Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Junesploitation 2019 Day 5: Blaxploitation!

To stop this mutha takes one bad brutha!


  1. THE FINAL COMEDOWN (1972, 83 min.) on Amazon Prime for the first time.

    Billy Dee Williams (LANDO-CALRISSIAN-SPLOITATION!) stars in this self-produced blaxploitation leading man vehicle for his charm, sex appeal and charisma. He plays a dissatisfied black revolutionary that strongly believes the only way the oppression of his people will stop is if white people suffer in their own homes and backyards the anguish of knowing they could be shot and killed at any moment. The movie starts, "Predator 2"-style, in the middle of the clash between well-armed-and-expecting-them Los Angeles riot police and black militants, with the opening credits gawking at the freshly-dispatched corpses. In one very effective pre-credits sequence, a little ghetto girl is bitten in her ankle by a rat that climbed into her bed (eeewww!) through a broken window.

    Cool premise, right? Too bad the no-budget production recycles the same 12 actors as cops, spectators, urban warriors, etc. The actual gunfights in the white Los Angeles neighborhoods (even though we're told in dialogue this military assault is happening all over the country) amount to 20 minutes of screen time. The bulk of "The Final Comedown" consists of characters (primarily Billy Dee's Johnny Johnson) flashing back to the experiences, contacts with their friends/foes and family/personal relationships that led up to this particular moment of conflict. It's as if the filmmakers (particularly writer/director Oscar Williams, of "Truck Turner" fame) are more interested in justifying the backstory of their characters' militant stance than showing them shooting at racist cops. Shame, because for a few minutes toward the end "The Final Comedown" descends into a mini-"Death Wish 3," crazy-fun violent flick. Blaxploitation mainstay D'Urville Martin ("Dolemite," "Black Caesar") is clearly having a blast playing Billy Dee's trigger-happy second-in-command. Worth seeing by Junesploitation! standards.

  2. Sheba, Baby (1975, dir. William Girdler)

    Pam Grier takes ass and kicks names!

  3. CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) – Right on, Cleo! Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) is a special government agent combatting drugs. She is intelligent, street smart, and always ready for a fight when it involves cleaning up her community. Mommy (Shelley Winters) is the leader of a criminal organization whose profits have been hurt too many times by Cleo’s actions. She has had enough and is ready to bring Cleo down.

    While I am no stranger to the blaxploitation genre, I confess to being surprised by Cleopatra Jones. This is probably the classiest film in the genre I have seen, but that is no knock against its exploitation credentials. All the requisite blaxploitation elements are there. It probably is the dignity of the characters that sets the film apart. There is also the fact that the two leads are strong-willed women. Be ready for some snappy dialogue delivered by a great cast, striking fashions, well executed set-pieces, and an overall positive message. Cleopatra Jones is certainly fun, and I dare you not to bob your head to the funky soundtrack.

  4. Death Journey (1976)

    "You're not going to kill me, are you?"

    "No, baby, you're too good in the sack for that. Just gonna bruise you up some."
    *hucks her out the door of moving train*
    "Happy landing, Bitch!"

    So many great lines. Tons of fun watching The Hammer escort a mob accountant across the country to give testimony. This world seems to have inspired the John Wick movies, as nearly everyone Fred Williamson encounters is a hit man/woman.
    An underappreciated gem.

  5. Black Caesar (1973)

    Larry Cohen shoots Fred Williamson the same way he shoots New York. With style, grit and very loose. It works brilliantly. It's because of this I cannot imagine Sammy Davis Jr (who according to Wikipeadia was meant to be Tommy Gibbs) in this movie. But that could be because Williamson fulls the entire space of this movie and their is no room for anyone else. So what I am trying to say is this movie is awesome.

  6. "Black Shampoo" 1976, Dir. Greydon Clark

    Better than White Shampoo

  7. Sheba, Baby (1975)

    Pam Grier comes back to town to help her father against some thugs. Unfortunately for her, AND for them, her father is killed.
    What follows is her rampage against the goons that were behind the murder.
    Great music, great script, and kick ass acting. This movie is awesome.

    I love William Girdler movies. I've loved everyone one I've seen. This one is no different.

