I liked Gordon Parks Sr.’s direction on his SHAFT movies so much that I wanted to see what else he’d done. The one that looked most interesting was this. The cover shows the title character shirtless, muscular, holding a guitar like John Henry holding a hammer, and calls him a black legend. So it looks like some period piece blaxploitation tall tale or something. But it’s really a biopic of the legendary singer and guitar player.
Roger E. Moseley plays Hudie Leadbetter, who we first see as a grey-haired old man in prison. Some white musicologists, Professor Lomax and son, are going to prisons recording “negro folk songs” for the Library of Congress archives. Leadbelly tells them he knows alot of songs, some he learned and some he made up, and as he begins to sing and talk about his life it flashes back to when he was young and tells his life story, how and where he learned these songs or why he made them up. (read the rest of this shit…)
Today I have for you a review of an obscure Alec Baldwin movie, complete with a tangent about Obama’s choice of condiments.
THICK AS THIEVES is a little-known crime movie from 1998 that I learned about because of BLACK DYNAMITE. That’s the Michael Jai White blaxploitation homage that comes out in September (I’m hoping to see it a little early because it’s playing the film festival here). In my excitement for that one I looked up the director, Scott Sanders. Turns out he wrote for A DIFFERENT WORLD and ROC, and then he directed THICK AS THIEVES.
Alec Baldwin plays Mackin, a thief hired to steal food stamps from a printing plant. After the job some dirty cops pull him over and try to take his money. He handles it, but knows he had to have been set up by the guy who hired him, Pointy Williams (Michael Jai White) so he tries to get back at that asshole. Meanwhile “the Italians” aren’t gonna be happy about what Pointy did so his people keep trying to snuff out Mackin before things escalate and they get into deep shit.
It’s adapted from some book by a guy named Patrick Quinn, but definitely is gonna remind you of Elmore Leonard and that type of crime story where the characters have little funny quirks. Also like Leonard the plot is full of coincidence and mistakes, the characters are kind of dumb and talk about goofy things, but can also be seriously dangerous. (read the rest of this shit…)
Here’s my TERMINATOR SALVATION review. Sorry it took me a few days – everybody else on the internet has already reviewed it two or three times each and moved on with their lives. I figured I ought to go the extra mile so my review includes an optional soundtrack:
(note: I’m not really gonna pussyfoot around the spoilers in this one, so beware)
I got so much trouble on my mind. I refuse to lose my hope for McG. I had this fantasy – what if McG made an undeniably great TERMINATOR movie, and everybody who ever talked shit about him had to eat crow? They’d be so unprepared to admit they liked a McG movie that their minds would pop like balloons. It would be like reading in the newspaper that a squirrel had built a working rocket ship – just completely out of left field. They wouldn’t know what to do. “Well, his name makes me uncomfortable, but TERMINATOR SALVATION changed my life.” “You know, I went back and gave CHARLIE’S ANGELS FULL THROTTLE another look, it turns out it was ahead of its time. There was no way to really know back then that it was good, only Vern ever understood it, but now it works.” (read the rest of this shit…)
What the fuck is this? is a fair reaction to the existence of FORD FAIRLANE. All you can really do is try to set your mindclock back to 1989 and picture it from the perspective of the people setting it up.
I mean you got the hottest action producer, Joel Silver of DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON fame. He’s got the rights to this “rock ‘n roll detective” character taken from some magazine column or Herfy’s tray-liner comic strip or something. To rewrite the script he hires Daniel Waters, hot shit young writer of HEATHERS in his first for-hire job. But who can we get to direct? Who is rock ‘n roll enough? How about that Finnish guy who did NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4? His hair is practically to his ass, I think he could do it. Renny Harlin had been toiling away on a version of ALIEN 3 that never got made, and this was kind of his entry into the world of action. In fact, Joel Silver hired him for DIE HARD 2 after seeing the dailies for this one. (read the rest of this shit…)
In honor of the fresh new summer movie season I thought it might be a good idea to go all the way back to the beginning, the one that started it all, the granddaddy of summer movies, JAWS. And then skip forward two years to ORCA.
Now, I don’t want to rattle any cages or nothing, but in my opinion – and it’s a free country, so I’m allowed to believe whatever I want to believe – ORCA is not as good as JAWS. To be fair, the makers of ORCA most likely had no idea about JAWS, they hadn’t heard of it, it’s probaly a coincidence. Just two completely unrelated summer movies about men in boats going to battle against deadly aquatic mammals. So it’s probaly not cool to compare them. And that’s good because as its own thing I think ORCA is topnotch. (read the rest of this shit…)
In case you’ve had your fill of straight-to-video action and shit, I’ll give you an alternative. Today we’re having a triple-feature of ’70s blaxploitation movies with scores by Johnny Pate. You know, I’m trying to find one of those real accessible topics everybody can relate to.
Johnny Pate is a Chicago-born bassist and arranger. He says his first and biggest love is jazz, but to me he’s a legend because of his comparatively brief detour into R&B in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He worked with many Chicago labels of that era but most notably alongside the one and only Curtis Mayfield – Pate was an arranger for the Impressions and for Mayfield’s label, Curtom.
