Film Review: Shaft (2019)

Also known as: Son of Shaft (Germany)
Release Date: June 14th, 2019
Directed by: Tim Story
Written by: Kenya Barris, Alex Barnow
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Christopher Lennertz
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp, Titus Welliver, Method Man, Lauren Velez

Davis Entertainment, Khalabo Ink Society, Netflix, 111 Minutes

Review:

“You’re the one being misogynistic, I never even mentioned her gender! I’m an equal-opportunity ass-whooper!” – John Shaft II

I put this off for awhile, especially after revisiting the 2000 Shaft film, as I found that one to be really lackluster and not as good as my memories of it were.

However, this one was definitely better than the 2000 film and I think that had a lot to do with this installment being more comedic and lighthearted, even though it dealt with some serious stuff.

Overall, this plays more like a Bad Boys film where the buddy cop formula is played out by a father-son duo. The grandfather, the original John Shaft, joins them for the climax.

Sam Jackson is back on his A-game for this one but I’m sure it’ll rub sensitive, cancel culture Millennials the wrong way because he puts them on blast, repeatedly.

In fact, I give the filmmakers and the studio immense props for not taking the bitch route and making this an overly “woke” movie and instead, allowed it to be critical of this generation’s young adults, as seen through the eyes of the older generation.

Weirdly, though, this Shaft film seems to be a lot less obsessed with race and social politics. While I like that these issues have been at the forefront of the other four films in the franchise, it was actually kind of refreshing to see these characters just be badass and not just fighting for some sort of racial injustice.

With that, though, it sort of loses the long-lasting blaxploitation vibe that the name Shaft has carried since 1971. But maybe this was trying to convey that we were starting to enter a post-racial era before 2020 happened and fucked everything up again.

For the most part, I liked everyone in this film. Jessie T. Usher’s John Shaft Jr. was annoying but his character was supposed to be, as part of the story dealt with him being kind of a pussy and overly concerned with how society sees him. He’s a “woke” Millennial that has a grudge against his uber-masculine father, who wasn’t around when he grew up.

These character traits allowed for some great criticism of his generation, though, and Sam Jackson delivers his punches without remorse or worry that his snowflake son wants to hear it or not. In a lot of ways, it felt like the writers and Tim Story, the film’s directors, were trying to send a message to the kids of today that think they’ve got the world figured out.

It also felt that it was trying to convey the importance of fathers, which Hollywood seems to hate.

Honestly, this Shaft film felt like it was really trying to be anti-“woke”.

As far as the crime story goes, it’s a bit weak but in films like this, that stuff doesn’t matter too much. This is more of a film about three generations of men coming together, in spite of their personal issues, in an effort to force justice down the throats of some shitty scumbags.

In the end, this was a better movie than I thought it could be. I don’t think it necessarily needs a sequel but I’d be much more willing to check one out if the same creative team stayed on.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: 2000’s Shaft, as well as the original ’70s Shaft trilogy.

Film Review: Shaft (2000)

Also known as: Shaft Returns (working title)
Release Date: June 16th, 2000
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton, Shane Salerno, Richard Price
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Dan Hedaya, Busta Rhymes, Toni Collette, Richard Roundtree, Lynne Thigpen, Pat Hingle, Mekhi Phifer, Elizabeth Banks, Gordon Parks, Andre Royo, Issac Hayes (uncredited), Lawrence Taylor (cameo)

Scott Rudin Productions, New Deal Productions, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Golf is phat… Tiger Wooo, Tiger Wooo, I like him.” – Peoples Hernandez

While I did dig this when it came out in 2000, I hadn’t seen it since then. I’ve gotta say, it hasn’t aged well at all.

This film feels like a relic and it feels like it is about five years older than it is. It had more cheesy, ’90s action flavor than it did the ’70s blaxploitation aesthetic it was trying to recapture and homage.

Shaft, the 2000 version, is just a mundane, boring movie that surprisingly had a good director and an incredible cast that couldn’t keep this ship afloat. It’s a sinker and a stinker.

I guess, despite initially enjoying it, there just wasn’t enough beyond one viewing that ever really made me want to revisit this. And I only did so now because I haven’t reviewed it and also because I wanted to revisit it to re-familiarize myself with Sam Jackson’s incarnation of Shaft before watching the 2019 version, which is now streaming on HBO.

