Film Review: The Final Comedown (1972)

Also known as: Blast! (recut version)
Release Date: April, 1972 (Chicago)
Directed by: Oscar Williams
Written by: Oscar Williams
Music by: Grant Green, Wade Marcus
Cast: Billy Dee Williams, D’Urville Martin, Celia Kaye, Billy Durkin, Raymond St. Jacques

New World Pictures, 83 Minutes


“Billy Dee Williams…Badder than ever!” – tagline

The Final Comedown isn’t very good but it does approach the issue of race relations in post-Civil Rights America in an uncommon way. This isn’t just about urban blacks taking it to the man, this has a deeper philosophical subtext to it and while Billy Dee Williams expresses his character’s concerns, every chance he encounters an ear, the narrative sort of pulls the rug out from under any sort of real solution.

The white man is evil, especially with a badge or a lawmaking pen. The young white liberals in the film try to right the wrongs of their parents and ancestors but even their call for justice and equality is met with an extremely violent end.

I actually liked this film more than the average bear, based off of other reviews I’ve read. Others considered this to be too preachy and to just beat its message over your head, relentlessly. While I don’t disagree with their claims of heavy handedness, within the context of the film, it works.

I thought that Billy Dee Williams was great in this, even if he spent the last half of the film, shot up and bloody, sitting in an alley. The real superstar here was D’Urville Martin. I’ve seen Martin in just about every blaxploitation film he’s ever been a part of and this is the best he’s ever been. Usually, he is a comedic sidekick or a stylish villain type. In this film he gets dramatic and is more real than I’ve ever seen him. From a serious acting standpoint, this is the high point of his short career, as he sadly died way too young.

If you are a fan of blaxploitation pictures, this one is jam packed with action. The second half of the film is essentially a street war between youthful blacks, liberal white kids and the racist police force. It is heavy handed and unapologetic but I don’t have a problem with that. I just wish Billy Dee Williams had more to do in the second half than sitting in an alley, waiting to bleed out.

Film Review: Batman (1989)

Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter

Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes


“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker

Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.

After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.

I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.

All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.

As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.

Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.

The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.

Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shiningand Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.

Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.

1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.

While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.

Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.

Film Review: Hit! (1973)

Release Date: September 18th, 1973
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Alan Trustman, David M. Wolf
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor

Paramount Pictures, 134 Minutes


“You know the government pays me $18,000 to be a computer programmer. I’d trade every single cent… just for one night with you.” – Esther

I recently got the Amazon Video subscription add-on Brown Sugar. It’s a streaming service that showcases black cinema and television shows but also has a huge library of blaxploitation pictures, which immediately justified the $3.99 monthly fee. Perusing their library, I came across this. It’s a film I have never heard of before but since it stars both Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor, I had to click “play”.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to the expectations I had in my mind.

The story is about an FBI agent (Williams) that comes to find his daughter dead after she overdosed. His superiors take him off of the case, as he’s too close to it. So Billy Dee goes rogue, forms his own badass squad and goes after the drug pushers responsible.

The main problem with the film is that it is too long. The length draws the movie out way too much and honestly, this story could and should have been told over ninety minutes and not over nearly two and a half hours. It made the film slow and drab and it actually felt like it was three hours. It had some good moments and a few high points but it was jam packed with so much filler that it was like Taco Bell beef instead of a nice juicy Angus steak. It could have been that Angus steak.

Also, the ending just felt really anticlimactic after sitting through this long, drawn out epic.

Now the acting was good. I liked Williams in this a lot and Richard Pryor was great in his parts. There just wasn’t much else to sink your teeth into.

It was directed by Sidney J. Furie though and that right there could be the crux of the problem. Not to bash the guy but he also directed the abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, some of the Iron Eagle movies and some other major duds. Granted, this is better than all of those films and he did helm The Appaloosa and Lady Sings the Blues, both of which were well regarded to some degree.

Hit! just isn’t as good of a film as it should have been. In an era of badass blaxploitation movies, it lacks excitement and gravitas. It really isn’t a true blaxploitation film though and maybe that’s why it misses its mark.

Film Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Original Trilogy (1977-1983)

*Written in 2015.

I decided to watch through all the previous Star Wars films before going to see The Force Awakens next week. I reviewed the prequel trilogy already and now it is time for my two cents on the original trilogy.

