'MORE BENEATH THE SURFACE' QUARTET!BONE (1972, A.Prime, Jon Hillman: 6/5/2019)From the moment Yaphet Kotto struts into Larry Cohen's swimming pool like a proud peacock (check out his walk) I knew I was in for a good time. What starts as a tense home invasion with racial undertones gives way to a dark comedy about the trappings of white privilege for a married-but-distant middle aged couple (Andrew Duggan and MVP Joyce Van Patten, who turns a potentially icky rape scene into something special) separated by Bone's demand for cash from hubby's secret bank account. This is the rare blaxploitation film that, while driven by characters' reactions to one another, plays better if you listen to what everyone says beneath the surface. And the TV commercials spelling Bills' inner thoughts? Classic Cohen: cheap and mighty effective. 4.5 BRETT SOMMERS' X-RAY DENTAL PLATES (out of 5)THE BAD BUNCH, aka TOM (1973, Tubi, Patrick Bromley: 6/5/2018)Other than providing grease for "MST3K's" mill ("Angel's Revenge," "Final Justice") I don't like Greydon Clark's work at all. So color me surprised this turned out to be an entertaining blaxploitation flick about a white soldier named Jim (Clark himself, looking like Hugh Grant hit every branch of the ugly tree) trying to do right by his black friend killed in Vietnam. Surviving brother Tom/Makimba is too angry and radicalized to appreciate Jim's gestures; he's every bit as racist as the two older white cops (Jock Mahoney and Aldo freaking Ray!) that constantly beat every black person in Watts. Jim's Betty/Veronica-type love troubles (eff' Nancy, Bobbi all the way!), an epic nude pool party and the hard-to-watch police abuse stand out in Clark's impressive-for-the-money feature debut. 3.5 GIANT INFLATABLE BOTTLES (out of 5) DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976, YouTube, Matt Sollenberger: 6/5/2018)A medallion atop a casket is buried by willing-to-kill-themselves monks in 200 BC China. 2,176 years later, NY martial arts master Luke (Warhawk Tanzania) and his useless-and-corrupt sidekick Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan) stumble on the burial site while on retreat in Hong Kong. Rodan brings the medallion with him back to Gotham, where the resurrected spirit/monster adds to the NYPD's headaches by interfering with the ongoing Chinese/Black gang warfare and killing random strangers. It's like "The Warriors" meets "Slithis" with a sprinkle of "The Last Dragon." This combo would be awesome of "Devil's Express" exceeded at any one of its parts, but there's enough on-location grit and charisma by the lead actor to entertain. A one-stop Junesploitation! machine. 3.5 GOLD LAME BELLBOTTOM PANTS (out of five) BLACK COBRA (1987, A.Prime, Morgan: 6/9/17)Not even Fred "The Hammer" Williamson's charisma can save this limp dick of an Italian copycat of Stallone's "Cobra" from sucking ass. It's a beat-by-beat copy of Sly's movie (bad guys chase after female fashion photographer who witnessed their killing) but looks/feels cheaper than Fred's own directorial vehicles... and those were super low-budget to begin with! The final showdown with the biker thugs in a warehouse feels like it goes on forever. Watching 'The Hammer' argue with his cat over canned food while sexy sax tunes play is as exciting as this one gets. 1 BADLY EXPOSED ROLL OF FILM (out of 5). My low point of J! 2020 so far. :-(
Petey Wheatstraw (1977, Cliff Roquemore)Petey's all heart and a little bit of the devil.Ganja & Hess (1973, Bill Gunn)It's such an intoxicating movie, I think I got drunk on it. Well the Whiskey may have helped. But I loved this this movie. It's a beautiful movie, Gunn really lingers on the bodies, the muscles and veins that run through the sinewy skin. How blood and sweat glisten. This is my preference for sparkling Vampires, just pure sex.Ganja and Hess does so much and has so much on it's mind. Class, heritage, spirituality beauty, sexuality. Duane Jones and Marlene Clark are phenomenal. I want to re-watch this because I know I didn't take it all in. Dreamy and haunting, it's wonderous.
Spike Lee’s remake (Da Sweet Blood of Jesus) is absolutely worth seeing too, though it plays a bit colder than G&H. They make an extremely effective double-feature.
I only found out yesterday that it was a remake of Ganja and Hess. It's on my wish list for sure. Thanks
Welcome home Brother Charles (1975)Finally took Patrick’s advice and checked this one out and all I can really say is wow haha. That was amazing and my jaw was on the floor during a couple parts. It had such a weirder tone than I expected and almost had a horror vibe at times. Also, I won’t spoil what the big reveal is, but that was something I’ve never seen in a movie haha. Glad I avoided that spoiler for a while now. A really great and unique movie.
