Sunday, February 28, 2010

Boss Nigger (1975, Jack Arnold)


Do I use the full title?  Do I use the neutered title?  Fuck it, I'm using the full title.  Boss Nigger, obviously not a title you'd see nowadays...at least not a film in the theaters (and definitely not one rated PG as the poster above displays). Even without the controversial title, the thought of a blaxploitation western does sound pretty intriguing, especially one written by and starring Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.  My dvd, released by VCI, is under the name "Boss" but Williamson adds in a short introduction to confirm that he condones the use of the original title and it's theme song.

Boss Nigger (Williamson) and his sidekick Amos (D'Urville Martin) are two black bounty hunters who stumble upon a town with no sheriff.  Boss takes it upon himself to become the town's new sheriff and appoints Amos the new deputy.  The white towns people (many of which have never seen a black man and think of Boss and Amos as devils) don't like this new arrangement very much, but Boss and Amos soon make the town their own, enforcing ridiculous laws and jailing or fining anyone who doesn't obey.  They soon meet up with the town's mayor (R.G. Armstrong) who is secretly working with wanted outlaw Jed Clayton (William Smith) and that's when things start to get ugly.

Boss Nigger is a silly film that works, for the most part.  The story is fun and the acting is good.  The Hammer brings it as usual, this time being more of an anti-hero.  D'Urville Marting, R.G. Armstrong and William Smith all do a fine job carrrying the film.  I'll admit that this film probably contains the highest "N" word count that I have seen and I'll admit it did get a little tiring after awhile.  The film itself hit a few slow spots throughout but at no time was it unwatchable.

RATING:  6/10

Friday, February 26, 2010

B Movies and Beyond now has a Domain!


Yes folks, instead of www.bmoviesandbeyond.blogspot.com, the site will now be www.bmoviesandbeyond.com . Now I can give people my website and call it a website instead of a blog. Blog sounds like a gross noise or something. *Blog* See, it sounds gross when you say it by itself. Website is much cooler.

For now the layout will stay the same but we'll see what the future brings.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cooley High (1975, Michael Schultz)



Remember Boyz II Men? I sure do. I always wondered where the album name Cooleyhighharmony came from? Now I know. They even covered a song from the soundtrack (It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday by G. C. Cameron). Anyway, they were obviously fans of the film which has been described as a black version of American Graffiti, and fittingly so. I'll admit that Cooley High was never high on my "to watch" list, I kind of just threw it in hoping for something at least watchable.

Cooley High follows Leroy "Preach" Jackson (Glynn Turman) and his friend Richard "Cochise" Morris (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs aka Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington from Welcome Back, Kotter). They are high school students who care more about having fun and getting chicks then school. After cutting class to go to the zoo, the boys get in trouble with their teacher Mr. Mason (Garrett Morris). Soon after, they get in trouble again, this time with the law when they are falsely accused for stealing a car. The unlikely ally Mr. Morris comes to their rescue, but the boys find themselves in trouble when the real criminals think they were ratted out.

I was pleasantly surprised by Cooley High. The film deserves the praise it has received over the years as one of the best films about the many ups and downs of teenage life. The film is frequently funny but is also at times dramatic and sad. The characters are well developed and are easy to identify with. All of the actors are excellent, especially Turman who completely immerses himself in his role of Preach with a broad range of emotions. Cynthia Davis, who plays Preach's love interest Brenda is also noteworthy (and super hot).

RATING: 8/10

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971, Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi)


"Makes Roots look like an episode of The Jeffersons" so states one of the quotes on this DVD cover. If those aren't strong words then I don't know what are. The title alone makes it pretty obvious that the film has something to do with slavery, a very touchy subject for most people. The fact anyone could enslave another human being, not to mention treat a whole race of people as if they are inferior is disgusting and seems so hard to believe in this day and age. This film is one of those "I dare you to watch it" types, though unlike many of other films lumped into that category, this film is based on true events. It's hard to tell how much of the film was embellished by the pseudo-documentary style and previous exploits of the film makers, but it is obvious there is a lot of truth displayed in this film. Displayed being a very soft term. More like thrown in your face. The film I am talking about is the last of the Mondo films by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi - Goodbye Uncle Tom.