  8. Ganja & Hess (1973)

    This was a mistake. I've wanted to see this for awhile. I mean, it has ganja in the title. I didn't know what hess was but if it was paired with ganja, it had to be good. Alas, Ganja and Hess are characters in a very dull drama that might be kind of about vampires. I'm not even sure if that's true or that this is actually a movie.

  9. Truck Turner (1974)

    Isaac Hayes is not afraid to wear a shirt covered in cat piss. He enjoys visiting his girlfriend in prison every five to six days. A pimp goes down and his oldest lady wants Truck dead. Maybe she gets Yaphet Kotto to take him out. It's kill or be killed and even sick kids in the hospital are fair game.

  10. The Black Gestapo (1975)

    Much better than I feared it being. At first, I was wondering why the title, the Peoples Army seemed like they had principles and ideas I agreed with.
    Then the schism occurred, and I understood the title.
    A provocative title, but a pretty good movie.

  11. Across 110th Street (1972)

    For the second day in a row my choice turned out to be not at all what I expected, and in this case that’s a wonderful thing. Not only is this the best Junesploitation movie I’ve seen so far this year (and it’s gonna be a difficult bar to clear for future choices), it’s the best I’ve seen since Dead & Buried knocked my proverbial socks off three or four Junesploitations ago.

    This was much more of a noir than a blaxploitation movie, with lots of strong, lived-in performances (especially Paul Benjamin as a man torn by his own cold-blooded nature, how did this guy not become a star?) and an ending that could only exist in a 70s movie. In fact, the ending is so abrupt that for a moment I thought the disc was broken. As for the movie leading up to that ending, it’s jam-packed with excellent performances, disturbing violence, grimy locations, funky music, innovative camera work (there’s some hand-held stuff that feels way ahead of its time), and characters that behave like human beings instead of movie characters. I cannot recommend this enough, it’s a fantastic movie. A Junesploitation miracle!


    Don't even read this. Just watch it.

  13. Bone (1972)

    Larry Cohen sure did have a great way of subverting expectations at every turn. Every time I think I know where this is going, it just manages to take a turn for the darker while never losing its underlying comedic tone.

    1. I also watched Bone (1972, dir. Larry Cohen, First Time Viewing) and like Jon I had no idea what I was in store for or where this movie was going. It was pretty amazing. This movie should be mentioned in the same breath as In the Heat of the Night, Night of the Living Dead (Even though Romero denied it was about race), and other groundbreaking films of the time. This movie has no qualms about pushing race-related boundaries that still feel edgy. Truly Underrated and amazing movie. Everyone should see it.

  14. Darktown Strutters (1975)

    Focusing on a quartet of female three-wheel motorcyclists, it's fun and light-heart with a couple good musical numbers and Dick Miller in a small role. The humor is a bit goofy with a lot of speeding up the footage, slapstick humor, and overall dumb gags, and a lot of it falls flat, but it's also charming in its own way.

    A particular oddity in that it was written by George Armitage who would direct Grosse Pointe Blank two decades later, and was one of the last movies from Director William Witney who had gotten his start in the '30s and '40s doing serials like Adventures of Captain Marvel.

  15. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

    Labeled the first Blaxploitation film, to me, it plays much more like a politcally minded art film. The use of montage and quick cut edits is a little disorienting at times, but the lack of narrative structure actually helps to underline the emotional themes.

    This has been my favorite day of Junesploitation so far.

  16. Who's the Man? (1993)

    Ed Lover and Doctor Dre(not that one), the Laurel and Hardy of Hip-Hop, are just the worst barbers in the barbershop. They might be the worst barbers in the history of mankind. If they don't get a job, they'll get evicted. So what do you do? You become a police officer. It only takes, like, 3 days to become a cop, right? Anyway, they're "the man" now and on the case. What case? Who shot their landlord and mentor, Nick. Who can save the neighborhood? These two jokers? God damn right they can.

    Supernatural happenings on a tropical island. This is a sparse movie, with little dialogue or story, just an assortment of images and discordant scenes strung together to make something of a movie. That might sound cool and artsy, but it doesn’t add up to much, despite the occasional zombie beheading.

    Bonus #Godzillasploitation: GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1965)
    Now there are space aliens as a psychic alien princess (I think?) enlists the Mothra larvae, Rodan, and Godzilla to team up and stop the oncoming threat of Ghidorah. All the political intrigue in the script lost me, but the big brawl was fun. I especially liked Rodan pecking the top of Godzilla’s head while Godzilla just stands there looking ticked off. Metaphor for life, really.