Overall, Jackson was the perfect choice for a modern Shaft. I also liked seeing Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale in this, as the villains. However, despite the awesomeness that was Wright’s Dominican accent, everything just feels pedestrian and dry.

There are no real surprises in the film and it plays out quite sloppily. It’s a clunky story with a few subplots that all seem forced and unnecessary. In fact, the movie is overly complicated and it feels like it is more into showcasing yuppie racism than it is at telling a good plot or making you care about any of the characters in any way that is deeper than just surface level. It certainly needs more character development than plot layers. The movie gets lost within itself and if you don’t care about anyone, what’s the point?

It’s not a poorly acted film but it is poorly written and directed. John Singleton has proved, specifically before this, that he is capable of so much more.

I guess this is okay if you go into it as just a mindless 99 minute action romp but it’s nowhere near as cool as it thinks it is and it pales in comparison to the original film it wanted so hard to be.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Shaft franchise, as well as late ’90s/’00s Samuel Jackson action movies.

Film Review: Original Gangstas (1996)

Also known as: Warzone, Hot City (working titles)
Release Date: May 10th, 1996
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Aubrey K. Rattan
Music by: Vladimir Horunzhy
Cast: Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Isabel Sanford, Ron O’Neal, Richard Roundtree, Oscar Brown Jr., Christopher B. Duncan, Dru Down, Shyheim Franklin, Robert Forster, Charles Napier, Wings Hauser, Godfrey Danchimah, Bushwick Bill (cameo)

Po’ Boy Productions, Orion Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Big talk coming from a faggot who don’t even know what sex his mother is.” – John Bookman

Strangely, I’ve never seen this until now. I actually owned the soundtrack, back in the day, but I never did get around to seeing the film.

This was directed by Larry Cohen, a guy who helmed a few blaxploitation classics back in the ’70s and then made a career out of directing some iconic B-movie horror flicks. This also re-teamed Larry Cohen and Fred Williamson, who worked together on Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem.

The film is a sort of modern homage to the blaxploitation films of the ’70s while also capitalizing off of the early ’90s urban movie craze. It doesn’t just callback to the blaxploitation era by re-teaming Cohen and Williamson, it also brought in other actors from blaxploitation and general exploitation movies: Jim Browm, Pam Grier, Ron O’Neal, Richard Roundtree, Robert Forster and Charles Napier.

Sadly, the plot is pretty weak and the film isn’t very good. I had higher hopes for it, as Larry Cohen can knock the ball out of the park when he wants to.

This is bogged down by a shitty script, shitty dialogue, predictable scenarios and absolutely nothing that doesn’t feel derivative. It’s a carbon copy of all the carbon copy hood movies of its era and adding in blaxploitation legends doesn’t raise the film up, it actually just holds those actors down. They’re better and more capable actors than what we get in this picture.

Frankly, Original Gangstas misses its mark but that’s not to say that it’s unwatchable. I enjoyed it simply because these actors were all together in one movie. However, if you take them out, this is abysmal and completely forgettable.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: the blaxploitation films it is an homage to, as well as early ’90s urban cinema.

Documentary Review: American Grindhouse (2010)

Release Date: March 13th, 2010 (SXSW)
Directed by: Elijah Drenner
Written by: Elijah Drenner, Calum Waddell
Music by: Jason Brandt
Cast: Robert Forster (narrator), Eddie Muller, John Landis, Joe Dante, Herschell Gordon Lewis, William Lustig, Lewis Teague, David Hess, Jack Hill, Fred Williamson, Larry Cohen, Jonathan Kaplan, various

Lux Digital Pictures, End Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

This was a cool documentary but the title may be a bit misleading, as it isn’t specifically just about grindhouse pictures. It actually goes much deeper than that and discusses the history of exploitation film in general, going back as far as the Pre-Code Era and explaining what that was, how it ended and then how films evolved in the aftermath.

The best part about this documentary is that it interviewed so many great creators that were all a part of exploitation filmmaking, as well as also bringing in several experts on the subject. I especially liked seeing Eddie Muller in this, as I mostly only see him involved in things specifically about classic film-noir.

American Grindhouse also gets extra points because it was narrated by the great Robert Forster.