I’m not as detail-oriented about music as I am about movies, so I probaly wouldn’t know about Johnny Pate except that I happened to pick up his 1970 funk instrumentals album “Outrageous” when it was reissued last year by Dusty Groove. Then I found out he scored SHAFT IN AFRICA so I finally got around to watching those sequels and loved them. At least half of my love for blaxploitation movies comes from the music, and of course SUPERFLY and SHAFT are the two most legendary blaxploitation soundtracks. Here’s a guy who kind of connects them together – he arranged Superfly for Mayfield, he scored the third SHAFT movie, and even played with the original Isaac Hayes SHAFT themes when he scored the short-lived (and not on DVD) SHAFT tv series. (read the rest of this shit…)
Man, here’s a solid little movie with a clever genre-mixing premise, nicely acted and directed, a fun time, but owned by the Weinsteins. So of course it was barely released or advertised. These pricks got a quiet, sad drama based on a Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, they’re gonna pretend it’s some sci-fi action movie. Meanwhile they got this one that actually is a sci-fi action movie, but they forgot they even had it. “Oh shit, did we release that viking thing? I can’t remember. Just send some DVDs to Blockbuster and tell them not to mention it to anybody.”
Oh well, at least it snuck out. The cover art is pretty cool too, and it uses one of those critic quotes that isn’t really a compliment but just a description: “PREDATOR meets BEOWULF.” And that’s accurate. A space ship crash lands in Norway, 709 A.D. A survivor climbs out wearing a space suit that looks alot like a suit of armor (surprisingly that doesn’t come up again later). He’s Jim Caviezel, and I wasn’t sure at first if I was gonna accept aliens that look just like humans, but when he looked up Earth on his computer it said we were an “abandoned seed colony,” so I guess we all come from the same place. Brothers from a different mother. (read the rest of this shit…)
First of all, let’s be honest: no Steven Seagal character really has to be “driven” into killing. He’s never gonna play a peaceful guy living an uneventful life as a librarian or a computer consultant who one day is forced by circumstances to tap into a savage side of himself he never knew existed. That’s just not a Seagal character type. True, in MARKED FOR DEATH he states an explicit isolationist philosophy to Keith David and only starts killing a few minutes later when his sister’s house gets shot up by gangsters. But even in that one he’s already done a whole bunch of killing earlier in life without necessarily being driven into it. He’s never just an ordinary non-violent guy at the beginning of a movie.
And especially in this one, because although he is a very successful crime writer under the name Jim Vincent, everybody knows he’s actually Ruslan (no last name, like Prince, McG or Vern), former Russian gangster. In a rare visual change to the iconic persona, Seagal sports MARK OF CAIN style tattoos on his forearms. There’s a nice badass moment when some young guys are pushing him around, he breaks a glass on one guy’s head and then pulls up his sleeves. The other guy just about shits his pants before he starts apologizing. (read the rest of this shit…)
Hey, it’s another one from the VHS pile. Recently some of my fellow Seattle-based action fans asked me if I’d do an interview for their podcast, “Stack of Dimes.” I don’t really like to be interviewed so I weaseled out of it, but I still listened to some of their episodes to see what it was all about.
They’re really into Van Damme and mixed martial arts and stuff like that. They make fun of Seagal a little, but you can tell that’s one of their favorite types of movies. “JD” was the guy who contacted me, but his co-host “Thunder” keeps mentioning this DTV kickboxer guy called Jeff Wincott, and in the latest episode they actually scored an interview with him. I really wasn’t familiar with this guy and of course I’m always trying to expand my horizons and enjoy the vast spectrum of everything available, all the way from Van Damme to Jeff Wincott. The movie they talked about most in the interview is called MISSION OF JUSTICE, so I decided that would be a good one to start with.
Man, how did I miss this one before? I mean I’m not sure it’s rocketing to the top of my list, but it’s probaly gonna be scribbled somewhere in the margins of the list at the very least. It’s kind of like a really good Dudikoff movie that occasionally reaches for STONE COLD level awesome. It’s got quite a collection of the great action movie tropes: stumbling across a liquor store robbery, cop who gives up his badge, partner who risks her job to help him continue his investigation, undercover infiltration of a mysterious organization, evil person pretending to be good to run for mayor (Brigitte Nielsen!), best friend murdered, chop shop, nice grandma who you just know is gonna get murdered, incriminating video tape… (read the rest of this shit…)
THE GLADIATOR is another movie I found on VHS by accident while browsing the video store. It’s a car vigilante TV movie, so I was surprised to find it with the Abel Ferrara movies. Yes, the director of KING OF NEW YORK and BAD LIEUTENANT also did a TV movie starring Ken Wahl and guest starring cheeseball ’80s top 40 DJ Rick Dees as his obnoxious boss. From about ’85 until ’88 Ferrara mostly worked in TV, doing some episodes of MIAMI VICE and CRIME STORY, plus this one in ’86. Seemed like something I should investigate.
Wahl plays Rick Benton, a stoic car mechanic working for Dees’s specialty car business. The only people in his life are his kid brother who he raised (Brian Robbins, director of NORBIT), his Vietnam buddy who works at the junkyard, and a customer he’s starting to date, talk radio host Nancy Allen. He works for rich people but chugs along in the kind of lower middle class existence not usually depicted casually in a TV movie. A couple nice touches I noticed: they eat on paper plates, and they wrap gifts with the Sunday funnies. You ever notice how presents on TV and movies are usually perfectly wrapped with shiny bows and sometimes even lids that just lift off? I could never pull that off. The Sunday funnies is more relatable. Good one Ferrara. (read the rest of this shit…)