Not so much a blaxsploitation film as it is just a damn fine movie and a perfect film to end the month. One of my favorites from the 70's, a decade that is my favorite. To me, this holds up as well as The French Connection, Chinatown, Dirty Harry, and Dog Day Afternoon.
Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn bring serious chops as two cops trying to break the case when three criminals decide to knock off the mob. They might not like each other, but they've got to get along long enough to keep Harlem from tearing itself apart.
Fantastic character actors bring alive a story that could have fallen into numerous pitfalls, and the on location shooting adds much needed realism. Adapted from Wally Ferris's novel by writer Luther Davis and director Barry Sheer, this film just oozes with authenticity. Anyone wanting to know what NYC was like in the 70's should take a look at Across 110th Street.
I have yet to see all the films involved, so many of these are just educated guesses, but isn't that half the fun.
Original Song - I really don't care for any of these, and I flat out refuse to vote for Randy Newman, so how about "If I Rise" from 127 hours
Original Score - As much as I loved the Inception score, my inner 18 year-old would kick my ass for not voting Trent Reznor. So it goes to The Social Network
Makeup - The Wolfman.
Costume Design - The Academy always loves period pieces, but I'm going with Alice In Wonderland
Sound Editing and Mixing, Visual Effects - All going to Inception. It has no shot at any of the major awards so I'm guessing they will make up for it with the technical side.
Live Action Short Film - Absolutely no idea. How about God of Love?
Animated Short Film - Loved Day & Night.
Art Direction - Alice in Wonderland. Even when Burton's films don't exactly "stick it" they are always a wonder to look at.
Cinematography - Loved the handheld work in Black Swan.
Film Editing- Where is the love for Inception, a film that juggled numerous timelines. Let's go with The Social Network.
Adapted Screenplay- If this does not go to Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network I will be stunned.
Original Screenplay - Will probably go to David Sidler for The Kings Speech but I'm holding out for Christopher Nolan and Inception. He was robbed off a Director's nod, so why not give him this as an apology.
Foreign Language Film - Expressing my Javier Bardem love in this category. Go Biutiful
Animated Feature- Anyone not guessing Toy Story 3 on this?
Documentary Short- ? How about Poster Girl.
Documentary Feature - For once I've seen the majority of the films in this category. I thought Restrepo was really powerful, but I just loved the mischief of Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Director - Replace Tom Hooper with Christopher Nolan and this would be a dream category. Fincher, Aronofsky, Russell, and the Coen Brothers, all amazing filmmakers, but it's David Fincher's time.
Supporting Actress, otherwise known as the category I always get wrong - True Grit love time, so Hailee Steinfeld
Actress- It will probably go to Bening, but I'm for Natalie Portman. Makes up for her sleepwalking through the Star Wars films.
Suporting Actor - Geoffrey Rush has an Oscar already, so let's give it to Christian Bale, who should have been nominated long before this.
Actor - Colin Firth. It's pretty much a sure thing.
Picture - The King's Speech was tailor-made for an Oscar. Period piece. Historically important character. An physical obstacle to overcome. Check check and check. But I'm going with The Social Network. Everything about this film works, from Eisenberg's understated-yet-nominated performance, to Fincher's assured direction, to Sorkin's crackerjack script. Remove any piece and this film probably falls apart. This will be the film that's spoken of in ten years, while The Kings Speech will go the way of Shakespeare In Love.
There is no badder man than Jim Brown. Not only was he a world class, record setting athlete, but also a movie star, author, and activist. He may be 75 years old now, but I'm willing to bet he could still kick 99% of our collective asses with just a look.
Sometimes sequels are just a terrible, terrible idea. Pretty much everything I adored about the first movie, including the AMAZING music, is missing from this film. It's hard to fault leading man/director Ron O'Neal for trying to capitalize on the success of Super Fly and attempting a "message" movie, but using Priest instead of a brand new character might have been a bad idea. (Interesting side note- this film was co-writen by Alex Haley of Roots fame) It had some high minded ideals, a retired, reformed Priest aiding African rebels, but all of this was undercut by inability to remain awake. Super Fly TNT committed the greatest sin of an exploitation film. It was boring.
