Blaxploitation is a genre that has a strange aura surrounding it. For those unaware, the subgenre stemmed from the success of flicks like Shaft, Dolemite, Superfly,The Mack, and Foxy Brown, all of which featured similar qualities. For one, they all had funky soundtracks, some of whom were scored by greats like Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. They also had strong protagonists that fit black stereotypes of the 70’s, jive talk, big afros, flashy suits and bad attitudes. And perhaps the best part of the trend was the fact that blaxploitation flicks were made on the cheap, so forty years later we’re treated to terrible acting, bad choreography, swapped actors, boom microphones in the shot…I can keep going on and on about famous errors in the genre forever if I wanted to, but I won’t! Because in 2009 martial artist and actor Michael Jai White spearheaded a spoof/tribute in Black Dynamite, and my lord, is it great.
Jai White stars as the titular Black Dynamite, an ex-cop, ex-army officer, and current ladies man and pseudo private detective. He’s essentially the biggest bad mother (shut your mouth) of all time and everything revolves around him. The events of the flick start with a drug deal gone wrong thanks to a snitch, a bumbling man revealed to be BD’s brother Jimmy, who is quickly gunned down. This lone act kicks Black Dynamite into a spree, as he has to find Jimmy’s killer and clean up his streets.
From the get go, the comedy is laid down hard, but done so in a truly unique way. In a lot of action comedies (Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop) we have comedic actors playing comedic parts for laughs, look at Seann William Scott in The Rundown for chrissake! In Black Dynamite however, every actor plays their parts as if they are in a serious movie. There are no beats left for laughter, no jokes that are allowed time to soak in. The gags are either meant to be taken as serious bits that are unintentionally funny, or just errors that couldn’t afford to be fixed. In that seriousness this movie goes from a Scary Movie style spoof to tribute to. The chain of events is absurd enough to work with comedians as stars, but in the same vein it could easily have starred any blaxploitation stars of the 70’s and been released to relative success back then.
Pictured: Black Dynamite vs. The Fiendish Dr. Wu
Now, aside from BD we have a handful of hilarious characters, first there’s the always rhyming Bullhorn (Byron Minns), the slick well dressed Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), militant leader Saheed (Phillip Morris, Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld) and the apple of BD’s eye Gloria (Salli Richardson). Though to be honest, none of them are really clearly defined, more than likely on purpose. And that certainly adds to the fun, as characters like Cream Corn disrespect and run away from BD just to apologize and be openly accepted back into the group. For a killing kung fu machine, Black Dynamite is very forgiving to his fellow brother. However, as great as the ensemble may be, this is Dynamite’s movie and he gets most of the focus. Jai White plays him perfectly, a mix of always on the verge of breaking someone in half, sharp tongued, straight faced and a just a dash of legit crazy. And he actually can destroy people, so he’s not just a goofy funnyman put in an action role a la Mike Meyers in Austin Powers. As an avid comedy fan this mix of buff badass and legit comedy chops is a rare thing, and Jai White really worked hard to achieve that status. Props to him for that.
Action-wise Black Dynamite is decent at best, but on purpose. There are a whole ton of fights that just get stranger and stranger, and they all have BD kicking ass and taking names. We see him kung fu-ing a group of ninja goons in what turns out to be his weekly kung fu class, he chases Cream Corn around the city from roof to roof just to have the man apologize to him as I mentioned previously, and BD even kills a rival with a boomerang he threw before even entering the room! However, it’s the escalation of these fights that make them fun. Black Dynamite is consistent in the kicking of the ass, it’s just the ass he kicks gets more and more ridiculous as the fight goes on. It turns out cleaning up the streets is a lot more ridiculous than he thought, and it’s not just drugs poisoning his fellow brother. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say the conspiracy leads all the way up to the top of the American ladder, and when it gets there, Black Dynamite has to throw down.
So while Black Dynamite might not offer up the best action, it’s homage to a classic genre and it’s sheer absurdity make it worth your time. I wouldn’t just go review a movie with weak action on this blog without reason! The movie is so awesome that it’s spawned an Adult Swim cartoon that’s on every Sunday at 11:30 PM! Watch it! It’s good! The movie…and the cartoon!