  18. Trouble Man (Ivan Dixon, 1972)

    Robert Hooks doesn't quite bring the same charm as say, Fred Williamson; but he's still a solid smooth talking badass. Fun flick, if overly convoluted. Paul Winfield is great, and someone I haven't seen on my TV in a while.

  19. The Final Comedown (1972)

    Written and Directed by Truck Turner co-writer Oscar Williams, and starring Billy Dee Williams and Johnny Johnson, a youth who is ultimately pushed to violence as the leader of a group radicals. There's a solid and still relevant foundation here, but things just don't quite come together to make any sort of strong point as the movie begins and ends with a violent shootout between Johnny and his group vs the police (the background is filled in through flashbacks). On some level Johnny seems to know that the violence isn't going to change things, at least not immediately, but has some nebulous ideas that it may help future generations. More than anything he just seem to feel like he needs to do something drastic even if he's not entirely sure it will actually accomplish something. There's a rough draft for a great movie in here, but partly due to a low budget I'm sure, it just doesn't quite get there.

  20. Pootie Tang (2001)

    Critically reviled at the time of its release, the chances of a reassessment took a serious hit with director Louis CK’s (justifiable) fall from grace. It’s too bad because Pootie Tang is a cult classic in need of a cult. Based on a character from HBO’s Chris Rock Show, it’s a miracle that a major studio released a comedy this bizarre. The titular hero speaks in a non-subtitled fictional language of words arranged to achieve nonsense. The nearly nonexistent plot is compensated by the MacGruber-ish (another unheralded comedy classic) level of absurdity. It’s a breezy 81 minutes, including credits and has a few interesting cameos. 5 minutes is all that it will take to figure out if it’s your kind of party.

  21. Coffy (1973)

    I finally watched Coffy and my life is richer for it. Pam Grier is an actual goddess and the movie was a blast.

    I really need to watch more Blaxploitation movies. It’s a genre i’ve always wanted to explore more, but just haven’t gotten around to seeing many of the films.

  22. Emma Mae (1976, dir. Jamaa Fanaka)
    Jamaa Fanaka's second movie starts as a character study of a young woman from the South transplanted to Watts, then becomes a gritty crime movie before settling into a third thing in the denouement. It lacks the sensationalism of his other movies that I like better, but it's a really interesting film.

    1. I was going to watch this but after reading a bit about it, and knowing it was going to be a late start, I figured I'd have an easier time staying awake (and that's not a dig - I fell asleep during the GoT finale ffs) with something a little wackier. Glad you liked - I'll check it out soon.

  23. Blacula (1972)

    I was surprised when this started out a period piece, but pretty pumped at the prospect of Dracula and a classy-af William Marshall teaming up to stop the slave trade, but no, Dracula turns out to be a racist asshole who turns Marshall into Blacula purely for the sake of locking him in a coffin and dooming him to an eternal life of an unsatiated thirst for human blood. Cut to a couple hundred years later, after Van Helsing has taken care of Drac, a super-problematic gay couple real estate hunting in Transylvania unwittingly transports him to Los Angeles where the movie proper begins. It's great - not what I was expecting in the best possible ways!

  24. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

    Super messy and more than a little meandering, but often beautiful and manages to get by on pure style and an amazing soundtrack. It’s so experimental I can see it turning off a lot of people, but there is enough good stuff to outweigh the bad. A true blueprint for the genre it created.

    Action Jackson (1988)

    A blast from start to finish. Take me to the universe where this and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins have like 6 sequels each, please. I also love that this is sort of a sister movie to Die Hard (Michael Kamen does at least part of the score, and there are tons of the same actors from that movie); I was on board once I saw Argyle pop up.

    There is Tango and Cash level 80’s action cheese (Carl Weather chases a car on foot, there’s a comically large explosion at one point and Craig T. Nelson does karate), but it’s all fun.

  25. Lord Shango (1975)

    Bit late on this one. Definitely a surprise. Certainly more distressing than I anticipated. Establishes and maintains a unique but effective tone. Can't help but feel like Ari Aster and Ti West are familiar with this one.

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