"You know the rules of the game. Your bitch just chose me. Now we can handle this like you just got some class, or we can get into some gangsta shit."
It's wise to give yourself goals. Life can have added meaning when there is something you are working towards, a light at the end of the tunnel.. Gives you purpose, a mission. And if that achievment is to be crowned the #1 Pimp at the Players Ball, so be it.
One of the best blaxsploitation films ever made. There is a reason New Line Cinema gave the outstanding dvd release the Platinum Series label.
You know what I miss the most about 70's film, and exploitation films in general? Films like this. I cannot even imagine a film like Black Shampoo even making past a reader's desk today. And even if it did manage to get filmed, a studio wouldn't have a clue on how to market it. The closest approximation we have are the Old Spice commercials.
When it comes to the first lady of blaxsploitation, there can be only one. While the subject of last week's post should make my choice obvious, it would be a shame to ignore a woman, who if Pam Grier did not exist, could make a strong argument for the crown. I give you Tamara Dobson as Cleopatra Jones.
I was going to finish up this week with a review of my favorite Pam Grier film, Coffy, but the more I thought about it I realized I'd said all I need to say about this woman. If you enjoy any of her films, you will love Coffy. Instead, I figured I'd let the first lady of blaxsploitation tell her own story. I dug around on YouTube and found some great candid interviews. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? I had no idea.
Even when rated PG, Pam Grier can still kick some...butt. If she can go PG, I can try as well. Writer/director William Girdler should be given credit for trying to take the excessive sleaze, violence and sex out of a genre that is well known for it, but did he succeed in making a good film?
Sheba Shayne, a Chicago PI, is back in her hometown of Louisville KY to help her father, a loan officer, who is getting shaken down by some thugs. He thinks everything is under control, but soon he is as dead as can be. This doesn't sit well with Sheba, so she teams up with ex-flame Brick (Austin Stoker) to seek retribution.
Sheba Baby is exactly what I expected, and that's not a good thing. Coming off of Black Mama, White Mama, it was good to get some plot with my Pam, but this movie just felt sanitized from the get-go. The script was rather by the numbers, the acting especially weak, and the direction was nothing to point out. Awkward would be the word I use most to describe Sheba Baby.
I'm sure Ms. Grier relished the chance to act with her top on, I just wish she had chosen a better movie. This would have made a very solid television pilot, but as a film it just needed more everything.
Remember back about twenty-four hours, when I mentioned that perhaps Foxy Brown was the tiniest bit exploitive in the number of times it made Pam Grier take off her clothes? I now formally apologize to that film. Compared with today's feature, Black Mama White Mama, it was absolutely wholesome. BMWM only takes 5 minutes to get to a group shower scene, and doesn't stop there.
Pam Grier and Margaret Markov are the "mamas" in question, and they are on the run from the law. One is a former prostitute, the other a revolutionary, but both dislike the other. Chained together by a lesbian prison warden (I'm sure this happens all the time), they are forced to act as one in order to survive once they escape.
Who would have thought The Defiant Ones would lead to this? Jonathan Demme, that's who. The man behind Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and Something Wild is co-credited with the story, one of three women in prison films he had a hand in.
But don't let his future Oscar fool you into thinking this movie is anything more than a chance to watch beautiful women get naked, fight, and shoot guns. Black Mama, White Mama is mildly entertaining, but not exactly good. Pam Grier is great, as always, and Margaret Markov holds her own, despite my disbelief of a blond haired beauty queen being a South American revolutionary. But hey, the do get to dress up as nuns. The plot plods along, with tons of exposition as to why these two females are so coveted,(hint, it always involves money), and plenty of narrow escapes. But just when I was about to get bored, the movie was given a nice dose of Sid Haig and his manic, wild-eyed acting.
