Friday, June 9, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 9: Fred Williamson!



    FOXTRAP (1986, TUBI).

    Fred plays a private detective hired by the wealthy Los Angeles parents of a girl named Susan (Donna Owen) who was last seen/heard a few months back somewhere in France. The trail leads Williamson to Cannes (tons of B-roll of the 1985 Cannes Film Festival with Fred mingling among the crowds in attendance; check out the Cannon '85 posters on the background!) and then to Rome. Naturally The Hammer beds a gorgeous woman (Beatrice Palme's Marianna), pisses off a Eurotrash criminal with disposable henchmen (for whom Fred suffers no penalty after leaving dozens of bodies throughout Europe) and eventually realizes there's more to Susan's relation with his clients than it appears. "Foxhunt" is basically proto-"Taken" with close-to-zero thrills whatsoever. This could have easily been under an hour if the endless padding (tons of footage of Fred getting into/out of vehicles, towering over civilians in crowded streets, slowly walking through dark warehouses, etc.) was removed. It's nice that Fred got the Italians to let him direct some of the starring vehicles that they co-produced, but this is almost "Black Cobra" levels of bad (ouch!).

    I was going to rate this super low, but since this is Pride Month I'm going to bump "Foxhunt" up for featuring a unicorn of Italian exploitation cinema during this era: an effeminate, smiling and dancing gay black character (Cleo Sebastian's Josie) who not only kicks butt and takes down a few of Marco's henchmen in style, but also kills a bad guy or two (earning an approving nod close-up from The Hammer) before his inevitable you-know-what happens. #Progress??!! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 2.35 INCRIMINATING VHS TAPES (out of 5).

    ON THE EDGE (FREEVEE; also streaming on TUBI and ROKU CHANNEL)

    Took almost a decade after "Boyz n the Hood" lit the fuse, but finally we get Fred's clumsy-but-well-meaning attempt at a social-message-about-black-inner-city-youth-cycle-of-crime action/drama hybrid. Potential future basketball star Willie Jo (Derrick Franklin) gets mixed-up in drugs, which leads to the killing of the wrong family by a pair of knucklehead (Italian) hitmen. Eventually The Hammer and his neighborhood friends (Jim Brown, Ron O'Neal in his final role, Bernie Casey easily giving one of the best acting clinics in a Fred Williamson production) start pooling their resources and smarts to take down low-level drug dealers (Ice-T's Slim Jim), sadistic assassins (Gary Busey's Felix) and maybe a corrupt politician or two. While it still leaves a lot to be desired Fred has become a slightly better director in the years between "Foxhunt" and "On The Edge." There's more interesting and well-cast characters we cut to and follow around, a contrast to The Hammer's usual focus on himself. It's infrequent, but when our leads pull out their RPG launchers, pistols or beat ass it's, dare I say it, entertaining? By Junesploitation! and F.W.'s lowered standards "On The Edge" 'is fine.' 3 GLORIA ALLRED CAMEOS (out of 5).

  2. Vigilante (1982, dir. William Lustig)

    Nick (Williamson) is a blue collar guy living in New York who's tired of the cops' and the justice system's inability to prevent violent crime, so he forms a posse who take the law into their own hands. When his mild-mannered coworker Eddie's (Robert Forster) wife and son are assaulted by a gang, Eddie experiences the flawed system first-hand and wants revenge.

    It's set in early 80's New York, so there's a lot of dialogue about how New York's gone to shit and there was a time you could leave your doors unlocked. The movie starts with Williamson staring straight into the camera and delivering an impassioned speech about rampant crime and inept cops.

    It's a Death Wish rip-off, but it's a good Death Wish rip-off. Williamson and Forster are great in the lead roles and the sleazy, bleak, nihilistic tone works. Steve James popping up in a small role was a pleasant surprise.

    1. This was my second pick-- I dig Lustig and also love Jay Chattaway's music. On my watch list now!

  3. Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (1980)

    Adolph Caesar — the man whose voice told us “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” and the trailer for Dawn of the Dead — is standing outside Madison Square Garden where a tournament has been set up to decide the new king of martial arts in the wake of the death of Bruce Lee. Never mind that Bruce died in 1973 and this is six years later.

    This event is actually one of the Oriental World of Self Defense shows put on by Aaron Banks, who is all over this movie. Starting in 1966 as small shows on the east coast, the shows grew in popularity until they ran monthly at Madison Square Garden.

    Banks also is given to saying some of the dumbest things ever in this movie, like how he knows that Bruce was killed by the “Touch of Death” which even got reported in Black Belt magazine years later, with them claiming that Lee died from “a delayed reaction to a Dim Mak strike he received several weeks prior to his collapse.”