BLACK GUNN (1972) on the DVRAs far as blaxploitation goes, Black Gun is in the middle of the pack. Though a well-made film by the standards of the genre, there is little in the story or with the characters that sets it apart from other films. If you are looking for an entertaining ninety minutes, Black Gunn will not at least disappoint.Jim Brown is Gunn, the owner of a swanky black nightclub. He has it all: manners, money, cars (a Rolls!), and women throwing themselves at him. He also has a brother who robs a mafia gambling operation, which brings the heat of the police and the mafia on Gunn. What ensues is predictable, but the cast does breath plenty of life into their roles. Besides Brown, there is Martin Landau, Bernie Casey, and Luciana Paluzzi. For those concerned about the politics of these times, this is probably as friendly a watch as you can get in the blaxploitation genre.
Welcome Home Brother Charles (1975, dir. Jamaa Fanaka)A drama about an ex-con coming home after being released from prison takes some unexpected turns in the last reel. I'll echo Matthew B's thoughts, so glad I went into this blind. You have to see it to believe it.
The Harder They Come (1972)To be fair my reaction is not entirely the movie’s fault, I just don’t think I was in the right mood for this but man I did not enjoy it at all. Jimmy Cliff stars as Ivan, a man torn between a promising career in Reggae and a life of crime. Unfortunately the movie also seems to be torn regarding which story it wants to tell, it plays like two separate movies stitched together and constantly at war with one another.The opening scenes of Ivan’s day-to-day life in Jamaica are, for me, the strongest stuff in the movie. There’s a lot of handheld camera work that lends it an immediacy that makes you feel like you’re watching a documentary rather than fiction. Once the plot moves onto drugs and murder the immediacy is lost and the expected narrative beats take over. Probably the best part is Ivan in the studio recording the title song, which I imagine will remain stuck in my head for quite some time.
This was my pick for today as well. The soundtrack is so good, the acting leaves a little to be desired but being a small independent movie I expected it.
TNT Jackson (1974, dir. Cirio H. Santiago)Tough-as-nails karate expert Diana "TNT" Jackson travels to Hong Kong to find her brother's killer.Jeannie Bell isn't particularly convincing as either an actress or a karateka but exudes attitude in the lead role. There's an impressive amount of action squeezed into 72 minutes. The ending to the final fight scene comes out of nowhere and it's glorious. Every punch and kick makes the exact same sound, I must've heard that sound effect a thousand times.
THE HATE U GIVE (2018) The plan for today was to watch 1973’s Blackenstein, and while that film is no doubt landmark cinema worthy of Kurosawa, I thought maybe I should watch something more relevant. I really liked The Hate U Give. It does not shy away from the horrors that led to 2020, but it does so with characters you really feel for. There are numerous hardships and brutalities, but also moments of genuine joy and hopefulness. The whole movie is an actors’ showcase, but standouts are Amandla Stenberg as the main character and Russell Hornsby as her dad. Highly recommended. 30 days of HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II, day 11 OK, what are we to make of the priest character? We spend a lot of time with him in act 2 as he freaks out about everything. Twice in the movie he does weird candle-lit rituals that look more wizard-like than priest-like. He even has an altar devoted to Mary Lou – inside his church! I suspect that, like the principal, he knows there’s supernatural evil in town and he must fight it, but he’s unsure how. Your screenwriting 101 teacher wants you to make him and the principal one character, but I like seeing the priest get more and more unhinged as the movie goes on.