These were the first three films. Two of them came out when I was too young to know anything about film but I do remember my experience seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was four. It is actually the first movie I remember seeing on the big screen and I absolutely loved it. Of course, I had already seen A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and thus, developed a lifelong obsession with everything Star Wars.

But now I am older, I’m a bit jaded and I experienced everything wrong with the evolution of this beloved franchise. So how would I feel about each of these films, after having not seen them as one unified body of work for several years?

Well, let me address each one individually.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977):

Release Date: May 25th, 1977
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 121 Minutes


“I have a very bad feeling about this.” – Luke Skywalker

The first Star Wars film ever released was A New Hope, which was simply known as Star Wars at the time. It was also the only film in the original trilogy to be directed by George Lucas. That is probably why the quality of this trilogy was much better.

This is the smallest feeling film of the Star Wars franchise. It really only takes place on two worlds and one of those worlds is shown only briefly. The rest of the film takes place in space. However, they don’t even leave the first planet for like an hour, which is pretty crazy for a Star Wars film.

This movie also moves the slowest. Not that it is dull or boring but there is more time given to storytelling and character building than any other Star Wars film after this. The interactions between Luke Skywalker and the old Obi-Wan Kenobi are the most intimate in the entire franchise.

The addition of Han Solo and Chewbacca, and later Princess Leia, to the team feels organic and natural and everyone works well with each other. The cast and their camaraderie between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy is night and day. The strength of their bond only gets better with each installment in this trilogy.

Now this is my least favorite of the original three films. There is just one mediocre lightsaber battle with strange effects, that even after the special editions were released, doesn’t match up with the effects of all the other lightsaber battles.

This film is more about understanding the Force and the mythos of Star Wars, where all the other films just go full action.

But despite a few flaws, that aren’t really worth mentioning, it still plays wonderfully today.

Star Wars: Episode V – Empire Strikes Back (1980):

Release Date: May 17th, 1980 (Washington D.C.)
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 124 Minutes


“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Princess Leia

This movie seems to be the favorite amongst most Star Wars fans. It isn’t my favorite but it is damned good.

I will say that this is the best chapter, as a film, out of all six movies. It is almost a masterpiece. The acting is superb, the tone is magnificent and the big twist in the plot is Earth-shattering if you are not prepared for it. My young mind back in the day nearly exploded.

In this film, you understand the motivations of the characters better. The universe gets much larger, the story gets much darker and our heroes are pitted against odds that seem insurmountable. The stakes are much higher and there is a great sense of loss, doom and gloom before it is all over.

You are introduced to the awesome ice planet Hoth, the characters of Yoda, Lando, the Emperor and Boba Fett (if you don’t count his brief cameo in the special edition version of A New Hope). You also get a glimpse at all the other cool bounty hunters, Vader’s Super Star Destroyer, Snow Troopers and the AT-ATs.

This film acts as a perfect second act, setting up the big climax and solidifying your love of the story and the characters within.

Empire Strikes Back is to space operas what The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was to westerns.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983):

Release Date: May 25th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Marquand
Written by: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Alec Guinness, Warwick Davis, James Earl Jones

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 131 Minutes


“Artoo, I have a bad feeling about this.” – C-3PO

While I don’t consider this as good and as perfect of a film as Empire Strikes Back, it is still my favorite in the series. The reason being, is it is the most fun and is the largest of the three films. Sure, people hate the Ewoks but I don’t. Wookiees would’ve certainly been cooler than Ewoks in the big final battle but they are like a bunch of James Deans when compared to the Gungans of the prequel trilogy.

This film has my favorite sequence out of any Star Wars chapter and that is the mental chess game played between the Emperor, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It also has the greatest space battle in the history of cinema. Not to mention that the unfinished skeletal Death Star looks a lot cooler than the complete one from A New Hope.

The first part of this film, dealing with the heroes banding together to rescue the once selfish Han Solo, goes to show how far they have all come and what true friendship means. It was a great lesson to learn as a kid and this is probably the best example of it from my childhood. Plus, Jabba the Hutt and his minions were one of the coolest things in the entire trilogy.

Return of the Jedi is one of the funnest pictures in film history. It is the happy ending you want but still comes at a great price.

It is the near-perfect ending of a near-perfect trilogy.