    The quivering palm, as they also call it.

    The same power that Count Dante claimed that he had.

    Like the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

    Then they edit old Bruce Lee footage to make you think he agrees.

    If you are offended by the truth being punched, kicked and chopped, you might not enjoy this movie. If you love the tabloid world of grindhouse pseudo-reality films, get on board.

    After that, we see how hard it was for Fred Williamson to get to the show. He wakes up late — in bed with a gorgeous woman, as he should — before battling his way through traffic and people who think that he’s Harry Belafonte. That’s an easier way to MSG that Ron Van Clief has, as the star of The Black Dragon — and a man who fought Royce Gracie in a UFC match at the age of 51 — has to battle through four muggers.

    Then it’s time for us to discover the story of Bruce Lee from this movie in a way that has never been told this way again. Using footage from a 1957 movie The Thunderstorm, we learn that a young Bruce was karate obsessed and wanted to live up to the samurai legacy of his great-grandfather. You may at this point wonder if the people who made this knew that samurai were from Japan.

    Using footage from The Invincible Super Chan, we discover the life of that Chinese samurai before Bruce comes to America and becomes an actor despite the fact that he was in movies from his toddler years and was in 27 movies before The Big Boss in 1971. It ends with an actor named Bill Louie dressed up as Kato from the Green Hornet — Lee’s breakthrough in the U.S. — as he saves two women — one is Gail Turner, Patty from Don’t Go In the House — from being assaulted. Then he kills one of them with a shuriken.

    Then we’re back in MSG and The Hammer tells us that the whole idea of a tournament to replace Bruce Lee is pretty stupid. Fred, you’re in the movie about it. You’re literally breaking kayfabe when you look at the camera and say, “Two guys fighting for Bruce Lee’s title that doesn’t even exist, I mean, that’s kind of absurd, isn’t it?”

    Meanwhile, the karate match to determine the next martial arts superstar is really a boxing match. This is after a match where Bill Louie ripped out a man’s eyes and threw them to the crowd and suddenly in Italy, Lucio Fulci felt a twitch and wondered why he suddenly was interested in martial arts.

    Also known as Dragon and the Cobra — perhaps to cash in on Williamson playing Black Cobra? — this was released as a Sybil Danning’s Adventure Video title and man, that back title alone makes me lose consciousness. Maybe that’s Sybil using Dim Mak on me.
    as the prototype. Everything else is just an imitation.”


  4. BLACK CAESAR (1973)
    dir. Larry Cohen

    An excellent movie, but watching this was not a good time. Dark. Powerful. Gritty. Ugly. Deadly serious. Almost everyone deserved the misery they got in the end. One imagines that Scorsese was watching this when he made The Irishman.

    But a seriously killer soundtrack by James Brown though!

  5. One Down, Two to Go (1982, dir. Fred Williamson)

    Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly and Richard Roundtree, together in the same movie?! ... And it has to be one of the worst movies any of them ever appeared in. This is very amateurish, and almost all shoe leather. I knew I was in trouble when most of the first 20 minutes was just footage of actual kickboxing matches. Still I can't deny the power of these four awesome actors, and Williamson was smart enough to get a few shots of all four of them in frame together. And Joe Spinell is in one scene! Still, this was not very good unfortunately.

  6. Vigilante.

    It's more Forster than Williamson, but when is more Forster ever a bad thing?

    Williamson is a curious creature. While his line delivery can be really good, he's not a very good actor, he exudes arrogance more than charisma and he's often stiff as a board..... yet his screen presence is amazing. He's the dictionary definition of "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts", if the parts were meh but the whole was great.

  7. New-to-me: VIGILANTE (1982)
    Williamson and Robert Forster co-star in Bill Lustig's gritty crime epic. It's all street-level action, some intense gore, and non-stop tough guy swagger. At the risk of being controversial, I fear the movie's politics still resonate today. Beyond that, Williamson is all cigar-chompin' cool, and Forster is good as the everyman conflicted about his vigilantism. The finale car chase is especially exciting. No CGI here, those are real cars getting bashed up.

    Old fave: FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996)
    Rewatching the movie this morning, it strikes me how much it's of the year 1996. But it's still hugely entertaining. Williamson, whose character is named Frost, doesn't steal his scenes the way Danny Trejo and Tom Savini do theirs. But he's very funny when he distracts everyone with a long speech, and the makeup they give him after he transforms is appropriately super-gross. Everybody says they want a Gecko brothers prequel, but just imagine a prequel with Williamson and Savini's characters on a road trip.