In addition to all that, this documentary featured an absolute fuck ton of movies from all eras and it definitely increased my list of films I need to review, pretty exponentially.

This was well organized, well presented and gave me a lot of insight. Mind you, I say that as someone that is pretty well versed on the subject matter.

American Grindhouse was in my queue for far too long. I didn’t think that I would think highly of it, as documentaries like this are a dime a dozen. However, this one is far ahead of the pack and it impressed me and actually re-energized my love for this type of cinema.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Machete Maidens Unleashed, Corman’s World, Electric Boogaloo, etc.

Film Review: Black Devil Doll (2007)

Release Date: October 31st, 2007 (limited)
Directed by: Jonathan Louis Lewis
Written by: Shawn Lewis, Mitch Mayes
Music by: The Giallos Flame
Cast: Jonathan Louis Lewis, Heather Murphy, Natasha Talonz, Erika Branich, Precious Cox, Christine Svendsen

Lowest Common Denominator Entertainment, Rotten Cotton, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Rated X by an All-White Jury!” – tagline

I never knew of this film’s existence until I was sitting with some friends in Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas and clips of the movie were edited into a video mixtape that was playing on all the TVs in the bar. The scenes of a Black Panther Chucky-like doll violently fucking and then murdering big breasted white girls intrigued me and I had to track down the film.

The same friends and I then had a party where we watched this on DVD, as you could actually get those from Netflix, back in the day. We had our own Tiki horror party and paired this up with Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead, which is basically just a horror themed nudie cutie from the ’60s. I reviewed that ages ago here.

Anyway, this is a dumb movie but I say that lovingly. It’s the sort of dumb, edgy boi, violent, offensive, cinematic trash that can easily entertain me. Since this was only 73 minutes, and actually felt shorter, this was the perfect running time before the joke ran dry and I zoned out.

The story is about a Black Panther who is set to be executed but his soul is then trapped in a little doll, similar to the origin of Chucky. Except this doll likes to fuck and kill big titted women. It’s exploitation at its finest with a supernatural twist.

And that’s basically all this movie is. A plot barely exists and this is mostly just softcore porn scenes with ’70s grindhouse style gore thrown in with a wisecracking killer doll that delivers great one-liners like a pro.

This film won’t resonate with most people bit it wasn’t made to.

It’s really hard to track this down now but if you come across a copy, you should definitely seize the opportunity.

I also remember that there was a sequel sitcom series that was in development. However, it was being crowdfunded and I don’t think it made its goal. If it does exist and you’ve seen it or know how to track it down, let me know in the comments below.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Black Devil Doll From Hell, Dolly Dearest, Dolls and the Child’s Play movies.

Film Review: Foxy Brown (1974)

Also known as: Burn, Coffy, Burn! (working title)
Release Date: April 5th, 1974
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Willie Hutch
Cast: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Terry Carter, Sid Haig

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know… vigilante justice?” – Michael Anderson, “It’s as American as apple pie.” – Foxy Brown

Originally released by American International Pictures on a double bill with Truck Turner, a dynamite film by the way, Foxy Brown was sort of the spiritual successor to Pam Grier’s earlier film with director Jack Hill, Coffy.

I think that this was originally written to be a sequel to Coffy since it’s working title was Burn, Coffy, Burn! but that was changed at some point. Regardless of that, the Foxy Brown character is very similar in style and temperament to the title character in Coffy. Both are characters that become vigilantes, use their sex appeal to their advantage and also have a nurturing nature.

While most people seem to prefer Coffy a bit more than this film, I actually think I like this one better. It felt more fluid and Pam Grier had a little extra level of confidence this round. Not that she was lacking that before but in Foxy Brown she seems a lot more at home in the role.

I also liked the dynamic between Foxy and the villains of the story. They end up catching her and sending her off for a really horrible experience with some piece of shit rednecks in the country but ultimately, she survives, thrives and destroys the bad guys’ lives.

Plus, this also re-teams Grier with Sid Haig. They never spend a lot of time onscreen together but I always like seeing them share a scene.

This isn’t my favorite film within the blaxploitation style but it is one of the best with a female lead and Grier was the best female lead of her era. Although, I prefer Black Mama, White Mama a little bit more.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Coffy, Black Mama, White Mama and other Pam Grier films from the ’70s.