Goodbye Uncle Tom begins at a 1800s renaissance-y dinner party featuring a conversation on Black people. The guests consider them unintelligent and inferior to whites. Next thing you know, we are on board a ship transporting hundreds of black slaves from Africa to the United States. The treatment of the people as being no more than animals is very hard to watch. The film focuses heavily on how the slaves were "cleaned up" when they were brought over and sold off. The film also shows how all of this is seen through the eyes of a black man today.

Goodbye Uncle Tom is one of the hardest movies I've ever sat through. I actually almost turned it off after about 20 minutes but decided to stick with it. Seeing other humans treated with such degradation is infuriating, not to mention sickening. Slaves are shown being pulled along on chain leashes and forced to breed like dogs. As I stated before, it's hard to tell what facts were stretched to enrage the viewer but it doesn't really matter. The fact slavery occurred at all is really enough to anger me. Without reading too much into it, it would seem that Jacopetti and Prosperi obviously attempted to make a film so outrageous and explicit that it would really make people see how severe the injustices were that the slaves endured. Unfortunately, the film goes way overboard to nauseating extremes and sort of loses the viewers in exploitation territory. The film makers have been called "devious" and "irresponsible" documentarians. Though there are parts of the film that are fascinating, I agree that the way the film is presented muddles the film makers' intentions, causing the audience uncertainty as to whether they are passionate about getting their point across or just exploiting their subject. The final scenes in the film, set in the present day, really insult the viewer and almost nullify the message of the film makers' (assumed) intentions. I can't say I would recommend this film to anyone, nor would I tell people to stay away from it. Those who would want to see it know who they are.

Note - the version I watched was the English version contained in Blue Underground's out of print Shockumentaries Volume 2, which is now available as a single disc. There is an extended Italian Director's Cut version on the Shockumentary: Extreme Collection, also released by Blue Underground and is readily available.

RATING: 5/10

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971, Melvin Van Peebles)

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is considered by many to be not only an important film for the Black community but also an inspiration for DIY film makers. The way the film was made and all of the controversies (and spreading of venereal diseases) is pretty amazing and ground breaking. The film itself? Well, that's a little more difficult.

Sweet Sweetback is the story of (you guessed it) Sweet Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles) who got this nickname as a kid for his sexual prowess (or size of his weiner, I'm not sure). Regardless, Sweetback grows up in a whorehouse and puts on sex shows with the women there for customers. He gets framed for a crime and then gets handcuffed to another guy and then fucks some biker chick and kills some dogs. There's more to it...or is there.

Truth is, I didn't really understand this movie. Nor did I like it. It was a hallucinogenic, confusing, sexually graphic mess. The sex scenes are real and they are frequent, not to mention tasteless and uncomfortable. The film is very psychedelic, with a lot of dizzying camera work and repeated sound bites. I really had no idea what was going on for most of the film and didn't really care. I was glad when it was over and hope I never have to watch it again.

RATING: 2/10

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Scream Blacula Scream (1973, Bob Kelljan)


Scream Blacula Scream. I don't think it really has anything to do with the film itself, unless I missed something, but it is definitely a great title. William Marshall returns as Blacula, despite his wormy demise in the first film. Oh well, Dracula always comes back so why not Blacula? Though I had wanted to see the two Blacula films for a long time, when I found out Pam Grier was in this one it made it even that much harder (no pun intended) to resist.

Pam Grier plays Lisa, a girl taken in by a voodoo priestess. When the priestess dies, she leaves the inheritance to Lisa, which majorly pisses off the priestess's biological son Willis (Richard Lawson). To get back at her, Willis performs a voodoo ceremony with the bones of Mamuwalde, which brings him back to life. Willis becomes his first vampire servant and they soon target Lisa, whom Mamuwalde has taken a shine to.