  8. Bucktown (1975)

    Williamson comes to a small gambling town to attend his brother's funeral. After learning the hard way that the place is run by a bunch of dirty white cops who had a hand in his brother's death, he invites over his big city homies to help him clean up - which they promptly do, without breaking a sweat. But when the homies decide to make the town their own playground now, The Hammer finds that even oldest alliances have expiration dates.

    I knew right away this would be my movie for today, because it pairs Williamson with Pam Grier. It's interesting to see Grier as more of a sassy damsel when usually she's the one dishing the punishment to suckers. Williamson, of course, is the consummate badass, smooth, unshaken and ready to throw down any time. What a shame these blaxploitation icons didn't cross paths on screen more often in their prime.

  9. Original Ganstas - 1996, dir. Larry Cohen

    I originally planned to watch ‘Three Tough Guys’ for this slot, but other than an indecipherable YouTube rip it’s impossible to find. Going back to Williamson’s IMDb, I’m reminded of this late period Larry Cohen flick that I’ve been meaning to watch in the context of his work. Holy shit yall, not only is this a pretty perfect modernization of the classic blaxploitation formula, but it also stars Coffee, Slaughter, Shaft, Priest, and tons of other character actors from the era.

    The general conceit combines two you’ve seen before - the new generation of ruffians are destroying their community with no regard for the fragile systems holding things together. The white cops (Robert Forster) and politicians (Charles Napier and Wings Hauser) offer no help or are actively obstructing aid and progress. So it’s up to a headbuster and his team to come in and clean things up. The second layer is what usually doesn’t work, which is that the street justice team are now “too old for this shit”. Hell, I firmly believe Williamson, Grier, Roundtree, (and Brown, RIP) could all still beat my ass even now. In typical fashion, the leads reminisce about the good old days and lament the loss of years they could’ve been together but in this case it actually works and feels genuine because the leads do, in fact, have history with each other and very real cinematic legacies to reflect upon.

    I find it interesting that Cohen wanted to return to blaxploitation so many years after ‘Black Caesar’ and ‘Hell Up in Harlem’ but it definitely seems like both he and Williamson (who seemingly co-directed the movie) had a lot rolling around in their heads - specifically gang culture, the crack epidemic, and the failure of respectability politics. Having Isabel Sanford and Oscar Brown Jr. ultimately take the stance of “fuck the man - we’re taking our community back ourselves” says more than any problem solving meeting between the police, politicians, and victims could. Despite the movie occasionally veering into the “kids these days” mode of boomer whining , its heart seems in the right place. Cohen’s knack for expertly infusing social commentary and one of the coolest casts ever assembled definitely make this worth a watch, especially if you’re into classic blaxploitation. Plus, it’s on Tubi babaaay.

    1. TUBI has really stepped up for Junesploitation! this month. 😁👍

  10. Black Cobra (1987)

    Pretty by the numbers 80s tough cop flick. Fred plays a cop protecting a murder witness from a biker gang. Ironically i got sort of lower-budget vibes of the stallone classic Cobra from it and apparently thats what its derived from.

  11. Black Cobra 2 (1989)

    Part two of the tough as nails cop Malone in this Italian made sploitation movie series. This time our cigar chomping protagonist heads to the Philippines and gets pulled into a mission to track down a murderous terrorist. As with the first, its pretty low budget 80s DTV fare. Special shout out to Williamsons wardrobe which includes a crazy loud Chicago Cubs jacket (go cubs!), a "the most 80s jacket ever made" grey members only jacket, and a brief donning of a classic Miami Vice suit.

  12. The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

    I'd never seen this (or many) Fred Williamson flicks, so I went with an obvious choice and wasn't disappointed. An Italian Dirty Dozen/Kelly's Heroes rip-off, that, like many Italian efforts, cuts to the chase often at the expense of continuity. But hey, if one rolls with it, it's highly enjoyable as there tons of 'splosions and bodies flying.

  13. Black Caesar (1973)

    The first half was pretty fun. The way Williamson's Tommy Gibbs and his black compatriots come storming into a stereotypical Italian mafia movie and take things over makes for an interesting spin on the criminal empire rise-and-fall genre. I thought things sagged a bit in the middle, and the inevitable betrayals from within felt sort of abrupt and perfunctory. The finale kicks back into high gear, though, and closes with a couple surprisingly powerful scenes.