Speaking of Black…lets keep this hybrid thing going and get to the damn veggies with the Men In Black! And with Men In Black the Damn Rankings are getting an injection of….CGI!?!?
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Michael Jai White, Tommy Davidson, Byron Minns
(All images and video are copyright Destination Films)
First and foremost, apologies this too so long to write. I now have FOUR backlogged action movies in my memory, so I’ll be back writing a lot more!
Reboots, remakes and pseudo sequels seem to be all the rage these days…from Spider-Man to 21 Jump Street to Total Recall to Prometheus…it seems as though there are a lot of flicks out there that are profiting off of slightly stale characters. That reason alone is what drove me to re-watch and review the 2006 James Bond remake/reboot/sequel Casino Royale. Now before we get into the damn veggies of this review please let me just say that I never imagined that someone could take a character that had just fenced Madonna and had sex with Halle Berry on a carpet full of diamonds and make them dynamic, original, badass, interesting, and compassionate. Much credit is due to Neal Purvis, Paul Haggis and Robert Wade for doing that. Also, in that same vein, I never thought I would want to know the motivation of the spy that has graced pop culture for more than half a century. I was always gleefully under the assumption that James Bond was just an amazing secret agent that loved to sleep with amazingly attractive women. So, Casino Royale really smacks you in the face with the fact that it is a real film. One that’s full of absurd explosions and womanizing and quips and alcohol, but a real film nonetheless.
“What do you mean you don’t want to hear my back story?”
The first thing about this movie that is obviously different is Bond himself. Daniel Craig, who’s obviously not a brown haired gentleman, is strikingly different from the rest of the Bond’s who have graced the film medium. The second is that he’s not an established killing machine womanizing super-spy; this is the beginning of his journey to becoming one! And Craig plays Bond thusly, as a cocky rookie with something to prove. Appropriately playing the authority figure trying to keep a leash on 007 is Judi Dench, reprising her role as M. Her matronly back and forth with Bond does a really good job at telling us exactly how far he’s gotten in the agency, and just how disobedient he is. Also, Craig’s one liner delivery is top notch. I never really saw Bond as much of a quip dropper in this ‘real’ world, but he finds room for a ton of great, hilarious one liners.
Apologies for the fadeout…stupid uploaders.
So, after parkour-ing down a bomb maker in Madagascar in a ridiculous and awesome chase, Bond finds himself in the Bahamas, tracking the bomb makers contractor Alex Dimitrios. Now, Dimitrios has been working with big bad Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an investor who works closely with African freedom fighters, among other lowlifes. After Bond successfully derails Dimitrios and ensures that Le Chiffre’s playing of the stock market fails, he is entered into a poker tournament thrown by Chiffre (is Le his first name?) wherein we meet the wonderful Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who slowly melts Mr. Bond’s heart. It’s precious.
Enough of hearts melting, what about faces melting?! The action in Casino Royale is among the best of the 2000’s, for several reasons. The first of which is that it feels real. Yes we see Bond in a parkour-off with one of the sports pioneers Sebastian Foucan, that leads to the top of a crane atop a construction site. But every time Bond jumps more than 5 feet it’s visible that he’s a human being and he has to at least stop and pant before running onward. Too many action movies play their heroes as superhuman, and while that is entertaining, it’s also a nice diversion from the norm to have the protagonist actually move and react like a person, granted he is a ridiculously toned and well trained person. Another reason the action is so good is because there’s just so much of it on such a grand scale. With some of the movies I’ve watched for the action is relatively contained, Die Hard is obviously set in one place, Road House is confined to a small town, even the Expendables deals with a lot of 2 good guys vs. 10 bad guys style fights. Casino Royale is a globetrotting festival of all things action. Bond, like I said, free runs through Madagascar, destroys a man in a bathroom, watches a building collapse in Venice, fights a man in a gas truck in Miami, beats up Africans in Montenegro and even makes two games of poker seem tense. Yes, the poker in this movie is definitely something that is well done. There are a few techniques that get repetitive, most notably showing one mans great hand just to have it beat by the man opposite the table of him. If this was used once it’d be great, but the fact that we have to deal with it several times makes it one of those things where as a viewer I found myself going, “Well yeah that hand is great, but since I’m seeing it he has to lose!”
