Film Review: The Bad Bunch (1973)

Also known as: Tom (original theatrical title), Nigger Lover, America the Beautiful, Kiss the Establishment Goodbye, Love In Our Time (all working titles), Mothers, Fathers and Lovers (alternate title), The Brothers (reissue title)
Release Date: October, 1973
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Greydon Clark, Alvin L. Fast
Music by: Ed Cobb
Cast: Greydon Clark, Tom Johnigarn, Jacqueline Cole, Bambi Allen, Aldo Ray

Dimension Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Let’s get that honkey!” – Everyone in the film

I was anticipating this being better than it was but I should have been warned by other people’s reviews of it. Also, it is directed by Greydon Clark, who also stars in it, and nothing he has done has been very good.

Two of his films were bad enough to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000Final Justice and Angels Revenge. Some of his other films are also duds: JoysticksBlack ShampooStargames and really, who am I kidding, all his pictures are dead on arrival.

The Bad Bunch or Tom or whatever you want to call it probably would have been on MST3K too, if it weren’t for the copious amounts of boobies and over the top racial hatred.

There’s really nothing positive about this picture. I love grindhouse movies and blaxploitation flicks but this is one of the worst I’ve seen. Based off of the premise, which sees an ex-GI from Vietnam go to Watts to give a medal to the father of his deceased friend and then finds himself in the ghetto being hunted by blacks full of hatred for whitey, I thought that this had some promise.

The hunt for whitey culminates into a one on about a dozen brawl, which is broken up by cops less than twenty minutes into the film. Then the rest of the movie is full of nonsensical scenes that mostly do nothing to advance the plot other than displaying racial hatred and a lot of breasts and ’70s bush.

A much better movie would have been the white guy on the run, trying to survive, using his military skills. This guy had no skills whatsoever and when his shirt was off, he looked like my old Uncle Claude, who never lifted a weight in his life.

This film is a prime example of wasted potential but maybe I’m jumping the gun, as there really wasn’t anything here that had potential, other than the premise. The direction was horrible, the acting was atrocious and not much about the plot made sense.

So does The Bad Bunch deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

TV Review: The Defenders (2017- )

Original Run: August 18th, 2017 – current
Created by: Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Defenders by Roy Thomas, Daredevil by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Jessica Jones by Brian Michael Bendis, Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, John Romita Sr., Iron Fist by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane
Music by: John Paesano
Cast: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Eka Darville, Elden Henson, Jessica Henwick, Simone Missick, Ramón Rodríguez, Rachael Taylor, Deborah Ann Woll, Élodie Yung, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Sigourney Weaver

ABC Studios, Marvel, Goddard Textiles, Nine and a Half Fingers, Inc., Netflix, 8 Episodes (so far), 44-55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

The Defenders is finally here. After years of development and four shows with a total of five full seasons before it, we now have the big team up miniseries for all of Netflix’s flagship Marvel heroes. But no Punisher. Boo on that!

While all the other shows have seasons of thirteen episodes, this miniseries only has eight, which kind of sucks. Reason being, everything in the second half of the series feels incredibly rushed. You see, these people don’t all meet until the third episode and then they spend the fourth episode talking about what they should do and aren’t really a team until the fifth and then its just a race to the finish. The pacing is just off and only being eight episodes hurts the overall narrative and quality of the show. I’m also not sure if this is just a one off or if they will team up again and again like the Avengers. Really, I’d rather they just have their own shows and occasionally crossover. Or better yet, a Heroes For Hire show would be absolute tits.

All the important players are here and it is actually quite cool seeing them come together but it also felt anticlimactic. It kind of suffers the same fate as the Avengers movies, in that there are so many people vying for a presence that it just becomes a bit of a mess. However, the giant ensemble is handled much better here than the Avengers team up films.

Also, the four styles of each hero’s shows blends really well together here. Especially in the early episodes where they are still working solo and the show edits between all their stories as they eventually converge. I actually liked these episodes the best, even though it had everyone still in their own smaller universes.

This show has some “shocking” twists and turns in it but none of them are all that shocking and the major one I really had to roll my eyes at. The plot was often times nonsensical and a mess. And ultimately, I really only cared about Jessica Jones’ role in this, as she showed just how much cooler she is than these other heroes.