Documentary Review: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)

Release Date: February 7th, 2019
Directed by: Xavier Burgin
Written by: Ashlee Blackwell, Danielle Burrows
Based on: Horror Noire by Robin R. Means Coleman
Music by: Timothy Day
Cast: Robin R. Means Coleman, Ashlee Blackwell, Rusty Cundieff, Keith David, Ernest R. Dickerson, Ken Foree, Richard Lawson, Kelly Jo Minter, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Paula Jai Parker, Jordan Peele, Ken Sagoes, Tony Todd, Rachel True

Stage 3 Productions, Shudder, 83 Minutes

Review:

I’ve seen quite a few documentaries on the history of horror as well as ones on blaxploitation and grindhouse movies. What makes this a unique film is that it examines the history of black horror, specifically.

This is well organized, fabulously presented and the thing that really gives this a lot of life is all the people that they were able to bring in and chat about the subject matter.

Also, this was told from the perspective of black people. We were able to see how certain things in movie history effected them, which is refreshing when most documentaries that cover black cinema usually feature a lot of white voices trying to interpret what they assume black people were feeling.

I think that this film gave a lot of clarity to the cultural impact of certain horror tropes regarding minority characters, as well as Hollywood tropes about race in general.

Most importantly, this honors the films it features, as well as all the talent that worked behind the scenes and on the screen.

This is a Shudder exclusive but between this, the new Joe Bob Briggs show and all their great horror film selections, you should already be subscribed. Plus, it’s cheaper than all those other streaming services.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other retrospective documentaries on horror and blaxploitation cinema.

Film Review: Shaft (1971)

Release Date: June 25th, 1971 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Gordon Parks
Written by: Ernest Tidyman, John D. F. Black
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Issac Hayes, Johnny Allen
Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t let your mouth get your ass in trouble.” – John Shaft

When I was a kid, two movies introduced me to the blaxploitation genre and black cinema of the ’70s. Those films were Dolemite and Shaft. Since that time, I have gone on to immerse myself in the genre and to try and soak up all it has to offer. While I still like Shaft, it feels like diet blaxploitation, as it is pretty light when compared to some of the edgier and less commercially marketable stuff of the era.

But the thing is, Shaft really kicked the door down and left it wide open for all the other movies to come rushing in right after it. It wasn’t the first film of its kind but it was the first to make a massive impact and to help these films crossover with a bigger audience. Shaft went beyond the inner city theaters and bled into suburban America and eventually, it grew beyond that as well. Today, it’s widely considered to be a classic from its time period.

Shaft is just a really refined picture for what it is. It feels bigger and larger and less grindhouse-y. It was put out by a major studio and when compared to the blaxploitation films before it, it just has a sort of professional touch and a magic about it. That’s not to take anything away from Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and Cotton Comes to Harlem but Shaft had a feel of Hollywood legitimacy to it. Granted, I prefer a lot of the lower budget blaxploitation stuff like Dolemite but I have to respect Shaft for what it accomplished and what that meant for its era in black filmmaking.

Plus, Richard Roundtree is perfect as the super cool, no nonsense, badass John Shaft. There aren’t a lot of men that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Roundtree and have his sort of presence. Okay, maybe Fred Williamson and Jim Brown but you get the picture, Roundtree is one badass MFer.

Moses Gunn is also in this and he has a strong presence as well. Gunn is a well versed actor that can be tough as hell and also quite sweet. He’s great as a domineering gangster in this film yet he was also incredible in The NeverEnding Story, which saw him play a role that was really the antithesis to his role here. I just love seeing Gunn in things and he also has these very powerful looking hands that draw attention to themselves and add an extra bit of mystique to his characters.

Shaft has good action elements to it but not as much as I’d like in an action crime film. Roundtree’s attitude and swagger certainly makes up for the lack of gun play and fisticuffs though.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Shaft sequels and TV series, as well as the Shaft reboot with Sam Jackson. Also goes well with SuperflyCotton Comes to Harlem and Detroit 9000.

