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 like  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…)

Battle of the Damned

tn_battleofthedamnedIn BATTLE OF THE DAMNED, Dolph Lundgren fights zombies, and I’ll give it this: it’s way better than AGAINST THE DARK, the one where Steven Seagal fights vampires. There are two main reasons for this:

1) AGAINST THE DARK is Seagal’s worst movie ever
2) BATTLE OF THE DAMNED also has robots

It’s almost the same story: group of mercenaries led by beloved action icon of the ’80s and ’90s (in this case Dolph) patrols through a quarantine zone where a plague turns everybody into violent monsters (in this case running zombies instead of vampires) while a group of bland survivors walks slowly and talks about boring shit in a large building. They kill a bunch of the monsters, splattering that CGI blood that dissolves in the air, and there is some running around and stuff. Seagal used a sword, Dolph doesn’t, but he does meet a guy named Elvis (Jen Kuo Sung of NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 3 and BLOODMOON) who does. And he knows the military plan to bomb the whole area to stop the virus so he bands together with the survivors he meets and they try to get out of there before it’s too late. The end. (read the rest of this shit…)

RoboCop (2014 remake)

tn_robocop14Many remakes, even good ones, remove or weaken the meaning or subtext of the originals. The classic example is Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (by this same production company, Strike Entertainment), which is a fun action movie version of Romero’s masterpiece, but doesn’t have much time for the questions about our voluntary enslavement to consumerism and materialism. How do we keep our humanity in the face of this apocalypse? Did we have it in the first place? Who gives a shit. Zombies!

Another one is LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. A surprisingly good remake, in many ways more artful than the original, but with its last act tweaks and audience-pleasing ending it completely ditches the thing that makes Wes Craven’s version worth stomaching: its angry illustration of the dehumanizing effect that revenge has on those who commit it. According to the last scene of the remake fuck all that, sadistic revenge is funny and cool.

ROBOCOP 2014′s goals and tone are very different from Mr. Verhoeven’s 1987 classic, but it’s the rare remake that’s arguably even more directly political than the movie it’s based on. Most would say, and I agree, that Verhoeven’s (or really Neumeier and Miner’s) message about privatization and corporate greed is more powerful because of its hilarious bluntness. It was the sarcastic cop movie that Lee Iacoca and Ronald Reagan’s America was asking for, a movie where amoral corporate assholes run the police force for profit, turn a dead body into a cyborg cop, then unleash him to do high caliber battle with savage DEATH WISH style supercreeps and get mixed up in a feud within the company, reconnect with his old self and turn on them. (read the rest of this shit…)

RoboCop History Week: RoboWrapUp

robocophistoryweek

So which one does RoboCop smell like? Strawberry? All of them? It's unclear.

If RoboCop was so pure and sacred before a remake then why do we know which fruits he smells like?

Thank you for joining me this week in discussing the RoboCop cartoon and the RoboCop TV series and the other RoboCop cartoon and the RoboCop mini-series that happened after the first and second RoboCop sequels.

I have to admit that I had an agenda or two in writing about these crappy shows. I know alot of people are very protective of Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP and were/are righteously offended about the very idea of remaking it. Which makes sense, ’cause it’s a classic.

But I thought it would be helpful for all our mental and emotional health to remember that it’s not exactly an untouched story suddenly being violently plucked from a pure white cloud and soiled by unexpected commercialism. We’ve never lived in a world where ROBOCOP was safeguarded from exploitation like a J.D. Salinger book or Calvin and Hobbes. No, as soon as the damn thing was out of the gate it was cross-marketed like an Omni Consumer Product. It was merchandised, sequelized, video gamed, cartooned and teeveed. Of course I’m not saying “it’s already been ruined, so let’s keep ruining it.” I just mean that since they’ve already treated it like a trademark, brand, franchise and property even before everybody was brainwashed into using those OCP type terms non-ironically, I’m open to the idea of somebody coming along and doing a better job of it. (read the rest of this shit…)

RoboCop History Week: RoboCop: Prime Directives: Dark Justice

tn_robocoppdrobocophistoryweekIn 2001, three years after the previous ROBOCOP tv show (the cartoon ROBOCOP: ALPHA COMMANDO) and 14 years after the original movie, the Canadian company that made the LA FEMME NIKITA tv series and MUTANT X owned the tv rights to ROBOCOP and wanted to squirt something out before they expired. Instead of a traditional tv series they decided on a mini-series of four feature length, but not feature quality movies. Or prime directives, if you will.

I watched the first one, DARK JUSTICE, which has RoboCop (Page Fletcher, who I guess played the title character in the early ’90s tv series The Hitchhiker) returning to action on his tenth birthday.

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