Sure, I like the other heroes but on the flip side, I’m sick of The Hand, at this point, and they are the big bad evil once again. They are just a poor rehash of the League of Assassins (or Shadows) that has been a mainstay in Batman and Green Arrow stories forever. I know that The Hand has major ties to Daredevil and Iron Fist comics but I was never a big fan of their stories in the comics either. They’re just boring generic ninjas that aren’t associated with someone as cool as Ra’s al Ghul.

Additionally, the ending was awful. It was derivative comic book shit. It was a cheap attempt at trying to add weight to a situation when everyone knows that they won’t have the balls to actually follow through on it. It was an awful superhero cliche regurgitated for the umpteenth time.

Still, I did like The Defenders, overall. It could have been much better, should have been longer and maybe should have actually shown the Kingpin at his most villainous. But the Kingpin wasn’t in this, which was a massive missed opportunity to finally bring Vincent D’Onofrio’s criminal mastermind to the heights he deserves.

Also, on a side note: in just about every episode of every Netflix Marvel show, someone explains what’s happening and then someone else then says something like, “That’s crazy, you sound like an insane person!” Really? Because at this point, these characters live in a world where the Avengers exist, aliens have invaded New York City through a giant wormhole in the sky, evil robots have lifted a small European country into the atmosphere and then dropped it, Asgardian gods and dark elves randomly show up to do worldwide mystical shit, Doctor Strange and all that bizarreness should be fresh in everyone’s minds and the whole world knows about Inhumans and lives in fear of them. But yeah, a simple gang of ninjas and a living dead ex-girlfriend is insane.

TV Review: Luke Cage (2016- )

Original Run: September 30th, 2016 – current
Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Cast: Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Alfre Woodard, Mustafa Shakir, Gabrielle Dennis, Ron Cephas Jones

ABC Studios, Marvel, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 44-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

Luke Cage was the third of the four Marvel series being produced for Netflix. He is to be a member of the Defenders, who will get a minseries as a team, once all four heroes are introduced in their own series. We’ve already seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones (where Cage actually debuted) and we have Iron Fist coming up after this.

While Luke Cage is a superhero and actually a member of the Avengers in the comics. He is not an Avenger in the show, at least not at the moment. Also, the vibe of his show is much different from the ones before it. This is more of a modern blaxploitation series in its style and story.

Cage gains the power of being indestructible. It is a slow reveal as to how this happened and what it all means but he uses this ability to protect his neighborhood from the criminals that seek to exploit and destroy it. There are actually a few big villains in the show and each gets a good amount of time to be fleshed out and come to life. None of them, however, are as interesting as Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.

In fact, the chemistry between Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Ali is pretty uncanny. They played off of each other very well and their was a real weight to the tension between the two. Unfortunately, Ali is only in about the first half of the season and then the gears shift to the villain Diamondback.

The shifting gears is one of the issues I have with the show. In a way, the first season feels like two condensed seasons of a show compressed down into one. The tension and drama between Cage and Cottonmouth is essentially wiped away, just as it is reaching a really satisfying high. Then the stuff with Diamondback just isn’t as interesting, even if he and Cage have some cool fights.

I also have to mention the awesome work of Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi, who are both established as villains but they are big baddies to be explored more in the future. They have ties to everything that happens in the first season but are really just there to be a part of a much larger arc that has really just begun.

One thing that is amazing about the show is the score. It is produced by Adrian Younge alongside Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Also, the hip-hop tracks that are worked into the show are all pretty much fantastic choices that give the show a gritty New York vibe in the right sort of way. Also, every episode is named after a Gang Starr song. One of the musical highlights is definitely the live performance by Jidenna as he does his song “Long Live the Chief”. Also, look for a stupendous cameo from Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan towards the end of the first season.

Another cool thing about Luke Cage is it spends significant time trying to flesh out Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, who is the link to all these Defenders related Marvel shows. Dawson and Colter have a good bond and camaraderie that I hope to see explored more in the future.

Luke Cage is pretty good. I don’t enjoy it as much as Jessica Jones and Daredevil, thus far. However, it has promise and looks to be heading in the right direction with what it established in its first season.

Film Review: Hell Up In Harlem (1973)

Also known as: Black Caesar Part II, Black Caesar’s Sweet Revenge (working titles)
Release Date: December 16th, 1973
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Edwin Starr
Cast: Fred Williamson, Margaret Avery, Gloria Hendry, D’Urville Martin, Julius Harris

American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

Hell Up In Harlem is the sequel to Black Caesar. In fact, it came out in the same calendar year, as they wasted no time pumping it out. Unfortunately, it suffers from being rushed. Although it isn’t a bad picture, it just doesn’t measure up to its predecessor.

