Rating: The Good – 72.3 Genre: Crime, Blaxploitation, Thriller Duration: 94 mins Director: Jack Hill Stars: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown
The ultimate exploitation movie shows us exactly how vengeance should be done. Pam Grier takes no prisoners but she does take certain things (ouch!) as she lays waste to the prostitution and drug racketeers responsible for killing her boyfriend. Yes, the acting is a bit wooden (but not everywhere) and yes, the plot is basic but that’s not the point with these movies. The point is you get a chance to see everything Hollywood is afraid to show you. Foxy Brown does that and then some!
Rating: The Good – 74.7 Genre: Crime, Action Duration: 91 mins Director: Jack Hill Stars: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui
“Coffy is the color.” The definitive blaxploitation movie stars the excellent Pam Grier in the film that made her an icon. Grier plays a nurse who has had enough of the pushers and pimps who are bringing her neighbourhood down and takes justice into her own hands. The movie opens with her setting up the pusher that got her sister hooked on drugs but her attention is quickly shifted to the self-styled ‘King George’ (just check out his intro track) and his bosses. Coffy is everything that Hollywood movies both then but especially now have been afraid to show. A black female heroine who gets bloody, no holes barred vengeance on her male oppressors and isn’t afraid to compromise her chastity to do it. In that sense, it’s a cinematic breath of fresh air but in a more general sense, it’s a cracking little story directed with panache and bravado by the legendary Jack Hill. Grier is electric and easily the most endearing of heroines to lead a film and there are some belting action scenes that prove she’s no soft touch either. Yes, there are all the drawbacks of an exploitation movie such as shoddy production values and cheesy acting but that all adds to the underground flavor. And on top of all that, movie buffs will enjoy spotting just how much of this film affected and influenced the films of Quentin Tarantino, the ultimate example of which being none other than Jackie Brown.
Rating: The Good – 69.2 Genre: Thriller Duration: 125 mins Director: Daniel Petrie Sr Screenplay: Heywood Gould Stars: Paul Newman, Edward Asner, Ken Wahl, Pam Grier
This minor gem about two cops working the South Bronx has seemingly been forgotten or perhaps it was never remembered as well as it deserved to be. Paul Newman plays the veteran officer Murphy whose compassionate approach to his job is in contrast to the cynicism and heavy-handedness of many of his fellow officers. Ken Wahl plays his slick young partner whose ambition lets him look past all of the corruption that beleaguers Murphy. The film plays out more as an Altman-like series of vignettes that are threaded together from the beginning by a murderous hooker played with a disturbingly quiet menace by Pam Grier. The result is an easy flowing and original police story which is really quite enjoyable. There’s also an authenticity to the film which is sadly missing from many more modern police dramas that is partly due to the many location shots and partly due to the terrific performances from all concerned. Standing out as always is the effortlessly brilliant Newman who gives the Irish cop genuine personality and humour but equally handles the more dramatic scenes with aplomb. If you like the lighter crime dramas of the 70’s and 80’s then this is definitely for you.
Kurt Russell is back as Snake Plissken 16 years after the original only this time L.A. is the penal fortress and instead of the President he needs to recover a doomsday weapon. John Carpenter and co-writer Russell were having a lot of fun with this one and they really quite bravely used it as a means of poking fun at the nature of sequels and at Hollywood blockbusters in general. Escape From L.A. pushes the boundaries of satire to their limits (to the point where some people didn’t realise the film was a satire!) as Snake takes on a South American drug lord in a series of set-piece scenes each more mad-cap than the last. The dialogue is as cool as ever, the wit is razor-sharp, that iconic score is back (if not slightly re-imagined), and there’s a host of great actors from Pam Grier to Steve Buscemi on show. What more could you ask for? How about one of the great sci-fi endings? Okay, you got it!