A fun sequel to a very original film, Scream Blacula Scream is a Blaxploitation Vampire film that continues on the legend of Mamuwalde very nicely. Marshall does a great job as the funky prince of darkness and Pam Grier does a fine job as the beautiful heroine and Blacula's prospective princess. A little slow in the middle of the film, the rest is exciting and, like the first, actually kind of scary. Those Afro'd vampires are some of the most threatening I've seen. Overall lots of fun and worth a watch for sure.

RATING: 6/10

Blacula (1972, William Crain)


What would a Blaxploitation marathon be without Blacula? Inferior, that's what. The fact that I love Horror films and my blog reviews a good amount of them made Blacula a no-brainer. Though I had never seen it before, I had heard of Blacula many times in the past. The first time I remember hearing about it was in Junior High School. A couple of my friends used to rent the worst movies they could find and many Blax films (particularly the ones with the most ridiculous titles) frequently popped up. I remember The Avenging Disco Godfather being one and Blacula was one of the other most memorable. The most ironic thing about Blacula though...well I'll get to that later.

Blacula tells the story of Mamuwalde (William Marshall), an African prince who pissed off Dracula (who happened to be a racist) a few hundred years ago and, as punishment, is turned into a vampire named Blacula and is trapped in a casket. Flash forward to the present when two gay art collectors buy an estate which includes the casket. After it is opened, out pops Blacula who turns them into vampire servants. Soon, Blacula is on the prowl and finds Tina (Vonetta McGee), the reincarnation of his love from the past, Luva. Blacula hypnotizes her and it is up to her friend Gordon (Thalmus Rasulala) to save her.

As I was saying, the ironic thing about Blacula is that it's a straight up horror film. The only real silliness is its name and how dated it is. It's really nothing more than a vampire story taking place in the present time (well present for when it was released). I half expected the film to be an over the top spoof (see Love at First Bite) but it is actually a solid vampire film. The story is interesting, the characters have more to them than expected and probably the biggest surprise for me, it's kind of scary. The vampire slaves have a terrifying look to them and seem to pop out when you least expect. William Marshall proves to be one of the most charismatic Draculas to grace the silver screen and pulls off the role with much success. His voice is what really does it, sounding oddly enough, just like Christopher Lee. Also of note is Vonetta McGee, who was in one of my favorite movies of all time (The Great Silence), a beautiful and fitting partner for Blacula.

RATING: 7/10

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bucktown (1975, Arthur Marks)

Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, one of the major stars of the Blaxploitation genre, made many a film in many different genres. From Blaxploitation to Spaghetti Western to Futuristic Italian Gladiator, The Hammer has done it all. When I read about Bucktown, and how it featured The Hammer AND Pam Grier, I knew I had to see it.

The Hammer plays Duke Johnson who shows up in Bucktown, a small southern town, to bury his brother. Bucktown is run by a Police force consisting of a bunch of corrupt, racist cops who make local businesses pay them protection money. Duke doesn't like the corruption and makes a stand by bringing in some friends from back home. His friends, led by Roy (Thalmus Rasulala) come to Duke's aid but it turns out that they have some other plans for the town, to help benefit their own needs.

Bucktown is a fun, kind of silly film. The Hammer brings it but unfortunately Pam Grier (who plays his deceased brother's girlfriend who eventually falls for Duke himself) is nothing more than wallpaper in the film (though very sexy wallpaper). Duke's friends (including a young, afro'd Carl Weathers) who come to save the day but also stir up some trouble of their own are convincing as a nasty bunch of mofos. The corrupt cops also do a good job at being bad. The story is fun and entertaining and there are some really good shoot outs and action scenes. The main problem is just the over the top silliness of the film.