You might want to watch this film once, but I doubt it will offer much on repeat viewings.
Foxy Brown is out for revenge. When her boyfriend, undercover cop Michael Anderson, is murdered by mobsters, she takes it upon herself to see that justice is served. It's a simple plot, but a fantastic movie.
You know a film doesn't have much for a budget when the main villains drive around in a station wagon. But what Foxy Brown lacks in money, it more than makes up for it in attitude. And if anything can get the taste of Bucktown out of my mouth, it's a lesbian bar brawl.
Foxy Brown is a film that has it all. From the shuck and jive hustling of her brother Link (Antonio Fargas), to the very progressive female crime boss Miss Katherine (Kathryn Loder) to drug smuggler Sid Haig, this movie is loaded with people who deserve to get their asses kicked by Pam Grier. She'll take anybody on with her modest kung-fu skills, and if those are not enough to get the job done, she'll pull a gun from her afro.
Director/writer Jack Hill packed every second of this film with memorable scenes. When Foxy goes "undercover" as a call girl, watch her emasculate and embarrass a "honkie" corrupt judge with a smile on her face. Been kidnapped, drugged and held hostage in a deserted ranch? Not a problem for Foxy. She'll burn that place down.
Foxy Brown is all about revenge, and it's a joy to watch Pam Grier really get into this role, and out of her clothes. She's got more nude scenes in just this movie than most modern day actresses do in their career. Is it exploiting a young actress hungry for roles? Possibly, but she doesn't really seem to mind. And it did make her an icon. Or perhaps she's just the strong, fearless actress needed for roles such as this.
Duke Johnson is in town to bury his brother. At the funeral he meets Aretha (Pam Grier). Although he's new in town, she doesn't think to highly of him. She was a friend of his brother, and is convinced Duke's going to skip town after the funeral. Those were his exact plans, only he's got to stay in town for two months in order to inherit his brothers bar, Club Alabam.
Of course, there are stipulations. In order to get that bar back open, he's got to pay the local police for a "city license" which is an extra $450. They have their fingers in everybody's pie, and besides the one time fee, there will also be an extra $100 every Saturday or they'll close him down. And if they close him down, he'll never be able to sell the bar and leave. Duke had no problem paying for the license, but he'll be damned if he's going to be shaken down every week. His answer to the protection money, one hell of a bar brawl.
So, the bar brawl wins Aretha over. She pays a visit to Duke, beers in hand. It's a typical evening. Beer, anger, slaps, sex. It's not a Pam Grier movie unless she gets naked once. And immediately after the sex, the cops show up to shoot the house all to hell.
And that's not all. It seems his brother, who did officially die of pneumonia, was actually beaten severely and left for dead. Do you think Fred Williamson is going to stand for that?
Hell no. He could run. It's what Aretha wants him to do. Instead, he gets on the phone and calls his friend Roy. Roy comes to town with backup, including one Carl Weathers. Do you really need more backup than Carl Weathers? In a suprising turn, they kill or capture every single crooked cop in a matter of minutes. The movie isn't even halfway over, and already they've taken down "The Man."
Their reward from the mayor. They get to be the law in Bucktown. I'd see this as a good thing, but not Pam Grier. She's convinced Roy and his boys will be worse than the cracker lawmen ever were.
Despite her rather unimpressive acting in this film, she was right. Roy and his crew shake everyone down even harder than before, drunk with all the new found power and money. For the most part, they leave Duke alone, but it's only a matter of town before before hell comes to Bucktown.
Bucktown is a film with many merits, especially the midplot twist of the "heroes" being just as corrupt, but it's also got some faults. Mostly, it's the acting of Pam Grier. Today should be a love letter to the first lady of blaxsploitation, but I figured it's best to start a week retrospective with her absolute worst performance that I've ever seen. She's wooden and unbelievable, and I have no idea why. Did she not like the director? Did Fred Williamson piss her off? Who the hell knows, but thankfully, it's a performance she doesn't repeat.
