The Guillotines

tn_guillotinesTHE GUILLOTINES isn’t a remake of MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, but it uses the same concept of the Emperor having an elite squad of ruthless executioners who use the flying guillotine to do his bidding/beheading. If you thought this was a far-fetched weapon when it was a ring of blades that popped out of a collapsible basket on the end of a chain, wait until you see the post-steampunk version.

In the opening we see the Guillotines (or really the team of digital FX artists) demonstrate their skills in Zack Snyderian slo-mo detail. They have ornate metal rings (like that thing Xena threw) that spin on the end of a curved sword that they hold like a jai alai basket. They pose and let it menacingly chunk chunk chunk until they toss it. It can curve around, ricochet and ring around some motherfucker’s collar and then the machinery dramatically clicks and chings for a while before the blades fold and pop out and cut off the head. (read the rest of this shit…)

M.A.N.T.I.S. (pilot movie)

He doesn't usually look this much like R. Kelly.

He doesn’t usually look this much like R. Kelly.

Remember M.A.N.T.I.S.? It was a 1994 Fox TV show that only lasted one season. It was about paralyzed-from-the-waist-down scientist Miles Hawkins (Carl Lumbly), who builds an exo-skeleton that allows him to not only walk again but to have super strength and also jump high. The first time he tries it out in public he happens to see a woman getting attacked, so he intervenes and kicks some ass, and that gives him the crimefighting bug.

Get it? I said bug, because he’s called MANTIS and I guess he sorta looks like one with the metal helmet with a giant bluetooth on each side like mandibles.

Seven months before the TV show though there was a pilot TV movie (fortunately included on the complete series DVD), which was pretty different and much more watchable. I can’t pretend it plays like a real movie – like the The Flash TV show of a few years earlier it is kinda sad to see a low budget TV crew in Vancouver try to compete with the incredible production design of Tim Burton’s BATMAN – but having recently watched those ROBOCOP TV shows I’m able to appreciate this for what it is: something that is way better than those ROBOCOP TV shows. (read the rest of this shit…)

300: Rise of an Empire

tn_300-2300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE sounds like it would be the name of a DTV prequel to 300, from the producers of DEATH RACE 2. In fact it is a major, successful theatrical release and it is a sepremidquel. A sepremidquel is of course a followup that starts out after the first movie, then skips back to before it and goes into during it (with references to some of those events) and then continues a little bit after it too. You may be sick of sepremidquels, but I think it was a clever way to continue a movie where all the main characters were horribly killed.
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Out of the Furnace

tn_outofthefurnaceOne movie that came and went during the “summer is over, time for some actor-y shit” period of 2013 was OUT OF THE FURNACE. This is the second movie directed by Scott Cooper, who also rewrote from a script by Brad Ingelsby (writer of the gratuitous American remake of THE RAID that apparently is still happening). Cooper previously directed CRAZY HEART, which was known as the Jeff Bridges Oscar movie, but it was also a good movie in its own right, so it was intriguing that he was doing one with Christian Bale next.

I feel like after we got used to him being Batman we kind of forgot how great Christian Bale is. It’s a relief to see him being funny again in AMERICAN HUSTLE, but I also still like watching Earnest Christian Bale. And in this case Rugged Christian Bale. (read the rest of this shit…)

Eye of the Eagle II: Inside the Enemy

tn_eyeoftheeagle2From ONE FALSE MOVE and DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, Carl Franklin seems like a pretty serious, respectable type director even though he’s working in the mystery genre. So what the hell was he doing in 1989 directing EYE OF THE EAGLE II: INSIDE THE ENEMY, a sequel to a Cirio H. Santiago Vietnam shootemup? Well, he was trying to do what a pretty serious, respectable type director would do with something like that.

Like most of the other black directors I’ve been writing about lately Franklin started out as an actor. He was in FIVE ON THE BLACK HAND SIDE and an episode of The Streets of San Francisco and shit like that. His first feature as a director was NOWHERE TO RUN (also from ’89), a drama that stars Jason Priestley but also has Sonny Carl Davis from THE WHOLE SHOOTIN’ MATCH in it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Devil in a Blue Dress

tn_devilinabluedressIt looks likeĀ  I’m continuing my informal and logo-free History of Black Film series a little bit into March. It could be argued that this is because I got side-tracked writing about ROBOCOP and then went out of town and got snowed in there and got behind schedule on my reviews. But in my opinion I’m really doing it in protest of the injustice of Black History Month being slotted in the shortest month.