RATING: 6/10

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Truck Turner (1974, Jonathan Kaplan)

Isaac Hayes I've known about for a long time, though not as an actor. Unless you include his voice talents for the character Chef on the animated South Park television series, I knew him as "the guy who sang the Shaft theme song". I think the first time I saw Hayes as an actor was either in the William Lustig film Uncle Sam or in Keenan Ivory Wayans' I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. The first time I heard of the film Truck Turner was actually on a movie poster in the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA. I had no idea what the film was and soon after read that it was a Blaxploitation film. Still not knowing or thinking much about the film, I just decided to throw it on for the Blax marathon and all I have to say is "WHOA!"

"Mack" Truck Turner (Isaac Hayes) is an ex football player turned Bail Bondsman/Bounty Hunter. He and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) are hired to bring in a Pimp named Gator (Paul Harris). After a long chase, they finally kill Gator in self defense but (in a surprisingly scary scene) one of his bitches stabs Jerry. Though Jerry survives, He and Truck soon find themselves being hunted after a hit is put out for Truck by Gator's woman, who is now in charge of his "stable".

As far as urban action/exploitation films go, Truck Turner is a revelation. It had some of the best car chases I've seen, frantic gun and fist fights, beautiful women, kick ass heroes, and a good story. Of course there are also the pimps (they are the bad guys in this one), the lead being played excellently by Blaxploitation regular Yaphet Kotto. I'll also give a shout out to the pimp who had a different eye patch to match each of his pimp suits. One of the other things that really surprised (and delighted) me about the film was its humor. Truck's foul mouthed wisecracks (some of the funniest of which are to his cat) had me in hysterics. The direction is also well done and the film was directed by Johnathan Kaplan, who also directed one of my favorite films Over the Edge. Overall this film was a very pleasant surprise and delivered on many different levels. I could really find no fault in this film. I'd go so far as to call it pretty much perfect.

RATING: 10/10

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Mack (1973, Michael Campus)


A key element to most Blaxploitation films are Pimps. Either Cops (usually White) vs. Pimps, Pimps vs. Pimps or a Black Man's ascension from poverty to pimpin'. The Mack is a mixture of all three, plus a good amount of sex and violence. This film was recommended to me a couple years ago and I just never got around to watching it until now. The one thing that I was told about the film that made it a must see was a Pimp convention, which I'll admit made me very curious.

Goldie (Max Julien) just got out of jail. He goes back to his old neighborhood with the dream of becoming the biggest pimp around. His brother, who has been working to make a change while Goldie was in the joint, disapproves of his brother's new venture. Goldie is determined to follow through with his plans and soon enough he becomes the top pimp around. Unfortunately, the current big pimp, Pretty Tony, thinks Goldie is getting to be too big and tries to stop him. Two racist cops also get in the mix and try to bring down "The Mack".

The Mack was a fine film with a good mix of drama, action and pimpin'. Max Julien does a great job as Goldie, with the toughness and coolness that the role demands. The rest of the cast do a great job and (as I was told) the "Playa's Convention" was awesome. The costumes, haircuts and attitudes brought the perfect amount of outrageousness to the film. Richard Pryor is also great as Goldie's right hand man.

RATING: 7/10

Friday, February 5, 2010

Black Mama, White Mama (1973, Eddie Romero)


Though technically not a Blaxploitation film per se, it (ironically) has probably the greatest Blaxploitation title in film history. Directed by low budget Filipino film maker/producer Eddie Romero (infamous for his Beast of Blood films), Black Mama, White Mama is a cross between a WIP film and a Chase film. Starring Pam Grier and Margaret Markov, who starred together again in The Arena, a WIP/Gladiator (!?!) film, I had been looking for this film for awhile and finally found a copy, a two disc set with Foxy Brown.