I really didn't want to interupt blaxsploitation month, but this needs to be seen by more people.
Throw Tricia Helfer, Corbin Bernsen, "Sir" Todd Bridges, and The Black Keys into a grindhouse-style "flick" and you have hit every single one of my sweet spots. I don't care if it's a music video or a fake trailer. I just want more.
Is there a better opening theme song in the history of cinema?
After Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Shaft is considered the beginning of the blaxsploitation movement. Unlike SSBS, Shaft is actually a pretty solid film.
John Shaft is a private investigator hired by gangster Bumpy Jonas to find his kidnapped daughter. Like Sweetback, Shaft is a bad mother (shutting my mouth), and he's going to do the right thing, despite his strong dislike for Bumpy. As the case unfolds he finds himself up against first the black gangsters, than the black power movement, and finally, after forming a superteam with the previous two, the Italian gangsters.
Unlike most other films from this genre, Shaft is relatively free of unintentional humor, and the direction from acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks is solid. Shot on location in New York, it drips with authenticity, from the accents to the 70's color schemes. And Richard Roundtree build his entire career on this star-making film. From his badass attitude to his suave style with the ladies, every blaxsploitation leading man did their best to follow his lead.
Perhaps most importantly, from it's meager million dollar budget, it went on to earn over twelve million, proving the genre to be finanicaly feasible to the hollywood bean counters. And much like today, sequels were quickly lined up.
"Detective: Now, I know you think you're smart, see, 'cause you got all them flashy clothes, you got that big car there, you got all them Black bitches working for you. Dolemite: You forgot about the white ones."
Word of warning before viewing any Dolemite related picture. Before the likes of 50 cent, P Diddy, DMX, Ice T, LL Cool J and all the other rappers turned actors, there was Rudy Ray Moore, comedian. Dolemite was an alter ego created for comedy albums, much like Richard Pryor's wino. He was never meant to be an action star, just a way to sell more albums. Please consider that as the movie starts.
You are now safe to view the picture.
These are words I wish I heard before the first time I ever saw Dolemite. I was fourteen, had only heard of Dolemite thanks to Robin Harris's rants in House Party. But I'd already seen Shaft and Superfly. How different could it be?
I can hear you laughing from here.
Rudy Ray Moore might have some sloppy Kung Fu, and his acting isn't even close to top notch, but he can entertain. The first time I saw it, I didn't know what the hell I was even looking at, but I knew I liked it. Having not watched it in twenty years, I can still say it's a fun way to pass two hours.
Dolemite is in jail for crimes he didn't commit, having been framed by the cops. With the help of the warden and Queen B, he is released in order to stop a drug deal or something. He also tries to prove his innocence, gets in a lot of fights, swears rather inventively at people, has some sex, and rhymes much of his dialogue. John Shaft never did that.
"Man, move over and let me pass 'fore they have be to pullin' these Hush Puppies out your motherfuckin' ass!"
If you want a film with deep characterization, passable fight choreography, and an intricate plot...look somewhere else. Those just wanting to have a good time, you will find it here.
Nobody can kick ass and rock an Afro like Jim Kelly, and if you thought he got a chump death in Enter the Dragon, than you need to watch Black Belt Jones. He will kick, punch, and yes, make some weird ass noises, as he takes it to the mob.
Don Steffano is a powerful man. He's got money, power, politicians and drug dealers in his pocket. So when he says he needs the land that is currently occupied by the Black Byrd karate studio, you can bet his men will do anything they can to obtain it.
His drug dealing partner Pinky (Malik Carter) just happens to know Pop Byrd's (Scatman Crothers) weakness. He's got a gambling problem, and the $1000 he owes soon becomes $11,000. When Pop won't pay, they rough him up, and unfortunately kill him. An extra pencil stroke turns that debt to $41,000.
