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Posts Tagged ‘blaxploitation’

Hit Man

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

I had heard of HIT MAN (1972) as a “Blaxploitation remake of GET CARTER,” and assumed that meant it was loose and uncredited. In fact it’s an official adaptation of the same 1970 book, Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis, and director George Armitage – a Roger Corman acolyte who had written GAS-S-S-S and NIGHT CALL NURSES and directed PRIVATE DUTY NURSES – didn’t even know about the other version until he’d rewritten the script and his agent recognized it. As I mentioned in my GET CARTER review, MGM didn’t do much promotion of the well-reviewed GET CARTER because they had more faith in this version to be a hit. So – although it sounds like he may have started with the same script as GET CARTER (on this point I’m unclear) – I’d still say it’s not a GET CARTER remake, but the first American version of Jack’s Return Home.

Bernie Casey (GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) plays the Jack Carter character, now called Tyrone Tackett. In this version he’s from Oakland visiting L.A., and I swear they say he’s a cop? But he acts the same as the gangster in the other version. Hmm. Strange. (read the rest of this shit…)

Trouble Man

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

TROUBLE MAN is a solid tough guy movie from the early ‘70s Black action cinema movement. Director Ivan Dixon was an actor (PORGY AND BESS, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, NOTHING BUT A MAN) turned TV director (The Bill Cosby Show, Room 222, Mod Squad) making his first theatrical feature. He followed this with the much more politically radical THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he went back to TV after that.

The script is by John D.F. Black, a white TV writer who had worked on some of the same shows as Dixon and then wrote SHAFT. The feel of this one is closer to SHAFT than SPOOK. It’s a serious and gritty movie, but it’s less concerned with militancy and more the standard staples of the genre often referred to as Blaxploitation: the wish fulfillment of larger-than-life manliness, some garish period style, and an outstanding soundtrack album by a genius soul artist – Marvin god damn Gaye!

The hero (Robert Hooks, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, King David in POSSE) is actually called Mr. T, or sometimes just T. Though he might be able to make a claim for Toughest Man in the World, he has little else in common with the other Mr. T. He has regular hair and wears suits and ties. Sometimes a little flashy, I guess. And the ties are almost as wide as your head, but everybody else in the movie is wearing those too. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Samson

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

BLACK SAMSON is another entry in the ‘70s Black action cinema genre (if we can call it that when it has a white director). I watched it because it was on a double feature disc with THREE THE HARD WAY, and it looked pretty cool – the menu showed the movie poster’s painting of the title character looking pretty great with his big wooden staff and pet lion.

And fortunately that’s not too exaggerated an image of Samson (Rockne Tarkington, THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, BEWARE! THE BLOB, DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR), though unfortunately he never walks around town with his lion companion, Hudu. The cat stays at the bar that Samson owns and operates, laying on a table near the stage for the topless dancers. But Samson does take the big-ass wooden staff with the lion head carved at the top everywhere he goes, as well as using it to knock out troublemakers at the bar. (read the rest of this shit…)

Three the Hard Way

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

THREE THE HARD WAY (1974) is directed by Gordon Parks Jr. (this is #3 of his four movies, after SUPER FLY and THOMASINE & BUSHROD, before AARON LOVES ANGELA). His famous Life Magazine photographer father directed SHAFT in 1971, its explosive popularity leading to the wave of genre films aimed at black audiences known as Blaxploitation*. Junior directed SUPER FLY in 1972, which was even more successful than SHAFT. Though both received some criticism for promoting negative stereotypes, in style and substance they were on the more serious, artful end of the Blaxploitation spectrum.