Film Review: Bucktown (1975)

Also known as: Bucktown, USA (alternate title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1975
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Bob Ellison
Music by: Johnny Pate
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Carl Weathers

Essaness Pictures, Plitt Theaters, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not going to kill me. News travels fast. It’s bound to get to the state troopers. If they ask any questions, you’re gonna tell your black mayor to tell them that you’re holding the chief of police for breaking thew law. No, you’re gonna keep me alive. ‘Cause I’m gonna keep you black asses from burning in hell! ” – Chief Patterson

This is probably my favorite Fred Williamson movie after Black Caesar. Plus, it also has the always dynamite Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, who I enjoyed in Blacula, as well as a small role for a young Carl Weathers, just before he’d go on to be immortalized as Apollo Creed, a year later, in Rocky.

The plot for Bucktown isn’t wholly original but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one either. Fred Williamson comes to town after his brother’s death in order to bury him and settle his estate. He learns of the deep corruption in the town, which was instrumental in his brothers death. He decides to call in some friends to help him clean up the town from the dirty cops and politicians. While they succeed, these friends decide to rule the town themselves, making things even worse than they were to begin with.

The narrative has a lot in common with several westerns, which I know Williamson was a fan of and he even went on to make a few. This just had the blaxploitation twist to it, where the corrupt officials were bigoted racists and the people being oppressed were black. But it is clever in how it shows that the immediate solution, having a town run by their own people, faces the same challenges when it comes to power, greed and control.

Fred Williamson really commanded the screen in this. Not that that has ever been a challenge for him but his presence here is powerful just like in Black Caesar and Boss Nigger. Pam Grier obviously carries her own and adds a level of gravitas that enhances the badass nature of this motion picture. Man, I love Grier and Williamson and seeing them come together, being on the same page, fighting for the same thing is a real treat.

The finale of the picture sees Williamson take on his former friends in a S.W.A.T. tank. He blows up a car by smashing into it, crashes through the enemy’s stronghold wall and unloads bullets into the thugs that he was responsible for bringing to town.

While not the greatest film in the blaxploitation genre, Bucktown is still a high octane affair that felt tailor made for all of Williamson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Black CaesarHell Up In HarlemCoffy and Foxy Brown.

Film Review: Detroit 9000 (1973)

Also known as: The Holy Hill Caper (working title), Detroit Heat (video title), Police Call 9000 (Canada), S.O.S. Black Guns (France), Call Detroit 9000 (UK & Ireland)
Release Date: August, 1973 (Detroit)
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Orville H. Hampton
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Alex Rocco, Hari Rhodes, Vonetta McGee, Herb Jefferson Jr., Ella Edwards, Scatman Crothers

General Film Corporation, Rolling Thunder Pictures (1998 re-release), 106 Minutes

Review:

“Was this a honky caper to keep black power from taking over the state Senate?” – Reporter

Detroit 9000 was originally marketed as a blaxploitation film during the height of that genre’s run. In reality, it is less blaxploitation and more urban crime thriller.

It was never hugely successful but it had a resurgence in the late ’90s when Quentin Tarantino helped to get it in the public eye by sampling it on his Jackie Brown soundtrack and by helping to get it redistributed into some theaters. A DVD release followed that.

The film stars Alex Rocco and I love seeing him in his younger days. He’s a guy who I’ve appreciated in just about everything he’s done. Here, he plays a cop trying to do things by the book in a town full of corruption, crime and racial tension. His partner is black and played by Hari Rhodes. The two of them had a dynamic relationship that works well on screen.

You also get to see Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation cinema, and Scatman Crothers as a charismatic preacher.

The one thing that this film had working for it was the action. Sure, there are some flaws, like a noticeable squib on a guy’s neck before it blows open and that same guy firing an assault rifle in the most nonsensical way possible, but this picture is action heavy with a lot of gravitas.

It also feels gritty and real. While that was normal for urban movies of the era, this one just has an extra level of authenticity. It was filmed on location in Detroit and the city really is a character in this film in the same way that New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles really came to life in some of the top film-noir pictures of the 1940s.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I’m a fan of blaxploitation flicks and while this isn’t a true blaxploitation picture, it was kind of better than that style’s average offering due to being more of a straight up crime picture. Yes, racial issues were at the forefront but this felt less like a political and social statement and more like a buddy cop action movie that just happened to take place in that cinematic landscape.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Cotton Comes to HarlemBlack CaesarThe MackTruck Turner and Bucktown.