Film Review: Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, J. Evan Bonifant, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, B.B. King, The Blues Brothers Band, Erykah Badu, Blues Traveler, Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Bo Diddley, Issac Hayes, Dr. John, Lou Rawls, Paul Shaffer, Travis Tritt, Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Winwood, Kathleen Freeman, Frank Oz, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Nia Peeples, Darrell Hammond, Max Landis

Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, Willie, you gotta understand. Those goons are orphan remnants of the post-perestroika Soviet secret police apparatus, which, until 1991, carried out its twisted interpretation of the original well-intentioned Marxist-Leninist doctrine vis-a-vis state security, which was massively corrupted by Lavrentiy Beria in the ’30s. Of course, once a mass populace is coerced into such behavior as a permanent condition, a radical didactic, dialectic shift, such as glasnost, produces guys like these:…” – Elwood Blues

I never wanted to see this movie.

For one, the first one was perfect and should have been left alone. Especially, after the death of John Belushi. Had he not passed away at a young age and then wanted to do a sequel, I probably would’ve been fine with that. Something just seemed grossly inappropriate about this film even being made but Hollywood has no morals, shame or respect for anything so I can’t say that this movie’s existence didn’t surprise me.

I figured that I’d give it a fair shot, though. Mainly, I wanted to review it and because maybe I was initially too harsh on this and it’s possible that it might be a nice tribute to Belushi.

Well, I wouldn’t call it nice or even good, really. Now it’s not as terrible as other people have led me to believe, over the years, but it’s kind of a pointless movie.

The reason why it’s pointless is that it takes all of the famous beats of the original film and just reuses them… poorly. It’s like Dan Aykroyd and John Landis dusted off the script to the original, changed some character and location names, moved some scenes out of sequence and then tried to do some clever modifications. Unfortunately, these tricks were really transparent and what we’re left with is a lame, terribly derivative picture that doesn’t have a reason to exist. Well, except for maybe one reason.

That reason is the music itself. I know that Aykroyd and Landis love the blues and they, at the very least, were able to create some solid musical sequences that I enjoyed. Now none of them are as iconic as the ones from the original movie but these sequences are where you can see that the creatives involved in the movie were really trying their damnedest to make this something special.

So, I can’t knock the musical parts but if the threads holding these sequences together is made of shit material, well, the semi-attractive tapestry is just going to fall apart. And sadly, that’s what happens with this movie.

In the end, I don’t hate this but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: its far superior predecessor and other John Landis comedies.

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, Daniel von Bargen, 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: CB4 (1993)

Release Date: March 12th, 1993
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Chris Rock, Nelson George, Robert LoCash
Music by: John Barnes, various
Cast: Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Deezer D, Phil Hartman, Chris Elliott, Charlie Murphy, Khandi Alexander, Art Evans, Theresa Randle, Willard E. Pugh, Rachel True, Richard Gant, Stoney Jackson, J.D. Daniels, LaWanda Page, Tommy Davidson (uncredited), Shirley Hemphill (cameo), Issac Hayes (cameo), Ice-T (cameo), Halle Berry (cameo), Ice Cube (cameo), Flavor Flav (cameo), Shaquille O’Neal (cameo), Eazy-E (cameo), Butthole Surfers (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You ain’t tough. There are real some kids out there that are going to kick your narrow ass. You ain’t from the street, I’m from the street. And only somebody who wasn’t would think it was something to glorify.” – Albert, Sr.

When I reviewed Fear of a Black Hat several months ago, I brought up how similar these two movies were and how one may be ripping off the other. I also said that I preferred that one slightly but now, after revisiting CB4 for the first time in quite a long time, this picture just slightly takes the cake.

I think that over time, my memories downplayed how clever this movie was. While Fear of a Black Hat is more gritty and certainly more indie, CB4 feels like it has a better grasp on the material and it is much more refined and is a better complete body of work.

While some of the jokes and gags, almost thirty years later, may be over some people’s heads now, I still think that this aged well and it carries a good positive message. The gist of what the film tries to communicate is still very apparent, despite outdated references to a time when rap music was much better than whatever this modern mumble rap garbage is today.

Chris Rock was great in this and I have to say, it’s my favorite picture where he is the star. He’s relatable, he’s likable and his character is very human despite getting lost in the glamour, glitz and bullshit of trying to make it in the early ’90s rap game. Ultimately, even if his spirit is corrupted, it’s the goodness within himself (and his two best friends) that wins out and makes things right in the end.

One thing I really loved about this movie was the music. While most of it is parody of what was the gangsta rap of its era, it’s all really damn good. I actually owned the soundtrack in my teen years and used to bump it quite regularly.

Even though this came out very early in Chris Rock’s career, I still feel as if it is his magnum opus as an actor, comedian and writer. Sure, he’s always been funny but something about CB4 just felt like it was real personal for him and it’s something that truly comes out when you watch the film.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: a movie that’s very similar, Fear of a Black Hat.

Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Ted Levine, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

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: Truck Turner (1974)

Release Date: April 19th, 1974
Directed by: Jonathan Kaplan
Written by: Michael Allin, Jerry Wilkes, Oscar Williams
Music by: Issac Hayes
Cast: Issac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Nichelle Nichols, Stan Shaw

American international Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

I heard the Truck Turner theme when I was a kid and thought it was bad ass. My cousin told me that I should see the movie. I didn’t actually see it until my teen years in the 90s, as I was working my way through all the blaxploitation films I could get my hands on from various mom and pop video stores throughout southern Florida. I actually haven’t seen it since that time and really needed a refresher on just how tough and cool Issac Hayes could be. Luckily, I was able to rent it on Amazon Video.

It was nice seeing this again. I actually forgot how much I loved it until the film started rolling and the memories poured back into my head. I mean, shit, not only do you have Issac Hayes but you have Yaphet Kotto playing the bad ass villain and Star Trek‘s Lt. Uhura a.k.a. Nichelle Nichols as a vengeance seeking lady pimp. Then this thing is backed up by Hayes’ music. How could this not be great?

Hayes plays Mack “Truck” Turner, a tough as nails bounty hunter. While trying to catch a dangerous pimp, Turner ends up killing the man. His girlfriend takes over his empire but she promises to give all her hoes to whoever can take out Turner. She is angry because her lover died and she will stop at nothing to see Turner pay for it. Yaphet Kotto ends up being the best man for the job, as other pimps and gangsters try to take out Turner and fail. Ultimately, we end up with a balls to the wall action thriller that is cooler than a refrigerator on a Colorado mountaintop.

The film is violent but not so much so that the average person will be offended. It is kind of light when comparing it to blaxploitation films like Dolemite. While it doesn’t have the hard and heavy edge, it still has gravitas. But it also has style… lots of style. It is also lighthearted and almost a comedy at times. Overall, the film is a good balance of bad ass and fun.

Truck Turner is well shot, well directed and it feels like it has a bigger budget than it does. It feels more like a major studio blaxploitation film, as opposed to something put out by American International Pictures. They did a pretty fine job in making this film come off as much better than their typical low budget flicks.

If you are a fan of Issac Hayes and you haven’t seen Truck Turner, what the hell is wrong with you? You owe it to yourself to experience this thing. If you aren’t an Issac Hayes fan, you should probably lean your head against a deli meat slicer.

Rating: 7.25/10