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Posts Tagged ‘Jamaa Fanaka’

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…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

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…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Soul Vengeance

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

tn_soulvengeanceAlot of people have recommended the PENITENTIARY trilogy to me over the years. Apparently it’s a pretty crazy movie property franchise of the VHS era, so it made sort of a minor cult legend out of writer-director Jamaa Fanaka. He came out of the UCLA film school and a group of young black filmmakers known as “the L.A. Rebellion.” Other members include Charles Burnett, Julie Dash and Haile Gerima, so he might’ve been the black sheep of the group, being more interested in exploitation type subject matter than his colleagues.

Although the PENITENTIARYs are what he’s known for, Fanaka (who was born Walter Gordon, by the way – he changed it to a Swahili name in college) actually started in the blaxploitation era. His first feature was 1974’s EMMA MAE, better known now as BLACK SISTER’S REVENGE. In 1975 he did WELCOME HOME, BROTHER CHARLES, which we will discuss here under its current video title of SOUL VENGEANCE. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.