I also want to admit that at the beginning I said I was gonna be exploring obscure black action stars, then instead I’ve been looking at lesser known black directors, not really the same thing at all. That’s not because the whole thing was poorly planned and thought out on my part, it’s because you gotta be fluid about these things and follow your creative instincts.

DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS is another one where a black director adapts one installment in a mystery series by a black writer. Not that that’s a big category, I’m just saying that’s a parallel to COTTON COMES TO HARLEM. The director is Carl Franklin (ONE FALSE MOVE), the author is Walter Mosley and the mystery-solver is Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, later a private eye but as of this story an a WWII vet laid off from an airplane factory having a hard time getting work until a white P.I. played by Tom Sizemore (SPOILER: I don’t know if you should trust this guy) pays him to look for a white woman (Jennifer Beals) who hangs out in black underground clubs that a white man (but not white woman) would have trouble slipping into without causing a problem.
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This year’s pre-Oscar post

tn_oscarclintI saw all the best picture nominees this year, an old family tradition. I actually completed the check list a while back. It was easier than usual because I only had two I hadn’t seen at the time of the nominations, and only one of those I hadn’t been planning to see already. There was also one nominee I watched a long time ago but didn’t review. So for the sake of completism I’ll write a few words about those last three before tomorrow/tonight’s Oscar rituals are performed. (read the rest of this shit…)

Soul Vengeance

tn_soulvengeanceAlot of people have recommended the PENITENTIARY trilogy to me over the years. Apparently it’s a pretty crazy movie property franchise of the VHS era, so it made sort of a minor cult legend out of writer-director Jamaa Fanaka. He came out of the UCLA film school and a group of young black filmmakers known as “the L.A. Rebellion.” Other members include Charles Burnett, Julie Dash and Haile Gerima, so he might’ve been the black sheep of the group, being more interested in exploitation type subject matter than his colleagues.

Although the PENITENTIARYs are what he’s known for, Fanaka (who was born Walter Gordon, by the way – he changed it to a Swahili name in college) actually started in the blaxploitation era. His first feature was 1974′s EMMA MAE, better known now as BLACK SISTER’S REVENGE. In 1975 he did WELCOME HOME, BROTHER CHARLES, which we will discuss here under its current video title of SOUL VENGEANCE. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Spook Who Sat By the Door

tn_spookwhosatbythedoor“Their first mistake was letting him in. Their worst mistake was letting him out.”

A senator’s polls say he needs more of “the Negro vote” to win re-election, so his strategist suggests accusing the CIA of discriminatory hiring policies. Cut to the CIA considering hundreds of black men as candidates and narrowing them down to 10 men in their training course.

They teach them to shoot, car bomb, collapse bridges, sky dive, scuba dive, judo, etc. But you only need one token to play Ms. Pac-Man so only one of these guys gets through: the guy who doesn’t make any friends, who “has a habit of fading into the background.” So much so that you barely even notice him in these early scenes. Some other guy seems like he’s the main character. But this is the guy. His name is Freeman and he’s played by Lawrence Cook, who also had parts in TROUBLE MAN, COLORS and POSSE. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cotton Comes to Harlem

tn_cottoncomestoharlemCOTTON COMES TO HARLEM is a quirky, colorful love letter to the people and culture of Harlem, tucked away inside a crime story adapted from a Chester Himes novel. MGM packaged the DVD in the “Soul Cinema” series along with COFFY, FOXY BROWN, BLACK CAESAR and TRUCK TURNER, but to me it doesn’t really feel like a blaxploitation movie. If it is it deserves credit for being one of the most textured and gorgeous looking blaxploitation movies. I will intersperse some random screen grabs throughout this review to give you an idea of all the great colors, clothing, sets and locations. (read the rest of this shit…)