So it’s kind of funny that for his second movie Parks Jr. just leapt right into the silly caricature side of the pool. This one teams up three of the biggest stars of the genre to play some random freelance tough dudes in different cities who know each other from way back (no explanations offered), and sends them to fight straight up white supremacists planning a genocidal super villain plot. Other than the horrendous racism that has to be depicted to show what they’re up against, this is all froth, bluster and wish-fulfillment. Which I can get behind. (read the rest of this shit…)

Superfly (2018)

Monday, June 18th, 2018

There’s a new theatrically released remake of SUPER FLY called SUPERFLY. Adapted by screenwriter Alex Tse (WATCHMEN, SUCKER FREE CITY), it’s updated to 2018 and relocated to Atlanta, but itstill tells the story of flamboyantly smooth drug kingpin Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson, Grown-ish, The Lion King on Broadway) trying to pull off one last big score so he can get out of the game. He still has his partner Eddie (Jason Mitchell, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, DRAGON EYES), employee-of-questionable-judgment Fat Freddy (Jacob Ming-Trent, Shrek the Musical), and girlfriend Georgia (Lex Scott Davis, TONI BRAXTON: UNBREAK MY HEART). He still has to deal with The Man (corrupt cops want a piece of his business) but now there’s also a Mexican cartel leader (Esai Morales, THE PRINCIPAL, PAID IN FULL, NEVER BACK DOWN: NO SURRENDER) and a scene involving crypto-currency (I’m glad he doesn’t say the word out loud, like in one of the ads I saw).

You may or may not remember that in the original movie Priest had a scene where he spars with a personal karate instructor. Thankfully, Tse did remember. In the update Priest’s boss and crime mentor Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams, MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE, ROBOCOP) is also his jiujitsu teacher and keeps a low profile by sticking around the dojo teaching people to fight. Like Frank Lucas in AMERICAN GANGSTER he preaches not calling too much attention to yourself, and symbolically wears a brown belt instead of his true level of black.

So, as you can imagine, I liked this movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Slaughter

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

“Badass, huh? Well I hope you’re better with that knife than you were with that big black car. ‘Cause I’ma jam it up your ass.”

Jim Brown was a black action star before blaxploitation. He’d already done more than ten movies by the time SHAFT and SUPER FLY hit. He’d done westerns, he’d been one of the DIRTY DOZEN, he’d even played a version of Richard Stark’s Parker character in THE SPLIT. But I’ve always associated him with the blaxploitation era – I mean, he ended up in I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA and ORIGINAL GANGSTAS, didn’t he? – and that all started in 1972 with the movie SLAUGHTER, in which Jim Brown is SLAUGHTER.

In the opening scene a dressed-up older couple get into their Mercedes and it explodes. They were Slaughter’s parents. Dad “had underworld connections.” Slaughter was “a Green Beret hero.” He gets the name of a responsible party: Renaldi. Tries to confront him at an airport, ends up in a car vs. small plane chase, apparently screws up an investigation by the U.S. Treasury.

So Chief Inspector A.W. Price (Cameron Mitchell, ACTION U.S.A.) takes him into a room, calls him the n-word, makes him sign a confession, gets put into a headlock, and puts him on a secret mission to Mexico with two partners to take down the man responsible for blowing up his daddy.

One thing that’s funny about this mission: both of his partners surprise him, and both almost get killed by him. Kim (Marlene Clark, BEWARE! THE BLOB, GANJA & HESS), at first posing as a reporter for “Black Is Magazine,” hides in his bathroom and gets the whole room shot up. Harry (Don Gordon, BULLITT, THE EXORCIST III), waits in his hotel room and as soon as he says “Hi!” gets punched through some furniture, against a wall, out a window into a swimming pool and then gets punched a couple more times while in the swimming pool. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cleopatra Jones

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

CLEOPATRA JONES is a blaxploitation movie that goes above and beyond the call of duty. It has all the funk, swagger and aspirational badassness that you hope for in the genre, but even more heightened. That’s both literal and figurative; Warner Brothers’ answer to American International’s success with Pam Grier vehicles was to hire the regal 6′ 2″ model Tamara Dobson, teach her some martial arts and have her play an unfuckwithable special agent.

