Movie Review: Original Gangsters (1996)

Action, Blaxploitation, Crime, Movie Reviews

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70’s Blaxploitation meets 90’s ghetto warfare in this urban shoot ’em up co-directed by exploitation legends Larry Cohen and Fred Williamson.  The streets are mean and running amok with criminal filth; after a young basketball starlet is shot down for being hustling gang bangers, a local store owner reports the crime, but he too is gunned down by the hoodlums, which doesn’t sit too well with the neighbourhood old guard comprising of Blaxploitation icons Pam Grier, Fred Williamson and Jim Brown; expect vigilante justice.

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Social commentary about the state of America’s ghetto’s is a prevalent theme in Original Gangsters, but don’t go in expecting to leave with a deeply profound sociological awakening; this is essentially a reunion for the legends of yesteryear to get together and have a nostalgic hurrah cleaning up the streets of the trash who litter it with their crime.  Kudos is given for reapplying the classic 70’s urban vigilante tale we’ve seen from these guys countless times before to fit the Zeitgeist of 90’s African American street life stereotypes; but when you strip it to the bare bones it’s the same old song and dance.  They might be older and wiser, but it’s like nothing has changed at all.

The cast includes the aforementioned legends of Blaxploitation cinema, along with Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Ron O’Neal (Super Fly) and Robert Forster (Medium Cool), as the unwelcome and not required police detective.  It’s like getting the old gang back together on and off screen to give fans what they want and expect.  However, with age comes maturity, and every performance is that of a seasoned veteran; but that doesn’t mean they can’t still throw down.  Fred Williamson’s bruiser martial arts lands many a hood rat on their ass.

Original Gangsters is a straight up throwback to the heyday of African American action machismo; only the gangsta rap has replaced the funky soul and the villains are inner city G’s as opposed to pimps and the honkeys.  However, it ticks all of the right boxes in terms of action, performances and popcorn social commentary, so all in all; fun movie.  7/10

Directors:

Larry Cohen, Fred Williamson

Writer:

Aubrey K. Ratten

Starring:

Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Jim Brown, Richard Roundree

Genre:

Action, Crime, Drama, Blaxploitation

Running Time:

99 min

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Movie Review: Trucker Turner (1974)

Action, Blaxploitation, Crime, Movie Review

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Isaac Hayes forever left his stamp on Blaxploitation – and film as a whole – with the theme song for Shaft (1971) and the 2000 remake, starring Samuel L. Jackson.  Even if you haven’t seen either of the movies, it’s inevitable that you’ve heard the song before; unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, that is.  However, when Sir Isaac wasn’t writing theme songs for iconic bad asses of cinema, he was playing bad asses of his own.  The Truck might not be as well known as John Shaft, but that doesn’t make him any less of a bad mother shut yo mouth.  Trucker Turner is, without question, a stonewall classic of the Blaxploitation boom period that deserves a seat at the table alongside Coffy (1973), Black Caesar (1973) and Shaft (1971).

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Isaac Hayes plays Mac ‘Truck’ Turner, a bounty hunter who is hired to track down Gator.  When they find him, a chase ensues and Gator ends up dead; this doesn’t sit too well with his woman, Dorinda, owner of a prosperous street escort set-up, so she puts a hit out on Mac and his partner, by offering 50% of her whore profits to whoever succeeds. With the criminals unable to take down Mac, the big bad Blue brings in his own guys to do the job; and Mac and his partner must fight to survive.

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 Isaac Hayes was never trained to be an actor, nor did he possess an innate knack for the craft; but what he lacked in range and ability he made up for in charisma and cool factor.  When he enters a room, grown women turn into horny school girls and men want to be him; much of the film is spent with Hayes running around shirtless, and there’s a comical scene where he chases a would-be assailant to a roof for interrupting his post-coitus nap with his lady friend, moobs jiggling and all.  His belly might not be equipped to roll a coin down, but there’s no questioning his appeal as a bonafide stud.

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Dorinda (played by Star Trek’s very own Uhara) commands her role as a psychopathic pimp out for vengeance.  Her rage levels are through the roof as she barks obscenities at her whores and everybody who crosses her path.  It’s a marvellously unhinged performance by her and even the cities high profile criminal kingpins are wary.

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The beauty of Truck Turner lies in the execution of its simplicity.  It has everything you expect from a Blaxploitation action flick: the body is high, the scenes are action packed, the soundtrack is funky and soulful, the talk is slicker than Rick.  There’s an excessive amount of violence, car chases and gun fights.  What’s not to love?