  14. FOXTRAP (1986, d. Fred Williamson)
    First-time watch on Tubi, 6/10.
    “Your James Bond lifestyle is bad for my wife & five kids.”
    Most of this film is impressively uninteresting; the boring segments or versions of a private dick story assembled with the glue of funky Italian Cam library tracks. Of course, we're in auteur country by this point in The Hammer's career. The still compelling Arlene Golonka delivers her lines to Williamson as if this is a porno. The mid-section is a borderline deconstructivist exercise with random people participating in scenes that feel made up on the spot. The Cannes material in the background really ties the room together. Fragments of the ItaloFunk score are so corny that one is tempted think this is an ode to Godard as far as reinterpreted neo-noir weirdness. The last act is actually interesting, but it's likely you won't be paying attention when it arrives. Maybe the story gets good or maybe Christopher Connelly just does his dialogue good...
    I had an EP tape of this from Orion waiting for a trip to the VCR, but it stop playing anything but static before 10 minutes was up. Thank the Gods of the Abyss that the People's Channel (Tubi) had it for me. I should've checked there earlier to see that they've got the BLACK COBRA flicks, too...

  15. Boss (1974)

    Easily my favorite discovery of Junesploitation so far! Fred Williamson, as usual, cuts an imposing figure as the titular Boss, but there's a lighthearted and humorous aspect to his character here, too (which I liked). D'Urville Martin arguably upstages Williamson, though, as Boss's wisecracking deputy, Amos. It's easy to root for the pair, who, in classic western fashion, roll into a town run by outlaws and try to bring order and peace. The twist here is that a good portion of the townfolk (not just the outlaws) are racist assholes who bristle at the mere presence of two black men, let alone the idea of black LAWMEN.

    The movie is a lot funnier than I'd expected it to be, and it deftly transitions between comedic material and exciting action and gunfight scenes. The funky soundtrack is great, and while I can see an argument that it occasionally sticks out to the point of clashing with the movie's western motif, I think it generally makes for a cool juxtaposition.

    It's clear that Boss was a big influence on Tarantino's Django Unchained, and while I wholeheartedly agree with Quentin's taste on this one (and there's a lot in Django that I like), he'd have been well-served to borrow a little more of Boss's tight pace!

  16. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)
    dir. Robert Rodriquez

    He’s got a small part but it’s kinda pivotal as it sets them up for Act 3.
    And he’s got a cool monologue about his time in Vietnam.

    “Yo monkey man. Anything you got to say to them… say to me first.”

  17. THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978, d. Enzo G. Castellari)
    Rewatch on Severin DVD, 8/10 up from 7/10.
    I first saw this when Severin put it out ahead of QT's "remake"; it was plenty of fun but didn't blow me away. It didn't quite blow me this time, either, but I got so caught up in that finale. Since I very recently watched the Peter Hooten DR. STRANGE from the same year, I was ready for his brand of weirdness & perhaps more satisfied by it than I was 15 years ago. A perfect Sunday-afternooner that gets in & out in just under 100min with topless Aryan women shooting machine guns, some real stunts by the leads, Donald O'Brien at least mouthing his German lines in German & Ian Bannen's unsettling intensity.

  18. The Legend of Black Charley (1972)

    Ok. The official title uses the N word, but I've gone with the...friendlier title.

    After killing a white man (who totes deserved it), Charley flees west.

    I spent a lot of time with this one also on my phone, but a couple of fight scenes did grab my attention.

    1. I had considered watching that, but the title made me feel icky. I know it was a different time, and it's an exploitation movie, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Besides, I also had read that it wasn't super great. I had to erase my browser history afterwards so that the when I typed "the Legend of" it didn't automatically suggest the n word.

  19. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982, Enzo G. Castellari) is an Italian rip-off of Escape from New York and The Warriors. Lots of fun, but Fred Williamson doesn't show up until the hour mark in the 90 minute runtime. He's fully in it after that point and awesome though. Fun movie, and would be great for Rip-Offs! day.

  20. FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996)
    16 year-old me, who'd just discovered Tarantino, was disappointed by this movie's sharp left turn in the second half. Luckily, 16 year-old me was an idiot because this movie rules!

  21. Joshua(1976 Dir Larry G Spangler)
    Fred Williamson on returns home to find his mother killed by outlaws that killed stole her bosses mail order bride. If you want to see a lot of shots of Williamson riding a horse this is your movie.
    Warning* anytime the bad guy Weasel is on screen or just off screen mute your TV. Imagine if the scream from Blow Out was a laugh and then play it over and over and over.

  22. SODA CRACKER (1989) - Fred Williamson both directs and stars in this story about a Chicago cop investigating the killing of his partner. It is a pretty routine cop film for the era, not compelling but a decent watch if you do not mind filling 90 minutes with some bland filmmaking. It was nice to see Maud Adams show up but, predictably, she is not given a lot to do.