The film picks up at the end of the first movie. It keeps the plot going, as the shot and injured Tommy Gibbs is wobbling around the streets carrying the ledgers from the first picture. Due to his injury and need to recover, Gibbs puts his father in charge of the gang. While he and his father have had their issues, Gibbs trusts him with the ledgers and his entire life. Tommy Gibbs and Papa Gibbs have a falling out when Tommy is told that the elder had his ex-wife murdered. Tommy, having fallen in love with Margaret, leaves Harlem in his father’s hands and moves to Los Angeles. It is discovered that Zach, the gang member that tipped Tommy off about his ex-wife’s murder was trying to undermine Papa Gibbs rule and take control of the gang away from him. Then, all hell breaks loose.

While Larry Cohen does a decent job of keeping the vibe and tone consistent with his first picture, the lack of James Brown’s music sticks out like a sore thumb. Musically, this film isn’t bad but it doesn’t have the iconic tunes of Black Caesar and the less dynamic score hurts the film. Brown sort of legitimized the first film and not having him do the second one, has the opposite effect. But this was probably a product of the movie being rushed.

Fred Williamson is still great as Tommy Gibbs and the rest of the returning cast hold down their parts as well. It was nice seeing Julius Harris’ role expand and go in an unforeseen direction. The film does have a lot of surprises and isn’t just a retread of the first one.

In the end though, Hell Up In Harlem is not the film that Black Caesar is. Had they taken their time with it, it could have been something as exceptional as the first one. It had some things that showed promise but it just doesn’t deliver in the right way.

Film Review: Petey Wheatstraw (1977)

Also known as: Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-In-Law
Release Date: November 1977
Directed by: Cliff Roquemore
Written by: Cliff Roquemore
Music by: Nat Dove
Cast: Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, G. Tito Shaw, Ernest Mayhand

Comedian International, Xenon Pictures, 94 Minutes 

Review:

“Shut up! Shut yo ugly old time ancient ass up! If you say one more word to me, I’ll have that lady take one of her titties and beat the shit outta you! And I ain’t lyin’ either!” – Petey

I love Rudy Ray Moore, as the guy has made me laugh since I was a teenager when I first discovered Dolemite. However, Petey Wheatstraw is a horrible movie that fails to even come close to the greatness of Dolemite or its sequel The Human Tornado.

In this, Moore is not Dolemite, he is essentially the same character but his name is Petey Wheatstraw. He was born during a hurricane in Miami and came out of the womb as a ten year-old boy. He is destined to become the future son-in-law of the Devil. You see, the Devil has a ugly and disgusting demon daughter and he wants Petey to marry her. The Devil uses all types of tricks to lure Petey in and Petey even gets a pimp cane that is a magical wizard’s staff.

The premise is ridiculous but sometimes, a ridiculous story can lead to awesome places. Petey Wheatstraw does not.

The film is an absolute mess. It is disjointed, confusing and half the time, you have no idea what the hell is happening. It was made by people who had no business making films on their own. Ultimately, it made me wish that Moore still had his creative partner Jerry Jones to help him reel it back in.

While Cliff Roquemore directed Moore in The Human Tornado, that film was a step down from Dolemite but it had much better writing than Petey Wheatstraw. Not only do I questions Roquemore behind the camera but I can definitely say that he shouldn’t have written this script. Moore had more movies and was more famous but he wasn’t able to tap the well for better talent going forward? Or maybe the Dolemite shtick just ran its course with Dolemite and didn’t have much life beyond one film?

I could accept The Human Tornado and the fact that Moore’s later films wouldn’t be quite on the Dolemite level but Petey Wheatstraw is unacceptable from top to bottom.

Film Review: Black Caesar (1973)

Also known as: Godfather of Harlem (UK)
Release Date: February 7th, 1973
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: James Brown
Cast: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, D’Urville Martin, Julius Harris

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Pray for him, Rufus… you were always a good boy, pray for him.” – Mama Gibbs

Fred Williamson is one of the coolest actors of all-time. Black Caesar is also one of the coolest films of all-time, even if Williamson plays an incredibly deplorable character within the picture.