The characters in the world really make everything work overall, which is a great thing. I’ve mentioned Bond and M, but there are a few others that really add some reason and rhyme to the world of 007. Eva Green is perfect as Vesper Lynd, an accountant with a tongue as sharp as Bond, but who has absolutely no idea how terrible the day to day activities of a secret agent are. Her job of melting Bond’s heart makes sense. Bond doesn’t want her at first, and through their interactions, and her reactions to putting holes in people’s heads, he sees how fragile she is, and just how absurd his job is. Also, we have everyone’s favorite informant Rene Mathis played by Giancarlo Giannini, who not so subtly pushes Bond and Vesper together. He’s just a suave older guy trying to help his fellow man (OR IS HE). However, I must admit, that Mathis’ suavity is sidelined during the poker tournament, as he constantly feels the need to narrate the game to Vesper, who apparently has no clue what poker is. Lines like, “A full house!” and “He’s rubbing his eye!” really add a corny commentary to intense sequences. Even the sadly underdeveloped Le Chiffre is a Hans Gruber style bad guy who outwits Bond several times over, again showing Bond’s rookie status. His crying blood and using an inhaler are corny traits, yeah, but for a Bond bad guy, it could be worse. Also, a small fraction of credit must be given to the bumbling loser who can’t quite get the job done in Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter. His awful poker skills and outright revelation to Bond that he is an American secret agent strangely fit, regardless of how awkward they are. The whole point of these interactions build a world for this new Bond to dwell in, and they do a great job with it.
“When I’m short of breath I use my inhaler.”
My biggest problem with this movie comes in it’s fourth act. After the poker game, when Vesper and Bond are in Italy, the plot gets really whacky and all sorts of ridiculous things happen in a matter of five minutes. Knowing that the Bond series is indeed a franchise, I think this act would have been an awesome act one for the next film in the series. Leaving the movie on the note it did felt a bit uneven, especially considering this was a Hollywood affair. But that’s not even a huge deal!
So yeah…for a remake/reboot/sequel Casino Royale is incredible. The performances are all there, the new world of James Bond is great, and left me as a fan waiting for more. Shame Quantum of Solace wasn’t all that great…
I said I watched four more movies to write reviews for now did I? Well…what’s next. I don’t know..something outta sight. Something that’s just right. Something like Black Dynamite!
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Daniel Craig
(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a household name. He has an instantly recognizable face, and a reputation that’s effectively simple and straightforward; a former pro wrestler turned action star. It sounds so basic, but in reality, Dwayne’s journey is far more interesting. First, let’s put a little emphasis on “former pro wrestler”. Johnson is a 3rd generation “former pro wrestler” who dominated the World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment, gaining sixteen various championships, in a matter of seven years, the time it takes most pro wrestlers to even ‘break into’ the business. Then he decided it was time to move onto bigger and better things, namely, the movie biz. So, in 2001 he had a bit part in The Mummy Returns and then a year later starred in its spinoff The Scorpion King. Neither film gathering much critical acclaim. In 2003 Johnson starred in his first non-Mummy vehicle, the action/comedy The Rundown, and in the first scene of the film he has a strong action star endorsement….
That’s right Arnold F’n Schwarzenegger! In 2003! When Rocky only had 2 roles under his belt he got an endorsement from the Terminator! How awesome is that? I remember being fourteen years old, having seen ONE Schwarzenegger movie (it was Batman and Robin) saying to myself, “That is the blessing of a lifetime!” without even knowing how amazing Arnold’s action-ography was. So, yeah. That’s how The Rundown starts. After the nod from the god, Rock’s Beck has to grapple a football team who owes his employer money. This fight scene is pretty amazing, and the use of the nightclub environment is perfect, not to mention Rock delivers an augmented Rock Bottom to one of the players, to the delight of WWE fans. After leaving the job and returning to his boss, we learn Beck wants to get out of this ‘retrieval’ game and focus on his main passion, the culinary arts. However, there’s one more job for Beck to complete before getting his final $250,000 payday and opening his own restaurant. He has to go down to Brazil and bring his bosses son home.
