Showing posts with label Black movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Black movies. Show all posts

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Movie Reviews: Five On The Black Hand Side

Five On The Black Hand Side
directed by Oscar Williams

From the mid sixties to the early seventies there was a cultural and artistic component to the US and associated diaspora civil rights/Black power movements. It
 didn't last long but for about a decade there was renewed interest--marketable interest--in Black centered stories and other art. 

This film's director and writer thought that there were too many movies which presented Black actors and actresses as gangsters, pimps, drug dealers, super studs, and foxy mamas all looking to "stick it to the Man" over a wah-wah guitar and congas soundtrack. The writer and playwright Charlie Russell, the older brother of NBA superstar Bill Russell, conceived this movie as an anti-blaxploitation corrective.

This film has no nudity, toplessness, or real violence. It's a broadly humorous, though not slapstick look, at issues impacting a Black Los Angeles family.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Movie Reviews: Detroit 9000

Detroit 9000
directed by Arthur Marks

This is an early seventies film noir that was masquerading as a blaxploitation film that was masquerading as a cop buddy film. It had a lot in common with Across 110th  Street. The film was unusual because not only was it set in Detroit, it also was shot in Detroit. 

Often filmmakers then and now use Cleveland or Toronto as stand-ins for Detroit. I hate that. So I enjoyed watching this movie and recognizing so many buildings and areas. Sacred Heart Seminary, which was just down the street from my childhood home, has an brief appearance.

Obviously many buildings from 1973 Detroit no longer exist in 2022 but there are some left. People don't realize it but Detroit had (and still has) many beautiful buildings and homes in a variety of architectural styles, including but not limited to Baroque, neo-Gothic, Romanesque, Art Deco, Victorian, and Art-Moderne. There's a glory, majesty, and beauty to these older buildings. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Movie Reviews: Tales From The Hood

Tales From The Hood
directed by Rusty Cundieff

This older horror/thriller movie anthology comes from the older Tales From The Crypt movie/series which itself was inspired by the old EC comic of the same name which in turn gave ideas to such creatives as Stephen King.

It's not my original idea but Black American history is similar to a horror novel plot. 

Being robbed of your culture, name and religion, being kidnapped from your own nation, being beaten, tortured, raped, and enslaved for a quarter of a millennia and being successfully taught to hate yourself is horrific. Tales From The Hood  is a decent non-explicit horror film, though by modern standards the 1995 special effects are horribly dated.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Movie Reviews: I'm Charlie Walker

I'm Charlie Walker
directed by Patrick Gilles

This is a short running independent movie. It was partially based on a true story. 
I have always been, well amused is the wrong word, but perhaps confusion or frustration fit, that some (Black) people today claim that they prefer open racism to hidden racism. 

That makes sense sometimes but in general I think many of the younger people who say that have rarely faced the kind of open racism that was quite common before say 1975 or so. Both covert and overt racism feed into each other. They are two sides of the same coin.

This movie took place in early seventies San Francisco. The situations and characters reminded me of tales I was told or heard about the experiences of my father, uncles, and older cousins, men from the Silent Generation or Baby Boomer generation who were often the first Black men to undergo modern desegregation. Many paid a cost.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Movie Reviews: Sugar Hill (1974)

Sugar Hill 
directed by Paul Maslanksy

This was another low budget American International Pictures feature that combined horror and blaxploitation themes. Sugar Hill wasn't a great movie but it had a few good scenes. Some of the story is illogical but that's normal for the genre. 

American International Pictures also created or distributed similar films such as Blacula, Count Yorga, Black Caesar, and Coffy . Some actors from those films appear in Sugar Hill. Sugar Hill's director would later produce the Police Academy movies. Sugar Hill's most direct antecedent was Coffy. As in Coffy, a sexy Black woman confronts a racist power structure. Maybe Coffy's star, Pam Grier, wasn't interested in appearing in Sugar Hill

The special effects here aren't ground breaking or even that convincing. Nevertheless, despite that, or perhaps even because of that, there are some honestly creepy moments.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Movie Reviews: Hit!

directed by Sidney Furie

I think that some people might unfairly dismiss this early seventies film as a low quality blaxploitation film. It wasn't that at all. 