Two women on an island prison, revolutionary Karen Brent (Margaret Markov) and prostitute Lee Daniels (Pam Grier) are chained together and are being sent to another facility. Karen's revolutionary friends try to rescue her but are stopped by the cops. Karen and Lee manage to escape into the woods though and then become the targets of a manhunt. Despite their dislike for each other, they have to work together to either find Karen's friends or Lee's Pimp's headquarters.

Black Mama, White Mama has all the elements to make a decent action/exploitation film. The interplay between Markov and Grier is fun but the film itself could be better. Sid Haig is great (as always) as bounty hunter cowboy Ruben, but the rest of the characters are forgettable. There are some nice n' sleazy WIP scenes involving showers and lesbian prison guards but that's only in the first half hour of the film. Worth a watch and definitely a nice story (co-written by Jonathan Demme no less) but nothing to write home about.

RATING: 6/10


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Foxy Brown (1974, Jack Hill)


Originally conceived as a sequel to Coffy entitled Burn Coffy Burn!, the producers were against sequels so Hill rewrote it as a new character, Foxy Brown. Basically the same character as in Coffy, but there are a few small differences. Easily Hill's most well known film, which is kind of surprising it being an almost grittier version of it's predecessor. Continuing on with my Jack Hill and Blax reviews....Heeeeeere's Foxy.

Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) has a brother Link (Antonio Fargas) who can't seem to keep himself out of trouble. A drug dealer and user, Link is in trouble with his dealers because of some money that he owes them. Foxy helps him out, but after Foxy's undercover agent boyfriend Michael (Terry Carter) undergoes plastic surgery to hide his identity, Link sells him out to save himself. Foxy then goes undercover as a prostitute to get revenge on those responsible for Michael's death.

Foxy Brown is another Jack Hill, Blaxploitation and Action film classic. Pam Grier kicks major ass as Foxy and with a similar plot to Coffy, Hill actually manages to add in even more sleaziness. There are many shocking scenes in the film, especially when Grier is raped and shot up with heroin, not to mention the "present" that she delivers in a glass jar. Though not as tight as Coffy, Foxy Brown still delivers and has lots of action and great characters (especially Antonio Fargas as Link) to keep viewers more than entertained.

RATING: 8/10

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coffy (1973, Jack Hill)

Black History Month has begun and I decided to start with Jack Hill's Coffy and Foxy Brown to simultaneously start a month's worth of Blaxploitation reviews and finish out my Jack Hill reviews (Sorceress coming eventually). Coffy was the first Jack Hill film I saw. I forget exactly why I watched Coffy the first time, but it began my interest in Blax films, Jack Hill and Pam Grier. For that, I owe Coffy a lot.

Pam Grier plays Miss Coffin, a young nurse who goes by the name Coffy. Her 11 year old sister is in a hospital after shooting up some bad smack and Coffy makes it her personal goal in life to rid the world of dope dealers.

Pretty simple premise but like all of Jack Hill's films, there is much more to it. Coffy is filled with colorful characters, lots of action and a great story. Pam Grier gives one of her best performances here as the innocent nurse by day/vigilante by night and Sid Haig shows up too as a racist henchman named Omar. Robert DoQui also gives a fine performance as the over the top pimp/drug dealer King George. Coffy is perhaps Hill's most enjoyable, violent and over the top film, which is really saying a lot. It also made Grier one of the first female action stars, also an impressive feat, especially for a low budget blaxploitation film.

RATING: 9/10

Monday, February 1, 2010

Celebrating Black History Month


I decided that I would celebrate Black History Month this year by watching nothing but Blaxploitation films for the whole month of February. One of the coolest and funnest sub genre of exploitation films, Blaxploitation has it all. Violence, sex, comedy, floppy hats, white suits, gold chains...you name it.

Expect lots and lots of reviews this month for the best in Blaxploitation. As a crossover with my Jack Hill reviews, the first two I will be reviewing will be Coffy and Foxy Brown. Stay tuned...