…tick… tick… tick… (1970, dir. Ralph Nelson) - streaming on iTunesTop of the Heap (1972, dir. Christopher St. John) - streaming on Amazon PrimeMy thoughts were bit too clouded to get a review out yesterday, so this is a combination review for both Cops! day and Blaxploitation! day. Considering current events, I wasn’t sure if I’d have the stomach for a police-centric exploitation movie for yesterday. The vast majority tend to be about police circumventing the rule of law, treatises on the systemic corruption and racism in law enforcement and government, or both. I also didn’t necessarily want to watch a whacky blaxploitation title either and considered watching some of the Cheryl Dunne stuff streaming on the Criterion Channel instead. I chose both of these titles after hearing them mentioned on the recent “Exploitation Primer” episode of Pure Cinema. I’m glad I watched both back to back as they paint a two-fold picture of the long complicated and ugly relationship between law enforcement and citizens of color, the culture of the larger communities served, and the threads of humanity that bind us deeper than either of those constructs. One is cloyingly aspirational fantasy written and directed by a team of white people and the other is a raw, depressingly pragmatic one-shot pulled from the fractured heart of a black auteur. ‘…tick… tick… tick…’ is without question the more uplifting and idealistic of the two movies and I mostly found it to be entertaining. Jim Brown and George Kennedy are both super charismatic and the movie leaves you wanting to see what happens next as it seemingly sets up what could be a great buddy cop franchise. Let’s be real, who the fuck would NOT want a badass like Jim Brown as sheriff? That said, what’s most difficult about watching this film, especially now, isn’t the shocking matter-of-fact dialogue or heinous displays of racism (all of which was much worse in reality), but instead the ways this movie is filled with the hollow idealism of a promised future our society failed to achieve - where the rule of law and mutual respect for each other’s humanity rises above the petty fears, ignorance, and pride that separates us. Not for a moment is it believable that a town so steeped in bigotry would somehow have this one old timer sheriff with a heart of gold who accepts and supports the new black sheriff because they mutually hold the rule of law as sacred above all else. Or that the main town bigot, who’s hinted as being a klan member multiple times, coming around in a “at least he’s fair yall…” kinda way because the new sheriff arrested both whites and blacks alike. Or that everyone would put aside their prejudices and come together in a show of class solidarity at the end. It’s just outright laughable right now. Like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’/‘Crash’/‘Green Book’ laughable. Again, I found the movie to be entertaining but it was just too crushingly idealistic and naive for this moment in time, a disappointment which is maybe a result of me dragging my own anxieties and sadness into the frame.
’Top of the Heap’ was even more challenging. Again, not because of the subject matter itself, or because of the surreal interludes and editing, but more that it’s a brutally raw and hopeless look at the complicated juxtaposition of modern law enforcement and black identity - something I will fundamentally never be able to truly connect with. This movie was not made for me. I’m not sure this movie was really made for anyone but it exists because St. John needed it to. The fact that he only ever wrote and directed this one narrative movie is fascinating. What was the driving force that led him to make this one, specific thing, at that specific time, and then nothing else? The main character, also played by St. John, is a fascinating contradiction - loving family man with a junkie mistress, upstanding police officer while in uniform who goes full power drunk vigilante off the clock, a civilized modern man who dreams of primal sex in the garden of Eden, an exhausted man who just wants a break in life but continually fantasizes about the unimpeachable fame and notoriety of being one of the first men on the moon. Watching St. John struggle to make sense of these conflicting states is endlessly captivating but also has the hopelessness of watching someone spiral into addiction and ruin. You know exactly where it’s headed but you want nothing more than for it to end like ‘…tick… tick… tick…’, with essentially a mid-air high five promise of a better future. I think where I’m ultimately left in this exact moment concerning both of these films is that ‘…tick… tick… tick…’ is the naive notion of how we wanted history to go down and ‘Top of the Heap’, despite it’s surreal meanderings, is maybe the more truthful (or at least more honest) condensation of how we arrived at our current cultural predicament. Again, I know my immediate impressions are heavily obscured by current events as well as my current state of soul, so I urge you to watch both and at least think about them with an open mind and an honest heart.
Disco Godfather (1979) dir. J Robert Wagner.I've been meaning to get to this one after seeing "Dolemite is My Name" over the winter, but all signals seemed to indicate this wasn't going to be as dumb-fun as "Dolemite". And they were right! It's weird! And dark and plotty in inexplicable ways, all while trying to match the patter and persona of their lead actor.If you said "Dolemite takes on the PCP crisis", I'm like "hell yes I'm game, give me some ass kicking action comedy." Which you do get in spades, but intermingled with it are some stone-serious PSAs that really throw the tone for a loop, giving me a ton of whiplash. The fantastic dreamy sequences are worth the price of admission alone, but they do get repetitive and blend between so many characters that you miss whose POV we are supposed to be in.As much as I liked the dancing and crack-down scenes, I felt like this was Rudy Ray Moore trying to hard to turn himself into Shaft, and losing the magic of 'Dolemite' in the process. I would still absolutely recommend this for your Blaxsploitation selection.
Across 110th Street (1972):Really needs a fan cut with a theme song reprise at the end. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971):Well, the boys were right. I've certainly never seen anything like that.
Dolemite (1975) Dolemite is my name, and fuckin' up motherfuckers is my game!Blacula (1972)Cursed Blacula returns in search of his love. Juice (1992)Four friends heading in different directions try to find their own way on the violent streets. Strong relationships and performances. Kind of becomes more of a chase thriller in the final acts.