It's an action drama that was directed by the same fellow who had just recently directed Diana Ross in the Billie Holiday bio Lady Sings The Blues. 
Hit! was not originally conceived as a "Black" movie. It was supposed to be a Steve McQueen vehicle. 

It was a sign of the times that the director and producer did not change the demographics of the cast or the race of the female love interest when Black actor and then male sex symbol Billy Dee Williams became attached to the film as the lead actor.  
This film, like many seventies movies, takes its own sweet time setting up events. It lets things play out naturally. 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Movie Reviews: Idlewild

directed by Bryan Barber
This 2006 film was a  messy mishmash of genres and therefore didn't do too well when released.
I think the big problem was that it greatly underestimated its probable audience's intelligence and patience and used far too many anachronistic music performances, language, and attitude. 
It's as if the director, producer, and writers started out to do their best to make a African-American magical realism/musical in the vein of Chicago or Moulin Rouge before losing their nerve and deciding to include too much foul language or needlessly explicit violence aimed at the rap audience. 
Still, upon rewatching this movie, I realized the film has a lot of sentimental melodrama in the best sense of the term.  
I dare say a viewer might even shed a tear or two if they are not careful. Although some of the characters are not particularly well drawn the actors generally excel at making the viewer care about them. 
Idlewild also has a strong message  hidden within. Just so no one misses it the film uses Cooley High as a touchstone.  
I am not sure if the creators specifically named this movie after the real life Michigan lakefront town of Idlewild that was a Black run resort area during the harshest days of segregation. 

Movie Reviews: TNT Jackson

TNT Jackson
directed by Cirio Santiago
This 1974 movie was an ambitious mix of blaxploitation, kung-fu, and pre-Charlie's Angels jiggle-vision. 
And by ambitious I mean that this movie was ambitious in exactly the same way someone pedaling a go-cart thinks that he's going to win the Daytona 500. 
It's okay to dream big but if you don't have the basic tools for success you're just wasting your time. 
This movie ran for a little over an hour but that was too long. 
With a better screenplay, better budget, better direction, and better special effects, this would have been more entertaining but then it wouldn't be the movie that it is.
Diana "TNT" Jackson (Jeanne Bell, one of the earliest African-American Playboy centerfolds) learns that her brother is missing and presumed dead. 
Discovering that her sibling was mixed up in the drug importation business, TNT (so called because of her dynamite looks and her kung-fu skills) traces her brother to Hong-Kong. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

Movie Reviews: Across 110th Street

Across 110th Street
directed by Barry Shear
Because of the time and the cast this 1972 film is often lumped in with the "blaxploitation" films of the time. It does have that element but it's just as much a classic heist film and even a noir and action film. 
Across 110th Street has a fair amount of explicit and implicit social commentary in its dialogue and cinematography. 

I remembered a song performed by Albert King titled "Little Brother (Make A Way)" in which the singer details the negative impacts of racism on his life. As King sings, he had to do things against his will because if he hadn't "little brother" wouldn't have lived. But King is both hopeful and insistent that the "little brother" to whom he is speaking (his son, grandson, or the entire younger generation of Black men) will take advantage of the struggles and sacrifices of the older generation and put things right. 

I was reminded of that song watching this movie because the film doesn't pull its punches in examining the fierce institutional and individual racism of whites in authority positions. Usually the Black characters are not in a position to do much about this. Not yet anyway... 
So Blacks and Whites on both sides of the law must work together against their adversaries even though they thoroughly despise each other.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Movie Reviews: Sheba Baby

