australian actors and filmed (supposedly) in the South China Sea. Each of the characters has an “up-close-and-personal” encounter with The Meg, but the one audiences seem to like the best is when Jason Stratham dives off the boat to fight the creature with a spear-gun.

3 pieces of ‘“Jaws” is alive and still very hungry’ toast

DOG DAYS PG)

Starring: Nina Dobrev, Eva Longoria, Adam Pallly, Vanessa Hudgens, Tone Bell, Jon Bass, Finn Wolfhard, Ron Cephas Jones, Rob Corddray

Directed by: Ken Marino

“Dog Days” plays like an assemblage of short films revolving around the theme of how doggies can be the catalyst that makes people more human. The stories include: 1.) A pair of feuding news anchors who discover their pups get along; 2.) A barista who lusts after her veterinarian until she meets the owner of a doggie rescue center; 3.) a “live-in-the-moment” rock musician forced to grow up when she babysits her sister’s dog; 4.) an older man whose lost pet is taken in by a couple coping badly with the reality of having a newly adopted daughter. The movie tries too hard to be accessible and lovable while at the same time using numerous gender-identity jokes that were out-of-date when Francis the Talking Mule was in theaters.

1 piece of ‘Only for those who share funny doggy videos online’ toast

THE DARKEST MINDS (R)

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Harris Dickinson, Bradley Whitford

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

“Darkest Minds” is a PG-13 dystopian drama doomed by the more creative genre movies that went before. The familiar set-up is that teenagers are misunderstood and undervalued by adults - especially those glowing-eyed teens with “special powers.” The filmmakers have saved considerably on the budget by having 98% of the children in this alternative universe die off before the movie begins. To get things moving, the President (played by Bradley Whitford, who learned how to act presidential in the TV show “West Wing”), sends his smartly dressed military guys to round up all the kids and sort them by their various “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man.” Escaping from an internment camp, a small group of teens search for the “Paradise Camp” they’ve heard about. The people who put this movie together have foolishly decided to focus on an incident involving each of the escapees, while at the same time ignoring the back story they presented earlier. As an audience member, you can choose to be annoyed at these derivative plot points or identify them as the truly bad filmmaking wallpapered over by a big-budget ad campaign that it is.

1 piece of ‘Somebody should have made this as a farce and glorified its mediocrity’ toast

(To view trailers of the above films, visit Petaluma360.com, and find “Cinema Toast” in Arts & Entertainmanet. Comments? E-mail gilmansergh@comcast.net)