The Final Comedown (1972)I just pressed play w/o reading the description. Not a film I wanted to see in today's climate, but effective none-the-less. It is very timely, it's just so depressing to see how little we've come from this.Not a fun time, but rather, a grim and gritty look at racial politics in America.It's really good, but a little heavier than I needed today.
Black Belt Jones (1974, dir. Robert Clouse)Watching this movie made me wish Jim Kelly starred in every action movie. He's so good. Also this movie features Scatman Crothers in a karate fight (he gets in a good kick to a guy's groin). Then he is killed in one of the most hilarious movie deaths I've ever seen. He is punched in the face, falls off a chair and instantly dies with his eyes wide open. Highly Recommended.
The Last Dragon (1987) dir. Michael SchultzI had originally wanted to save this until Kung Fu day, but when I read that it had a character named Sho'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, I opted to bump it up a day. And honestly, you could barely classify it as either. The plot revolves around... actually I'm not sure. It's a lot of a mob businessmen blackmailing a VJ into putting his wife's video on the air, but the boss goes crazy when this king fu savant intervenes. Motivations in this movie are mysteries, like how Sho'nuff messes up his parent's pizzeria, but then somehow has to be approached by the mob boss to set up the final fight. Or how the boss insists his henchmen don't use guns, until he shoots Leroy at the very end. But it's littered with surprising cameos, like Mike Starr, Chazz Palmateri, and Rudy from The Cosby Show. And William H Macy as an eccentric 80s tv producer... uh.... what? Never has one of the greatest character actors ever been so done dirty by their casting. Or their hair color. Unlike Disco Godfather, there's not much to love in the musical performances that dot the movie. Going straight from El Debarge to a Vanity original doesn't do any favors for Vanity, either, but considering she's never not charming it's forgivable.Ultimately, the final confrontation between Sho'nuff and Leroy makes it all worth it, even if they crib heavily from Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon. Worth it for a different sort of film for those unfamiliar with Barry Gordon's oeuvre.
Dolemite (1975, dir. D'Urville Martin)Like I imagine a lot of people these days, I watched this as a curiosity because of my love for last year's Dolemite Is My Name. Much to my surprise, the "movie" the characters make in that film is an amalgamation of more than one Rudy Ray Moore flick, not just this one. So a lot of things I expected to see here weren't present.Anyway, the movie itself is both better and more expensive looking than I expected, but I was also pretty bored. Far from one of the better options for today. But hey, it's pleasant enough to watch Rudy Ray Moore have fun on screen.
The follow-up, The Human Tornado, is far more entertaining, Daniel.
Mean Mother (1974, dir. Al Adamson)Half a blaxploitation movie, half a movie about a boring white guy in a suit. One half is better than the other. Like a lot of the Al Adamson movies I've been watching, this one vacillates between crudely entertaining and unwatchably dull.
Trouble Man (1972) Excellent crime flick with very ice cool style and in Robert Hooks’ T, a real contender for the baddest motherfucker of any blaxploitation flick. I don’t know how I slept on this for so long. It doesn’t feel like this gets talked up as one of the greats, like Shaft or Superfly, but easily in that tier. Ivan Dixon made another movie that looked good, The Spook Who Sat By the Door- I gotta check that out next.
Definitely a solid film on this day. The ending of Trouble Man was a lot more violent than I expected for the period.
Watermelon Man (1970) Amazon PrimeThis is a fascinating movie. I also felt guilty every time I laughed which was pretty frequently.
Blacula (1972)A surprisingly earnest reimagining of the age-old tale, now with a cool funky soundtrack and an awesome side character named Skillet, who first sharply describes Blacula as "one strange dude" and then offers to buy his sweet cape off of him, because it's the 70s and everyone's got an amazing sense of style (well, everyone who's black, anyway).
Across 110th Street (1972)Yaphet Kotto makes everything better, even Freddy's Dead. It was a fantastic to see him in this. I agree with most of what the Reserved Seating guys were saying. There a couple of stumbling block but overall I really enjoyed it.
Blacula (1972, dir. William Crane)Like a lot of top-tier exploitation, Blacula manages to smuggle a fair amount of genuine pathos and intelligent subversion under the guise of standard prefab exploitation trappings and a goofy (but excellent) title. Reviews and essays often point out William Marshall's resonant, elegant performance as Mamuwalde, and they're spot-on: Marshall has such a commanding presence, and manages to embody both a tragic figure and a sinister heavy (sometimes simultaneously). Despite a fair amount of camp and characters/lines of dialogue which seem to exist solely for the benefit of the trailer (I'm looking at you, Skillet), the film really starts to cut deep once it begins to position Mamuwalde for an inevitable confrontation with the police. Soon Blacula starts to fuck up a ton of cops in a warehouse: it's cathartic and joyous in the moment, but it's all a bit of a feint which enables the genuinely affecting climax and the melancholic ending to hit like a ton of bricks. William Marshall deserves consideration alongside Lee and Lugosi.