Teaming up with director Larry Cohen was a perfect fit for Williamson, as well as his co-stars Gloria Hendry and D’Urville Martin. These three actors would go on to have a presence in blaxploitation pictures for a couple years while leaving their respectable marks on the genre. Cohen would go on to direct and write for decades, making other explitation films as well as some memorable monster and sci-fi movies.

Black Caesar is a remake of the 1931 gangster film Little Caesar. Except this version switches out the main character of an Italian mobster with an African-American who grew up in Harlem, a victim of an evil cop, that wanted to exact revenge while rising to power in his neighborhood despite the odds against him.

The film also features an amazing score created by James Brown. His famous songs Down and Out in New York CityThe Boss and Mama’s Dead were created for this film.

Oddly, the film was originally developed to star Sammy Davis Jr. He wanted a project to make him more than a lackey behind Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and wanted to provide all the original music. Davis ran into trouble with the IRS and couldn’t pay what was his share of the production costs. Ultimately, the film was given to Fred Williamson and James Brown and we probably got a better film due to the alteration. I can’t imagine a Sammy Davis Jr. version would have been as gritty or his character, as menacing and intimidating as Williamson’s Tommy Gibbs.

The film is action packed, violent and has a certain amount of gravitas that puts it above a lot of the other blaxploitation films of the time. Williamson is just a guy that owns the screen and commands respect. Even as an unlikable murderous rapist in Black Caesar, it is hard not to have a sense of admiration for how he handles his shit: defying the man, the system and the seemingly powerful mobsters that rule New York City.

Gloria Hendry, who I have always enjoyed, has never been better. She played her darkest and most serious role out of the blaxploitation films she was in and she did a fine job. You really felt for her character and wanted her to be okay, as she was continually bullied, abused and raped by Williamson’s Gibbs. And when she found love, you wanted it to work out for her.

D’Urville Martin is typical D’Urville Martin, except he is a crooked preacher in this, which just makes him more hilarious and entertaining.

Overall, Black Caesar is one of the best blaxploitation films ever made. It also spawned a sequel that reunited the cast and director. That one is called Hell Up In Harlem, which I will have to re-watch and review in the very near future.

Film Review: Truck Turner (1974)

Release Date: April 19th, 1974
Directed by: Jonathan Kaplan
Written by: Michael Allin, Jerry Wilkes, Oscar Williams
Music by: Issac Hayes
Cast: Issac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Nichelle Nichols

American international Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

I heard the Truck Turner theme when I was a kid and thought it was bad ass. My cousin told me that I should see the movie. I didn’t actually see it until my teen years in the 90s, as I was working my way through all the blaxploitation films I could get my hands on from various mom and pop video stores throughout southern Florida. I actually haven’t seen it since that time and really needed a refresher on just how tough and cool Issac Hayes could be. Luckily, I was able to rent it on Amazon Video.

It was nice seeing this again. I actually forgot how much I loved it until the film started rolling and the memories poured back into my head. I mean, shit, not only do you have Issac Hayes but you have Yaphet Kotto playing the bad ass villain and Star Trek‘s Lt. Uhura a.k.a. Nichelle Nichols as a vengeance seeking lady pimp. Then this thing is backed up by Hayes’ music. How could this not be great?

Hayes plays Mack “Truck” Turner, a tough as nails bounty hunter. While trying to catch a dangerous pimp, Turner ends up killing the man. His girlfriend takes over his empire but she promises to give all her hoes to whoever can take out Turner. She is angry because her lover died and she will stop at nothing to see Turner pay for it. Yaphet Kotto ends up being the best man for the job, as other pimps and gangsters try to take out Turner and fail. Ultimately, we end up with a balls to the wall action thriller that is cooler than a refrigerator on a Colorado mountaintop.

The film is violent but not so much so that the average person will be offended. It is kind of light when comparing it to blaxploitation films like Dolemite. While it doesn’t have the hard and heavy edge, it still has gravitas. But it also has style… lots of style. It is also lighthearted and almost a comedy at times. Overall, the film is a good balance of bad ass and fun.

Truck Turner is well shot, well directed and it feels like it has a bigger budget than it does. It feels more like a major studio blaxploitation film, as opposed to something put out by American International Pictures. They did a pretty fine job in making this film come off as much better than their typical low budget flicks.

If you are a fan of Issac Hayes and you haven’t seen Truck Turner, what the hell is wrong with you? You owe it to yourself to experience this thing. If you aren’t an Issac Hayes fan, you should probably lean your head against a deli meat slicer.