However, when Pop died, the studio went to his long estranged daughter, Sydney (Gloria Hendry). Instead of a pushover, they find out the hard way that she can take care of herself because, you see, she too knows Kung-Fu!
Being the mob, they still are not going to take no for an answer. They kidnap Quincy, a star pupil, and Black Belt Jones (Kelly) finally gets more involved.
What follows can only be described as near non-stop martial arts action. BBJ and Sydney, plus a few female acrobats, rip off the mob by infiltrating their winery (huh?) and stealing some pictures (what?) along with $250,000. They set up Pinky. More fighting.
I swear, you will never see more mustache clad men get their ass kicked then in this movie.
Will Black Belt Jones save the kid?
Will he get his revenge on Pinky?
Will he get the girl?
Yes, yes, and yes. And along they way he will fight in the worlds largest bubble bath.
Langston (Larry D Johnson) has it going pretty well. He's got a successful nightclub, Club Haiti, and a foxy woman on his arm. So when a local gangster sends his right hand man, Fabulous (Charles Robinson), and a couple of token white thugs to "buy" the club, you think he'd at least consider it. Unfortunately for him, he's not afraid and lets his mouth write some checks his ass can't cash. After business hours, Fabulous and his boys literally kick him to death in the parking lot.
Langston's woman, Diana "Sugar" Hill (Marki Bey), isn't going to take his death lightly. Were this any other film, perhaps a Pam Grier one, she'd get a gun and go kill those honky bastards. But give credit to screenwriter Tim Kelly and director Paul Maslansky, this isn't a typical revenge flick.
Sugar just happens to know the local voodoo woman, Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully aka Mama Jefferson!), and together they are going to summon a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley)! Instead of firearms, Sugar is going to get her revenge with silver-eyed, cobweb-covered, slave-shackled ZOMBIES!
How could anyone not love this movie?
From it's opening theme song (Supernatural Voodoo Woman by the originals) to it's final moment, Sugar Hill relishes in its absurdity. Anyone taking this film seriously is going to be vastly disappointed, but after watching a chicken foot attack, how can anyone "take it seriously?" Sugar gets herself a sexy jumpsuit and afro, and with them, an army of the undead to control. This is not an Academy Award winning premise. But the deaths are creative and fun, and most of the actors seem to be having a blast, especially the way over the top Don Pedro Colley.
I found Sugar Hill to be a welcome divergence from the usual revenge formula.
"I give you your revenge! Put them to evil use. It's all they know or want." -Baron Samedi
When a movie begins with a Vietnam GI almost blowing up and then punching a superior officer, it gives one high hopes. When that grunt is a take-no-shit Fred Williamson, expectations are raised even higher. Unfortunately Mean Johnny Barrows fails those hopes and dreams in every way.
Williams is Mean Johnny Barrows, a complete misnomer since he spends the majority of the film going out of his way to be nice. He smiles politely at the mob boss who offers him a plate of spaghetti and a job after he wanders into a restaurant kitchen. He grins and bears it as a racist ass works him as a gas station janitor for the better part of the month. Only when he's paid a meager $21 for the work does he flash some very weak kung fu and attitude.
Mostly what Johnny Barrows does in this film is nothing. Seriously. For 4/5ths of the film people try to get him in on the fight between two hilariously stereotypical mob families, the Da Vinces and the Raconnis. He stays out of it until the girlfriend of Mario Raconni, the blond haired bombshell , is "raped" by Tony Da Vince (Roddy McDowall). It's all part of an elaborate scheme that Barrows completely falls for, and for an action packed twenty minutes Williamson actually does some killing.
But it's too little, too late. By the time Williamson takes revenge, I was bored. The script was awful, and the direction, a debut by Williamson, was clumsy. The only bright spot in this film was a completely unnecessary, but highly entertaining cameo by Elliot Gould. His homeless, but highly fashionable tramp, Professor Theodore Rasputin Waterhouse, "teaches" Barrows how to be honorable vagrant even as they con a man out of a hot dog.