Truck Turner is a procedural actioner that doesn’t try to be anything else.  The protagonist is a bad ass and he’s always on the go; fighting, fucking and killing.  He’s a manly men of all men and deserves to be crowned as genre royalty.

Director Jonathan Kaplan would later go on to direct some of the most popular TV shows on network television, but the exploitation gems he made during the 70’s and 80’s remain his greatest contributions to his legacy.  Trucker Turner is a raucous, rowdy romp through the mean streets of the ghetto and it’s barrels of fun.  8/10

Director:

Jonathan Kaplan

Writer:

Oscar Williams & Michael Allin

Starring:

Isaac Hayes, Nichelle Nichols, Yaphet Kotto

Genre:

Action, Crime, Blaxploitation

Running Time:

91 min

Movie Review: Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970)

Action, Blaxploitation, Comedy, Crime, Movie Review

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Variety magazine credited 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song as the first ever Blaxploitation film; but the first of its kind can arguably be traced back to 1970’s Cotton Comes To Harlem, directed by the legendary Ossie Davis, who some of you will know as the African American who played JFK in Doscarelli’s cult classic, Bubba Hotep (2003).  The fact is: Cotton Comes To Harlem has all the stylistic hallmarks of a Blaxploitation movie – music, lingo, action, etc – but many would argue that it’s a simple action comedy; but that’s irrelevant when the only thing that’s important is the movie itself, and Cotton Comes To Harlem is one sweet talkin’ soul brotha of a movie.

Based on the novel by Chester Himes, Cotton Comes To Harlem follows the head busting detectives “Gravedigger” Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and “Coffin Ed” Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) as they pursue the scamming conman, Reverend O’Malley.  Along the way they encounter gangsters, militants and a host of other characters who stand between them and their target.

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The biggest compliment I can give Cotton Comes To Harlem is that it’s never boring and that it’s aged extremely well; if there isn’t a car chase there’s a shoot out; if there isn’t a shoot out there’s a brawl; and if there isn’t a brawl there’s some smooth talking exchanges between the characters, making for many moments that shift between melodrama and comedy.  The novel is regarded as an important piece of American literature, as the author was a pioneer of African American crime fiction; social commentary about race and inequality are evident in the film too, but it never gets preachy at the expense of entertainment.

I think one of the reasons that Cotton Comes To Harlem still hits home to this day is because of its social themes; with race and class issues still a problem in America, this movie still connects with people.  However, it’s not like the action and comedy haven’t stood the test of time either; these types of movies continue to find audiences because of how much fun they are, and with the popularity of Black Dynamite and even Austin Powers: Goldmember, it’s plain to see that there’s new generations continuing to be inspired by them.  Cotton Comes To Harlem was a fitting start to one of the most influential subgenres of exploitation cinema, and it’s well worth tracking down.  7/10

Director:

Ossie Davis

Writer:

Chester Himes (novel) & Arnold Perl (screenplay)

Genre:

Action, Crime, Comedy, Blaxploitation

Running Time:

97 min

Movie: Review: Father’s Day (2011)

Comedy, Horror, Horror Comedy, Movie Reviews

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If you don’t know who Astron-6 are by now then you’re missing out on a joy that’s better than sex and pooping combined: these misfits of Canadian independent cinema have taken the genre film world by storm; inheriting the spirit of Full Moon and Empire Pictures to create low-budget strokes of schlock genius for those of us still living in video store nostalgia and grindhouse drive-ins.  In 2011, they made Father’s Day on a budget that wouldn’t even cover catering on a Michael Bay movie; which was then released through Troma to instant cult classic status.  This should give you a good idea of what you’re in store for; but believe me, when I tell you, that no first time viewer will be prepared for the demented treats in store for them here.  Father’s Day is out-of-box, balls-splattered-on-the-wall filmmaking at it’s most gleefully unhinged.  And it’s where my instant love affair with Astron-6 began.

The jest of Father’s Day is this: A serial killer is on the loose again after a 30 year hiatus.  He goes by the name of Charles Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock), otherwise known as ”The Father’s Day Killer” – a nickname earned by raping dads.  The re-emergence of the killer doesn’t go unnoticed by the church, and young priest, Father Sullivan (Matthew Kennedy), is sent to recruit disgraced vigilante Ahab (Adam Brooks), who now resides in solitude making maple syrup after failing to stop the killer in the past.  Hesitant at first, Ahab finally agrees to help out, and with the aid of his stripper sister Chelsea (Amy Groening), Father Sullivan and teen prostitute Twink (Conor Sweeney) they set out to put a stop to the killer once and for all.