Sheba Baby
directed by William Girdler
When I was growing up there were only two reasons to watch a Pam Grier film. And these reasons usually weren't the well written fast paced dialogue or the state of the art special effects. 
Sheba Baby moved away from the sleaze a bit. Perhaps Grier felt some kind of way about the until then filmic overemphasis on her physical attributes. 
In any event this older Grier vehicle significantly toned down any camera leering at Grier in favor of extended action sequences. This movie was rated PG and not R, though it's still probably not something I'd want to watch with female relatives. 
It's worth pointing out that there weren't too many actresses doing this kind of work at the time. Grier's characters during her successful seventies run were almost always confident direct women who didn't take too much stuff from anyone, male or female, Black or White, and were quite capable of getting their own revenge when needed. Sheba Baby is no different in that regard. 
This is a movie which because of the relatively low budget and occasionally meandering 70s feel is perhaps ripe for a remake, though given the cultural expressions of feminism and misandry likely a remake would go places I wouldn't be interested in going.
Anyhow, for its times this was a decent, not great, movie.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Movie Reviews: Truck Turner

Truck Turner
directed by Jonathan Kaplan
If you happen to be in the mood to watch late Stax songwriter/musician/producer/pianist and actor Isaac Hayes act tough and beat up or shoot approximately half of the Los Angeles underworld then this is probably the movie for you. 
The film script was originally written by a Caucasian woman who did not have the Black underworld in mind when she created it. 
When the film company couldn't get the financing it wanted for a white actor in the title role, the film was reimagined as "blaxploitation". Hayes got the nod. By the standards of early seventies drive-in movies, this movie is not actually that bad. It's even humorous in some weird ways. 
Whereas Hayes is playing the expected heroic role of bounty hunter Mack "Truck" Turner who is always armed with a bass voice and a real big gun, the film throws the viewer a curveball by casting actress Nichelle Nichols, then best known as the classy well spoken Uhura on Star Trek, as a lewd, foul mouthed and very dangerous madam.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Movie Reviews: Thick As Thieves

Thick as Thieves
directed by Scott Sanders
This 1999 movie was directed by the same man who went on to direct Black Dynamite. It featured a few of the same actors, many of whom would go on to bigger and better things.
Although the movie is not based on an Elmore Leonard book or a Quentin Tarantino script it definitely is designed to put one in mind of some of the quirkiness often found in some of those creations. 
If you are familiar with movies like Get Shorty or Pulp Fiction, this movie will feel like a slightly toned down version of those films. It's not as violent or as explicit as those movies but Thick as Thieves does feature a number of self-consciously idiosyncratic characters, all of whom have their own interests and cool dialogue. 
It also has a few similarities to Michael Mann's Thief. With a few exceptions, this movie is more interested in looking good and finding the humor in outrageous scenarios than in being gritty or scary. This can make some of the violence, then, more shocking, when it does occur. This film tends more towards drama than action.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Movie Reviews: Scream Blacula Scream

Scream Blacula Scream
directed by Bob Kelljan
Hollywood occasionally notices that Black audiences exist and would like to watch films in which Black actors/actresses are not always the chaste best friend, comic relief, incompetent bad guy, or useless "red shirts" who die to demonstrate the danger for the (usually white) hero/heroine. 
The late sixties and early seventies were one of those times. Scream Blacula Scream was created during that period. Scream Blacula Scream was a sequel to the original, equally unimaginatively titled Blacula. Despite the name, however, neither the original nor the sequel were bland mishmashes of Stoker's Dracula. In the original film--although the time period is off by about three hundred years--- Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall), leader of the African Abani people is traveling Europe to seek support for ending the African slave trade. 
Mamuwalde asks the help of Count Dracula. Unfortunately Dracula is apparently a racist who supports the slave trade. Dracula finds it ludicrous and offensive that any African could call himself a prince. 
Dracula turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and imprisons him, telling him his new name is Blacula. In the seventies, Blacula's sealed coffin was transferred to Los Angeles where the revived Blacula starts turning people into vampires while searching for the reincarnation of his long lost love. He fails at that second task and willingly immolates himself by walking into sunlight. 
This film starts shortly after the first film's events. A religious leader/voodoo Queen is near death. She decides to pass on leadership to her adopted daughter Lisa (Pam Grier) instead of her biological son Willis (Richard Lawson).