Switchblade Sisters (1974, Jack Hill)


Getting sick of my Jack Hill reviews? Tough shit. Actually you are in luck because there are only a couple left (My Sorceress review will be last because I haven't actually watched my VHS copy yet due to the sheer inconvenience of the VHS format). Switchblade Sisters was released on DVD on Miramax films via Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder label, pretty odd considering it is a low budget, mid 70's exploitation film about a female gang. The fact Tarantino single handedly brought this film to a wide audience is amazing and really what I love about him (besides his movies). He is in the position to get people to watch these hidden gems, which is great.

Switchblade Sisters follows the Dagger Debs, a gang of under aged girls whose boyfriends are in a gang called the Silver Daggers. They do what they want, cause trouble wherever they go and, along with the Silver Daggers, run their school. Lace (Robbie Lee), the leader of the Debs befriends Maggie (Joanne Nail), a new recruit who starts messing around with Lace's boyfriend Dominic (Asher Brauner). Lace plots against Maggie while the Silver Daggers begin a war with a new local gang, led by Crabs (Chase Newhart).

Switchblade Sisters may well be Hill's best movie. If not, I'd say it's the most representative of his career. It has pretty much everything in it that makes Hill's films so fun: violence, profanity, great characters, humor and outrageousness. The characters are definitely the highlight though. Each one is well thought out and play an integral part of the film, making it the classic that it is. The cast pull off the parts perfectly. Robbie Lee is so annoying as the ever snarling Lace, that you can't help but be amazed by her. She's like a little kid who throws a fit every time she doesn't get what she wants. Joanne Nail as Maggie is also excellent. A perfect combination of sugar and spice.

P.S. - The DVD of this film has an intro and outro by Tarantino, trailers to all of Hill's films and it even has Hill's first student film The Host (starring Sid Haig), which has been said to have inspired the last act of (Hill's classmate) Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

RATING: 9/10

Big Bird Cage (1972, Jack Hill)

For the longest time I would always get the titles to The Big Bird Cage and The Big Doll House mixed up. The films themselves are pretty similar (even some of the actors are the same) plus the fact they have the same director and producer. I saw The Big Bird Cage shortly after I discovered Jack Hill and I was a little disappointed by it. I was actually surprised by it in some ways too (I'll elaborate more as we go on). Coffy and Switchblade Sisters had blown me away and it wasn't until this film that I started to lose interest in Hill's films (though only temporarily). It would be over a year later that I would watch Swinging Cheerleaders and realize that I had written Mr. Hill off far too soon. Anyway, I decided to give it another chance.

The Big Bird Cage takes place in (you guessed it) a women's prison, this time it's actually more of an outdoor jungle prison. The women are made to work in the fields or in a huge structure called The Big Bird Cage, which is used to make sugar. Occasionally "accidents" happen on the Big Bird Cage so it is usually the lazy or the trouble making girls that are made to work in it. Terry (The Price is Right's Anitra Ford) is mistakenly arrested for a robbery and, despite her innocence, is sent to the women's prison, mainly because it is known that she has slept with many political leaders. Soon, a woman named Blossom (Pam Grier) and her boyfriend Django (Sid Haig), who were the real robbers that got Terry in trouble, infiltrate the prison (as a prisoner and gay guard, respectively) to plan a break out for the women.

The Big Bird Cage unfortunately does not live up to the standards of it's previous film The Big Doll House. The story is decent and the set designs are great (Hill's father actually built the Big Bird Cage). The characters are interesting but not as fun as in Big Doll House. The film is very dated and politically incorrect, which adds some comedy to the story (in the form of two gay guards and their attempts to win the affection of Django). Grier and Haig steal the show as usual, but Anitra Ford is also nice to watch. The most surprising thing about the film is its lack of seriousness. When I first read about this film (and Hill's films in general), I thought they would be more serious films, or at least take themselves seriously. This film seemed a little too tongue in cheek for it's own good. I'd recommend a watch but there are better choices out there.

RATING: 5/10