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Father’s Day is a man on adventure movie set to the styling of a 70’s grindhouse revenge nasty.  It follows a group of unlikely heroes as they journey into Hell in search of the vicious dad raping serial killer = who enjoys biting off male genitalia after putting his own in their butt.  To say more about the story would ruin everything; just know that it’s wildly unpredictable, sexy and gross.

Unlike most neo-Grindhouse films; which harken back to drive-in theatres and sperm soaked multiplexes, Astron-6 present their package in the style of a late night television channel.  The faux-grain and style makes it look like a Troma feature that’s been unearthed from the vaults; but Astron-6 surpass Sir Lloyd Kauffman’s gang by possessing a better craft for storytelling, along with funnier gags and higher concept ideas.

What starts out as a simple revenge quickly escalates into a whirlwind of insanity that needs to be seen to be believed – and even then you’ll come out of it speechless.  Father’s Day is disgusting and wacky, but it packs more imagination, heart and passion into it’s micro-budget than movies which are financially insurmountable in comparison.  If you like your films with caution thrown to the wind, made by people with mental problems, then this is for you.  10/10

Written & Directed By:

Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, and Steven Kostanski (Astron-6)

Starring:

Adam Brooks, Mackenzie Murdock and Matthew Kennedy, Amy Groening

Genre:

Action, Comedy, Horror

Running Time:

99 min

Movie Review: Everly (2015)

Action, Movie Reviews, Thriller

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Joe Lynch has always been a fan first and a filmmaker second, which is why he’s such a popular figure among us genre nerds.  He’s one of us, and he makes movies that cater to our tastes because he shares them.  His latest effort Everly is a claustrophobic action thriller which doesn’t offer much in terms of uniqueness; but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in fun, violence and Salma Hayek’s cleavage.

Everly, in name and titular character, stars Salma Hayek as a prostitute holed up in an apartment after agreeing to co-operate with the authorities.  Unhappy with her betrayal, her old pimp puts a bounty on her head, which sends many cartoonish assailants her way.  Convinced that death is inevitable, Everly must survive long enough to get money to her mother and daughter before her time is up.

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Everly takes place in an apartment during the course of one night.  Christmas Eve to be exact.  Right away, Die Hard springs to mind; and rightly so because it wears the influence of the 1988 classic on its sleeve, along with John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Takeshi Miike’s Ichi The Killer (2001). Joe Lynch himself has admitted that it’s his love letter to such movies; thus making it a dream come true for a guy who grew up wanting to emulate his heroes.

Homages aside, Everly, is more than just a potion of favourite films concocted in the cauldron of a fanboy wizard; with innovative action sequences and an awkward action heroine who adds emotional depth to a character that could have worked as a generic bad ass, Everly manages to carve its own niche in action cinema.

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The villains of the film comprise mostly of gangsters and prostitutes, but it’s a man named Sadist and his goon, The Masochist, who leave an impression. When they show up, Everly takes a diversion into the realms of Takashi Miike inspired torture porn: it’s an unexpected shift in tone and makes for an unsettling few minutes, showing that Joe Lynch isn’t prepared to abandon his horror sensibilities quite yet.

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Everly takes place in one room for its entirety, only leaving to stray into the corridor for a couple of scenes.  To avoid staleness, Lynch provides us with a wide array of colourful characters, differing action scenes and various camera shots to ensure nothing is ever repeated.

Salma Hayek is as excellent as ever, bringing emotional depth to a character who could have been one dimensional and still delivered.  The core theme of Everly is a mother fighting for a better life for her family, and that’s what gives it an emotional centre amidst the guns, swords, assailants and chaos.

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Everly is the first true Joe Lynch movie: Wrong Turn 2 (2007) and Knights of Badassdom (2013) were director-for-hire jobs full of enthusiasm, but this is the first film he can call his baby. Co-written with Yale Hannon, Lynch has finally made a full feature that’s completely his, and it’s a winner.  Everly is a film with a simple premise which delivers everything a good R rated action movie requires.  If you want a gun toting bad ass who’s easier on the eyes than John McClane, then Everly could be your new Christmas action heroine. 8/10

Directed By:

Joe Lynch

Written By:

Yale Hannon & Joe Lynch

Starring:

Salma Hayek

Jennifer Blanc

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Togo Igawa

Genre:

Action, Thriller

Running Time:

92 min