Rating: The Good – 74.3 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 98 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Pam Grier
This John Carpenter sci-fi/horror/western about a police officer (Natasha Henstridge) and a dangerous prisoner (Ice Cube) trying to escape a terraformed Martian town as it becomes overrun by spirit-like aliens is a tongue-in-cheek heavy metal opera. Just like said music, everything about this movie screams mock-rebellion. Women run the show, aliens are ghosts, their language is a ferocious scream, the good guys are criminals and like that music, if you’re not a fan of Carpenter you just won’t get it. Thus, Ghosts of Mars has the semblance of rebellion but it’s not really that dangerous and Carpenter has a ball with it. The more technical aspects to the film such as the visual effects, make-up, and fight choreography are tinted with this light hearted sarcasm. Once you accept all this, however, you can really start to enjoy it. The patient start uses a series of dissolve-cuts to tell the back story as quickly as possible without feeling rushed but as the action moves through the gears, Carpenter’s utterly superb heavy metal soundtrack kicks in and sweeps you forward until the end. As with many of Carpenter’s films, the Rio Bravo theme is present and there’s plenty of innovative and over the top violence on show to keep most horror fans happy. There’s a great supporting cast on hand too (e.g., Pam Grier, Jason Statham, Joanna Cassidy) to deliver some outstanding and cheesy lines alike. And on top of all that, we have that wonderfully thunderous opening inspired in part by the opening to Bad Day at Black Rock (confirmed to this author by the director himself). Don’t approach this on the basis of what some of the critics have said and certainly don’t approach this as you would a typical science fiction/horror movie. This is John Carpenter – a director who has spent his career subverting conventions in the most entertaining ways possible (even if what he’s subverting is subversion!). That’s why he’s so damned important to the medium.
Quentin Tarantino’s only adaptation of existing material sees him take on Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch” and the result is a fascinating combination of the two artists’ particular styles. 70′s blaxploitation star Pam Grier is the struggling air stewardess Jackie Brown, who after being arrested by ATF agents attempts to play them off against the gun-running criminal to whom she had been illegally delivering money.
Though she only really comes into the movie about half an hour in, Grier’s graceful presence dominates the movie and did as much to affect its style as Tarantino did. Samuel L. Jackson gives us a uniquely charming yet ruthless criminal in the form of ATF-target Ordelle Robbie, while Michael Keaton steps up to play the agent in charge of the investigation (the same character he played in Out of Sight – another Leonard-adaptation released that same year). Robert De Niro is also on hand to put in a solid if understated shift as Ordelle’s henchman. However, the true revelation is Robert Forster as the decent bail-bondsman Max Cherry, who strikes up a friendship with Brown after Ordelle hires him to post her bail. Tarantino rescued Forster from b-movie wilderness to bring him in on this but it was well worth the effort as his performance is one of the most genuine and endearing in recent memory. There are some critics who have argued that the plot to Jackie Brown peters out towards the end due to the protracted set-up and execution of the central scam but such criticism misses the point to this film entirely. Jackie Brown is all about the tender would-be romance which emerges between Cherry and Brown. It’s a mature and refreshingly real depiction of friendship and in capturing it more purely and honestly than 99% of so called “romantic dramas”, Tarantino shows yet another sophisticated side to his colossal talent.
Tarantino structures this complicated story superbly by masterfully employing the soft sound and look of Jack Hill’s blaxploitation classics to set the mood, Kubrick’s time-placed multi-perspective sequences from The Killing to generate tension, and the split screen artistry of Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill to accelerate the story where needed. In each case, he pushes the boundaries of his predecessors (showing again that this guy is much more than a mimic) and in the case of the split screen he gives us perhaps the most clinical demonstration of that device’s effectiveness. Of course, even when he is not channelling anyone else, what he serves up is just as tantalising and for everything there is to know about Tarantino just check out that opening sequence and its majestic finessing of staging, millisecond editing, and audio mixing. This is also, the first film in which Tarantino uses non-digetic sounds and, in the scene in which Ordelle pays Jackie Brown a night time visit, he does so to sublime effect. Yet another string in the bow of this master director.