Black Gunn (1972)This was Jim Brown's movie and I couldn't have been happier. His brother stole money and now he has to answer for it. You're saying I get Jim Brown and he's out for revenge? I wasn't even aware that I needed more Jim Brown in my life but here we are.
Across 110th Street (1972) Dir. Barry ShearWhat Reserved Seating said.
The Muthers (1976) dir. Cirio H SantiagoAnother Junesploitation regular is born! Set in the Spanish South Pacific, this high octane, high caliber, high kicking classic gives Blaxsploitation over to the genre it truly demands - PIRATES. Not only do I want to live in this movie, I want to sweat in it, to sunburn in it, and to swashbuckle in it.It may slow down in Act 2, but it builds to Act 3 like a champ as it become a prison thriller in the second half. This is the movie I was expecting from having watched the Raw Force trailer. Oh, and those boat shots! It's a brisk 88 minutes, so if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it tonight."Don't get sassy with me, Sancho".
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)Loved the podcast. I didn't really enjoy watching the movie, but I appreciated it way more after listening to the history behind it. Need to revisit it again at some point with an informed perspective.
Blindspotting (2018)A truly original movie with great performances by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. I'm glad I finally saw this. It's probably my favorite new discovery of the month so far.
Also worth watching this quick CinemaCon thing they did here if you haven't already.
Really loved this movie, thought it was underrated when it came out.
New Jersey Drive (1995)I saw half of this on cable a while back and evidently saw the good half. It takes a while to get going but closes out strong. The best part is Saul Stein as the crooked cop who looks like the Mr Hyde to Jeremy Piven's Dr. Jekyll.
TNT Jackson (1974)This went from good to great when TNT Jackson fights a bunch of dudes without a shirt on. Hilarious editing to make it look like she can throw punches with any speed. It doesn't matter. This was a good time.
Day 11Black Shampoo (1976)Great campy fun about a black hair salon owner, named Mr. Jonathan, he keeps the ladies begging for more when he uses his big black tool on them. When the local mafia element comes in fuckin with his joint and his favorite secretary he goes looking for revenge to show the man where to stick it. This movie has so much fucking in it that it felt like a 70s porno but without all the fuckin bein shown. By the time the opening credits were done, I was ready to let this movie have sex with me. Mr. Jonathan is truly a man for all people. White, black, straight, gay, big titties, small titties, beautiful, and ugly. If he could run for President he would probably win in a landslide. This dude even has his own cabin in the woods, and cuts the wood himself with a chainsaw. This movie was amazing and very inspirational. It makes me wanna be a better man , with a big black gift to share with the world.
Petey Wheatstraw (The Devils Son in Law) (1977)I don't think I could have picked a better movie for today. From the opening birth scene to the Daniel Webster name drop in the final confrontation I was hooked.
Juice (1992) NetflixYou've got 2Pac. You got Omar Epps. Director Ernest R. Dickerson who would go on to make Demon Knight a few years later (and had a pretty good career as a cinematographer before this). This is good stuff right here that takes me back to the early '90s.
You got the juice now kid.
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)Had planned to catch up with this today, happy to see there's a podcast waiting for me now. The use of montage and some of the special effects were incredible. Also will never look at a lizard the same way.
Across 100th Street (1972)The scene where Anthony Quinn was frustrated he couldn't make an arrest, but smashes the guy a couple times in the gut, got me thinking. I loved all the low light sweaty shots of someone's face lite just from one side. Looking forward to reading the Reserved Seating piece on this.
Dolemite is my Name (2019)A film about the making of a blaxploitation film. Starring Eddie Murphy in his throwback anti Daddy Day Care profane persona? YES PLEASE. I loved this film. Also, this Hoosier transplant appreciated the role Indianapolis played in hosting the premier of the Dolemite movie say back when. It makes me sad that I can't trek to see that theater as it has been razed since then. :(
Blakula (1972)Very interesting that they're is a interracial gay couple in the movie, but does have to use the F work when referring to them? It also suffers from the Candyman problem of a black horror creature created by a white man, but for some reason attacks black people.But at least William Marshall in the lead kills it.
Dolemite (1975)Rudy Ray Moore made Petey Wheatstraw so he has a pass for life. This is not terrible but I much prefer The Devil's Son-in-Law.
The Human Tornado (1976)It's a tad better than Dolemite but can't live up to the masterpiece that is Petey Wheatstraw.