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Movie Reviews: Fatale

directed by Deon Taylor
This new thriller is a neo-noir which compares well with the forties and fifties noir films that are its ancestors and somewhat less so with the Shannon Whirry and Shannon Tweed eighties and nineties erotic thrillers that are its more immediate antecedents. The title (and much of the story) put me in mind both of the femme fatale often found in such films and the Michael Douglas/Glenn Close movie Fatal Attraction. You have seen the themes and plots in this movie before. However, as some storytellers insist, perhaps ultimately there only a few archetypes which are shared over and over again. I thought that this story was well acted and generally well written. 
Again, as is common in the genre, there are a few things which are obvious to the viewer which aren't obvious to the protagonist.  A usual feature of these sorts of movies is that the protagonist is not a man who is filled with rectitude. He's a man who makes mistakes.  You might even say that he's a man who indulges some sins. But in noir films he's rarely the worst person depicted on screen. He's usually a man who thinks, often accurately, that his choices are limited or constrained. Thus, like people in real life, the noir protagonist had to choose what he sees as the least bad outcome. We've all had to do that at times I think. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Movie Reviews: American Skin

American Skin
directed by Nate Parker
I have written before of how I tire of media sexual assault double standards wielded against Black men. Kobe Bryant hadn't even had a funeral yet before one white actress was calling the untried retired athlete a rapist while conveniently leaving out her gushing adulation of musician David Bowie, who allegedly seduced/raped a thirteen year old groupie. 
Similarly some people have trashed this movie by referring to Parker's acquittal from rape charges two decades ago when he was a college sophomore. Although we are free to believe anything we like I think that we should also try to judge art on its own merits as much as possible. I try to do that whenever I can. I will certainly do that as long as there are such racial double standards.
So, just going by the actual film itself and not what I might think of the actor, was this a must see movie? No. No it wasn't. It was uneven. It was even a little bit of bait and switch. Ok, make that a lot of bait and switch. 
This might be the subject of another post, but as other people have pointed out, it is very difficult to find many mainstream Hollywood films where the Black man is the hero, defeats his enemies, overcomes other internal/external obstacles, gets the girl, is not comic relief, and survives at the end. 
Also, and likely not unrelated to that phenomenon, many of the African-American heroes and great men or great women we learn about in school were those who turned the other cheek, suffered indignity after indignity, and generally went along to get along.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Movie Reviews: 21 Bridges

21 Bridges
directed by Brian Kirk
This is a action/thriller that makes a few nods towards neo-noir. Ultimately it's a little hampered by not having a true femme fatale.

But the lead actor's slow burn intensity and leonine authority carries the movie over most of the rough spots. This wasn't a must see by any stretch of the imagination. It was quick moving and didn't overstay its ninety-nine minute run time. 

Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is a NYPD homicide detective who is a little too good at his job. He has fired his gun quite a bit in the line of duty, killing about seven or eight armed criminals, some of whom had killed police officers. 

The NYPD Internal Affairs unit and psychiatrists think that Davis is bad for community relations and is over-compensating for the murder of his father, a uniformed NYPD officer who was gunned down when Davis had just entered his teen years. 

Davis doesn't think he's seeking revenge. He thinks he's doing things by the book. If someone commits murder, Davis is going to find them and bring them in for the court system to handle. 

If they attempt to commit violence against him, other cops, or civilians, Davis will put them in the ground, go home and sleep like a baby. No exceptions. Davis is a driven and moralistic man, something that makes other cops both admire him and be wary around him.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Movie Reviews: Don't Let Go

Don't Let Go
directed by Jacob Aaron Estes
This is a nifty little film that raises some questions about causality and predestination. Unfortunately the writing is not quite up to the level I expected, leading to some cliches and predictability in the film's final section.

Although my understanding is that some advanced physics argues that our perception of time is limited and in some respects "wrong", for humans time only moves in one direction, forward. We can't unbreak the egg. We can't journey back in time with knowledge of the winning lottery ticket or with massively advanced medical knowledge that will save a parent afflicted with heart disease or cancer. Our cells decay and eventually break down. We can't turn back the clock on that process.  We can't warn our past selves not to take certain actions that later proved to be very poor decisions. Nope. What's done is done and can't be changed. Period.

