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

Review:

“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: Coffy (1973)

Release Date: June 13th, 1973
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Roy Ayers
Cast: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott, Allan Arbus, Sid Haig, Leslie McRae

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“It was easy for him because he really didn’t believe it was comin’, but it ain’t gonna be easy for you, because you better believe it’s comin’!” – Coffy

Jack Hill made some damn cool pictures in the 1970s. Coffy is the first time he used Pam Grier as his top billed star and it is her breakout role, even though she appeared in a handful of those “women in prison” movies before this.

Grier plays Coffy, a black female vigilante that takes matters into her own hands when she hunts down and kills all the drug pushers that she holds responsible for turning her sister and her community into addicts. Basically, she is like a black female Punisher but much sexier and a lot cooler. The film’s original marketing tagline read, “They call her ‘Coffy’ and she’ll cream you!” If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.

I first discovered Pam Grier when she had her recurring role on Miami Vice but I thought she was cool then and I had no idea about what she did in the decade before my childhood. As I became a teenager, I learned about Foxy Brown and this film and then experienced her return to form in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Coffy, is really where Grier created the persona that would become her forte.

Grier carries this film. In some scenes, she has help from the always sinister yet entertaining Sid Haig, probably now most famous for playing Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. This is Grier’s film though and she shines. But it is cool seeing her play opposite of Haig.

This is a pretty gritty and raw motion picture and having a female lead was really cool, especially when you didn’t get to see women play these tough roles. The ’70s really shattered the damsel in distress formula and it was blaxploitation pictures that helped lead the way. And really, it was Coffy that was out in front of all the others. At least, in my opinion. It’s just an iconic picture and still, one of the best things Pam Grier ever did.

Film Review: Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

Release Date: May 26th, 1970
Directed by: Ossie Davis
Written by: Ossie Davis, Arnold Perl
Based on: Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes
Music by: Galt MacDermot
Cast: Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, Calvin Lockhart, Judy Pace, Redd Foxx, Cleavon Little

United Artists, 97 Minutes

Review:

“One more word, soul brother. You had it made. Black folks would have followed you anywhere. You could’ve been another Marcus Garvey or even another Malcolm X. But instead you ain’t nothin’ but a pimp with a chicken-shit backbone.” – Gravedigger Jones

Having grown up seeing and appreciating Ossie Smith as an actor, it’s cool going back and seeing his directorial work in the ’70s, which was just before my time.

Cotton Comes to Harlem is a pretty funny picture but it is also packed with gritty action and cool, badass characters, especially the two detectives that drive the film: Gravedigger Jones (Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (St. Jacques).

The story follows the two cops, as they try to expose a crooked reverend as a fraud. The reverend is taking money from his congregation with the promise that they are buying their way back to Africa. The truth is, the reverend sets forth a scheme to make sure that he gets the money, free and clear. He orchestrates a robbery and then has the money hidden in a large bale of cotton, hence the title of the film. The title is also probably a metaphor to the fact that many black slaves picked cotton and that by “cotton coming to Harlem” they are once again enslaved, this time by the promises of the crooked reverend, as well as a system and society that continues to fail them.

The movie is really carried by Cambridge and St. Jacques but Calvin Lockhart had a good bit of charisma too. Redd Foxx stole every scene that he was in, especially that great moment at the very end. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters of Gravedigger and Coffin and they were the most interesting and fun part in the movie. It would have been cool to see them spin this off into a buddy cop film series with these two but that never happened.

Cotton Comes to Harlem was an entertaining ride and compared to most of the films in the blaxploitation genre, it was pretty tame. It still isn’t a film fit for kids, by any means, but it puts the comedy out in front and tones back on the overall action and violence.

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, Fab 5 Freddy (cameo), Method Man (cameo)

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.