Once he arrives in the town of El Dorado, Beck realizes that it’s controlled by whacky businessman and relic hunter Cornelius Hatcher (Christopher Walken). Hatcher has allowed Beck’s target, Travis (Seann William Scott) to live in El Dorado, under the promise that he will retrieve ‘el gato diablo’, a priceless relic, and get Hatcher in on the profit. Beck finds Travis almost immediately thanks to bartender and (SPOILER ALERT) freedom fighter Mariana (Rosario Dawsom). After attempting to simply walk out of El Dorado with Travis, it’s made clear that Hatcher and his small army have zero interest of allowing him to leave. So, Beck fights off some goons and winds up crashing a Jeep into the jungle, where he and Travis have to work their way out. Once out they have to basically destroy Hatcher. Everything in the middle is what makes this movie really unique.
The cast really shines in this movie for the most part. Rock really shows off his chops as Beck, the aggravated hitman with one final item on his to do list. Also, it must be noted that Beck absolutely hates guns, and prefers to get his job done using his bare hands, a character trait that makes the fight scenes quite interesting. Considering his Mummy roles before this, Rock really does prove naysayers wrong with his charm and presence. Seann William Scott is also pretty good as Travis, though his character is played off as clumsy and stupid and then in the blink of an eye he’s an Indiana Jones/National Treasure style explorer. Walken is brilliant as Hatcher, one of those slimy villains that sends his goons to do his work while claiming all the profit (shades of Brad Wesley?). And his doofus brother Harvey is played by Jon Gries, Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite! The one real weak link here is surprisingly Rosario Dawson, who hardens all of her T’s when trying to put on a Brazilian accent. She doesn’t add much to the plot and really just acts as a female presence. She’s not a concrete romantic interest to either Travis or Beck, and she doesn’t dress in revealing clothing, nor does she fire a gun. She just is there. It’s bizarre. One thing I really, really appreciate about this movie is the complexity of the premise. No one ever looks at this movie for what it really is. It’s essentially sending The Transporter down to South America to capture Indiana Jones. Yeah, it sounds simple, but that’s pretty audacious. Two opposite themes for action movies forceably combined to make one crazy movie. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me. The best part of that is how it actually works. Bold premises sound great on paper, but how often is it that they actually deliver?
“Arnold has been saying great things about you.”
With any action/comedy there are two obvious sides to the coin. Action. And comedy. In this film the former succeeds whereas the latter fails. The action in this flick is top notch, mostly due to Rock’s ability to relentlessly kick ass. There’s one particular fight scene between Beck and freedom fighter Manito, that is seriously out of this world. Manito (the vastly underutilized Ernie Reyes Jr.) flys off of trees, flips, spins, and destroys Beck through most of the fight and Beck strikes back with some amazing power offense. This fight is like watching an MMA match on crack. It is easily the highlight of the movie. Credit must also be given to Hatcher’s lead hitman Swenson (Stuart F. Wilson) who yields not one but two whips. There are some sweet visuals involving these whips tearing through things and just causing damage. The final firefight is also pretty epic, Beck clotheslines pillars of concrete, saves Travis from a burning bus, and uh-oh, picks up a firearm. There’s a reason Beck doesn’t like using guns, and it may or may not be because he is a killing machine.
The other side of the coin is the comedy. Which is vastly less kick-ass than the action. I don’t mean to say it fails entirely, because the back and forth between Beck and Travis is at times genuinely humorous, and Hatcher is always funny. It’s just the comedic gags that fall completely flat. Two in particular. One involving hormone full apes, and the other involving hallucination inducing fruit. I’m not going to go into anymore detail, but I will provide these visuals.
So The Rundown features a lot of awesome action, some so-so comedy, and a lot of fun. There are visible flaws with this flick, but it’s ballsy premise more than makes up for them, and Rock, Walken and Scott’s performances hold the whole thing together. This is a genuinely good movie experience, and I highly recommend it to any and all parties interested in performance driven action. It’s funny, because this film has been sort of tucked under the covers when people bring up awesome action movies, even though it delivers awesome action in spades, and is almost completely devoid of any and all awful performances. Arnold passed the torch to the right guy.
Thanks for reading! And next time I’ll tackle a classic that I have never seen! Let’s just say it rhymes with ‘Fly Shard’!
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott
(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures Corporation)