I didn’t notice them specifying which agency she works for, her ID literally just says “SPECIAL AGENT,” with a presidential seal. And we can’t say “secret agent” either because, like James Bond, most people know who she is, and she sure as shit doesn’t try to keep a low profile. Her fashion is flagrantly eye catching and she drives a badass Corvette with mag wheels that says her name on the plates and sometimes spews fire out of the back.

To my knowledge CLEOPATRA JONES is the only blaxploitation movie where the first shot is of a camel. Cleo helicopters into a base in Turkey. She steps out in a fur-lined, hooded cape and walks through rows of leaders gathered to give her a queen’s welcome. She flew in to personally give the order to drop bombs on a poppy field. “That’s right, baby. $30 million worth of shit that ain’t goin into some kid’s veins. Burn it.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Brotherhood of Death

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH is one of those low budget exploitation movies that promises a seemingly can’t-lose premise and then doesn’t much deliver on it. Oh well, it’s still kinda fun. With the tagline “Watch the brothers stick it to the Klan!,” it tells the story of a group of black friends (some of them played by members of the Washington Redskins, I guess) who go off to Vietnam, and become Special Forces badasses. When they get back home they discover that not much has changed. The Klan are terrorizing and raping black people and the police aren’t much help because… well, because the police here are the Klan, it’s mostly the same group of guys, just wearing different uniforms. So – much too late in the movie – these vets do exactly what Doug Llewelyn used to tell us not to do: take the law into their own hands. They apply what they learned in ‘Nam to the situation.

When we first meet them they’re driving around in a school bus like hippies, getting drunk off their asses. They get into a conflict with a guy at the gas station who’s clearly a racist piece of shit. I gotta side with them while also admitting that they started it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Penitentiary

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

tn_penitentiaryNot long ago I wrote about director Jamaa Fanaka’s last film, STREET WARS (1992), and before that his first one, WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES, aka SOUL VENGEANCE (1975). You could sum him up as a director of idiosyncratic blaxploitation, but he wasn’t some cynical Hollywood guy going where the money was. He really was a young filmmaker with a voice. He managed to do three feature films while he was still in film school: BROTHER CHARLES, EMMA MAE (1976) and the one he’s best known for, PENITENTIARY (1979).

This is a movie about a guy who gets screwed over by the racist system, goes to prison and makes his way by boxing. We’re talking eight years after SHAFT, seven years after SUPER FLY, three years after ROCKY.

Our hero is Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone (Leon Isaac Kennedy, HAMMER, LONE WOLF MCQUADE), who we first see as a homeless man sleeping in a little tent near a highway. He’s woken up by white dudes off-roading on motorcycles. Hitchhiking, he gets picked up by Linda (Hazel Spear, DISCO GODFATHER), a dream girl with a flower in her hair, driving a cool van. She explains that most people wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers on this highway because there are both men’s and women’s prisons nearby. (read the rest of this shit…)

Street Wars

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

tn_streetwars“This film is one I refused not to make.” –Jamaa Fanaka

STREET WARS is a 1992 movie about drug gangs, with a rap soundtrack, but it feels more like blaxploitation than BOYZ N THE HOOD. That’s because it’s, as the credits say, “A Jamaa Fanaka Picture Show.” That’s the director best known for the PENITENTIARY trilogy, but before that he did some weird blaxploitation movies like the killer dick picture SOUL VENGEANCE, aka WELCOME HOME, BROTHER CHARLES. So here he kinda takes the themes of SUPER FLY and stirs them into early ’90s black culture with some of his own weird seasonings.

It definitely falls into the outsider art type category. The awkward home-made filmatism combines with some truly strange ideas to create a surreal experience, a movie that transcends competence. The climax really doesn’t work as action or drama, but it’s so weird I forgave it. The shootouts are always confusing but enthusiastic. There are guns that blow soccer ball sized holes in the sides of cars, and send victims flying through the air looking suspiciously like dummies being sloppily tossed from off screen. (read the rest of this shit…)