If you do make it past that scene and all the way to the ending, you might be pleasantly surprised by the silliest Kung Fu fight I've ever seen outside of a Dolemite film, and a big bang of a finale, but I'd recommend just fast forwarding until then. You'll thank me.
I grew up in a tiny central Maine town. We're talking like a thousand people, with half as many livestock. It's about as far away from the "street" as one can get. I never had to worry about "the man" keeping me down. My urban experiences were nil with the exception of cable television. WGN out of Chicago, which I'm still not sure why my cable company carried that particular station, brought me Good Times, The Jeffersons, and most importantly Chicago Cubs baseball.
And every so often a movie would be broadcast, sometimes late Saturday nights, which would expand my "street" knowledge. I didn't know the term blaxsploitation, but I knew these films were something special. Made on the cheap, usually with bad actors and terrible effects, the centered around one man and his need to make things right. And because I was a young man, I paid careful attention to the ladies he met along the way.
Black Dynamite made me feel like that kid again.
Raw with energy, kung fu, and yes, boobs, Black Dynamite spends the entire movie putting the moves on the ladies and making with the moves on any jive ass turkey who decides to test his skills. It's outrageous, endlessly quotable, full of stock footage (I see you Missing in Action 2) and the most fun I've had watching a movie in quite some time.
Michael Jai White, an actor I've never really liked, is pitch perfect, flexing his muscles and kicking his way to a criminally underrated performance. The writing is intentionally flawed, with the deliveries from all actors as mannered as possible. Watch in delight as one such performer actually reads his directions as well as his dialogue. Sure, they knew they were making an homage, but not once did they overplay it. They were serious in their humor, if that makes sense. And in an industry where pieces of shit like Epic Movie are considered "funny" its nice to see that a sly wink to the audience can succeed. (Too bad it wasn't as financially as successful.)
So grab your 40oz of Anaconda Malt Liquor... or on second thought, don't. You'll understand why.
If you are going to study any subject, it's best to start with an introductory course.
First up on my list was director Isaac Julien's documentary, Baadasssss Cinema. For those just starting to explore the blaxspoitation genre, this is a pretty good place to start. There are interviews with actors such as Samuel L Jackson, Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Pam Grier, as well as directors like Larry Cohen, Gordon Parks, and the motor mouthed Quentin Tarantino. To balance out the creative side, Julien also interviews critics (Elvis Mitchell, Armond White) a historian (Ed Guererro) and even Tupac Shakur's mom (Afeni Shakur).
He also takes you step by step through the creation of the genre, with Melvin Van Peebles Sweet Sweetbacks Baadassss Song through to Tarantino's Jackie Brown, which brought Pam Grier back into the spotlight. There are clips from numerous genre classics, including Shaft, Foxy Brown, Super Fly etc. etc. etc.
Where the film is strongest is in it's brief exploration of Pam Grier, and the importance of her films. Because the documentary is only 55 minutes long, its not nearly as long as it should be, something that is unfortunate about this entire film. I would have loved to see the length doubled.
I didn't learn anything new, but for any of you newbies out there, it wouldn't be a bad place to start.
However, if you don't have Netflix, or a local video store that carries this particular film, you can always check out what I've posted below. Like Baadasssss Cinema, it doesn't go to far below the surface, but it's got Ice T in a pimp suit. Enjoy.
I'm only adding this because I've been asked a few times, but yeah, I always accept review/preview copies. Who turns down free stuff? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for my mailing address. And thanks.
Dan Fleming is the writer/co-creator of Warrior Twenty-Seven, the independant comics anthology. He's been known to bury his nose in books since the earliest of ages, and has been busy writing a crime novel for a few moons. His comic work can be viewed at www.warrior27.thecomicseries.com. He is also one half of the podcasting duo, The Potato League Podcast, which can be found on Podbean. He can be contacted at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org