But what if that wasn't the case? What if the batter's current day self had knowledge transferred from the future of exactly where the pitcher would throw the ball? And thus, so armed with such knowledge he could change the future? Or at least change one possible future? 
Another quirk derived from some physics theories is that there are an infinite number of futures which are each built from the decisions that every human being has ever made at every single point in his or her life. Don't Let Go asks what would happen if information could be transmitted both ways between the past and future.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Movie Reviews: The First Purge

The First Purge
directed by Gerard McMurry
In his satirical novel Breakfast of Champions the late author Kurt Vonnegut wrote that many White Americans thought of Black Americans as obsolete farm machinery which they sadly couldn't discard. There are other novels and movies which have depicted a dystopic future in which the Black American population is reduced, transferred, or eliminated.

President Abraham Lincoln proposed encouraging Blacks to go to Africa. Many people across the political spectrum have agitated for formal separation between Black and White. And there are some people who, convinced that there are simply too many Blacks breathing up the white man's air, want to get rid of Blacks permanently. This latest installment in the Purge series is a prequel, thus the title. But it is also the first film to unabashedly center Black people and make it clear that the primary purpose of the purge is to reduce the number of Black people in America. 

This movie unsubtly reminds the viewer that until the 1930s~1940s or so "race riots" usually meant that large numbers of white people would violently attack much smaller numbers of Black people for the slightest provocation, real or imagined. It was only in the 1960s that "race riots" came to mean blacks rioting, burning and looting. This movie might not exist if not for the commercial success of Get Out. The movie lacks white heroes, something unusual for American films. The First Purge shows the viewer  a possible future where, under the guise of colorblind policy, America decides to reduce the "useless eaters" population, aka Black and Brown people.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Movie Reviews: Creed

directed by Ryan Coogler
I suppose you could call this Rocky 7 or Rocky The Next Generation. It's a continuation of the Rocky story as well as a spin off of that series and beginning of a new story. I didn't see this for the longest time for whatever reason but recently decided to check out on the advice of my brother. Creed is a really good movie. Surprisingly good, actually. Before I mention anything else most of the Rocky movies were if anything incredibly unrealistic in their fight scenes.

People took WAY too many shots to the head-not just jabs either but tons of overhands and crosses. While that might have been the expectation were a trained boxer to fight someone untrained, if you've ever watched real boxing matches between equally competent people who know what they're doing, the matches usually don't look like that. Or rather they don't look like that until someone gets tired and either gets beat or starts taking too many chances. The fighters as imagined in the prior Rocky movies would have had to be superhuman to get hit in the face that many times. The results were entertaining but often cartoonish. The fight cinematography in Creed is as close to the real thing as I've ever seen in a boxing movie.

Everyone moves like real boxers, perhaps in part because many of the actors were indeed professional boxers. As a result it was easier for me to lose myself in the story.  Former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) one time Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) rival and later good friend died in the boxing ring fighting Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Movie Reviews: BlackkKlansman

directed by Spike Lee
This film is based on a true story. Lee at 61, is still interested in interrogating whiteness. In some respects the culture has caught up with him. American Whiteness and Blackness are not just biological markers of lineage. 

The concepts show us who is on the winning team and who is not. We use race to delineate opportunities: legal, financial. social or otherwise. Ironically, though these racial descriptions are taken for granted by most Americans at any given time, the reality is that both categories, but especially whiteness, have been historically flexible.  At one time "White" Americans questioned whether or not Italians, particularly southern Italians, were really or fully white. Al Capone and other Italian hoodlums murdered Irish hoodlums who, irritated by the sight of Irish women with Italian men, insulted the women by telling them to leave the bar and come back with white men. A few generations before that incident not all white Americans accepted Irish as white. 19th century era magazines and newspapers ran columns and cartoons depicting Irish as lazy, stupid, wicked, in other words Black in all but color. 

White in America has also meant "not-black".  That meaning has co-existed with the idea that the further someone is from Northern or Western European heritage and Christian religion, the more tenuous their whiteness claim is. In BlackkKlansman a Jewish detective infiltrates a Klan group. A Black man makes initial contact with the Klan. He draws them in by pretending to be white and runs the investigation. A white man is pretending to be a Black man who is pretending to be a white man. Lee shows us how whiteness and blackness can be understood as performance art.