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: 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: That Guy Dick Miller (2014)

Release Date: March 7th, 2014 (SXSW)
Directed by: Elijah Drenner
Music by: Jason Brandt
Cast: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Allan Arkush, Julie Corman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, William Sadler, Robert Picardo, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Jonathan Haze, Jack Hill, Leonard Maltin, John Sayles, Mary Woronov

Autumn Rose Productions, End Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

If you don’t know who Dick Miller is or at least recognize his face, you were probably born after the year 2000. Even then, if you’ve ever watched a film before that time, you have most likely seen him at one point or a dozen.

Dick Miller was in everything from the 1950s through the 1990s. No, seriously, he was. Well, at least it seemed like he was in everything. The man has 180 credits to his name according to IMDb. Growing up in the ’80s, I saw him pop up a few times a year in the coolest movies of the time. The one that will always stand out the most for me was his part in Gremlins, which was the first time I remember seeing him. Every time I saw Mr. Miller after that was always a nice treat.

As I got older and went back and watched older films, especially when I found a love for Roger Corman’s pictures, I started to experience a younger and hip Dick Miller. He started his career in a lot of those early Roger Corman pictures and that association would serve him well, as all the young directors who rose to prominence, who were influenced by Corman, started hiring Miller for their films.

This documentary goes back and shows Miller’s early life, how he made the connection with Corman and how his career blossomed in unseen ways because of it. I love that it goes through his long history in films and interviews a lot of the people who were there alongside him. It also talks to the directors who hired him and have a love for his work.

Dick Miller is a guy that deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the films he was a part of. He was a mainstay in Hollywood for decades and if he was in a movie it sort of legitimized it as cool. It didn’t matter when he got older either, as he took over the screen in his cameos in a lot of Joe Dante’s pictures.

That Guy Dick Miller is a pretty awesome documentary for fans who grew up watching this guy work. Even if you aren’t familiar with him, this is probably still enjoyable and will give you a solid appreciation for the man and the films he was a part of.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other showbiz documentaries: Corman’s World and Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.

Film Review: Coffy (1973)

Release Date: June 13th, 1973
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Roy Ayers
Cast: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott, Allan Arbus, Sid Haig, Leslie McRae

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“It was easy for him because he really didn’t believe it was comin’, but it ain’t gonna be easy for you, because you better believe it’s comin’!” – Coffy

Jack Hill made some damn cool pictures in the 1970s. Coffy is the first time he used Pam Grier as his top billed star and it is her breakout role, even though she appeared in a handful of those “women in prison” movies before this.

Grier plays Coffy, a black female vigilante that takes matters into her own hands when she hunts down and kills all the drug pushers that she holds responsible for turning her sister and her community into addicts. Basically, she is like a black female Punisher but much sexier and a lot cooler. The film’s original marketing tagline read, “They call her ‘Coffy’ and she’ll cream you!” If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.

I first discovered Pam Grier when she had her recurring role on Miami Vice but I thought she was cool then and I had no idea about what she did in the decade before my childhood. As I became a teenager, I learned about Foxy Brown and this film and then experienced her return to form in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Coffy, is really where Grier created the persona that would become her forte.

Grier carries this film. In some scenes, she has help from the always sinister yet entertaining Sid Haig, probably now most famous for playing Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. This is Grier’s film though and she shines. But it is cool seeing her play opposite of Haig.

This is a pretty gritty and raw motion picture and having a female lead was really cool, especially when you didn’t get to see women play these tough roles. The ’70s really shattered the damsel in distress formula and it was blaxploitation pictures that helped lead the way. And really, it was Coffy that was out in front of all the others. At least, in my opinion. It’s just an iconic picture and still, one of the best things Pam Grier ever did.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Tonight For Sure! (1962)

Also known as: Meet Me Tonight for Sure
Release Date: October 25th, 1962 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Shaffer
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Don Kenney, Karl Schanzer

Searchlight Productions, Premier Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“The Harem Club, home of the most beautiful girls in burlesque presents: The most beautiful girls in burlesque!” – Announcer

Every director has to start somewhere and for legendary auteur Francis Ford Coppola, this was his directorial debut. There is nothing to be ashamed of about this, however. It really just sort of fits in with the nudie cuties of the time – none of which are good movies.

Yes, this is an awful film but it is basically a softcore sex picture without any sex, really. It just follows two guys around doing dumb shit and then is constantly interrupted to show a girl shaking her juggies for no real reason other than people wanted to see bare boobies on the big screen after the motion picture industry wasn’t forced to adhere to outdated government mandated morality codes. Film was now free to be art and sexploitation pictures flourished.

To be honest, Coppola didn’t show any real signs of his talent with this movie. He hadn’t fully been exposed to the tutelage he’d get from B-movie King Roger Corman. Regardless, this still helped him develop the tools and skill set that would lead to his magnum opus The Godfather, just ten years later.

The cinematography on this film was handled by Jack Hill, a man that would go on to direct several pivotal exploitation films. His directorial work includes the Pam Grier movies Coffy and Foxy Brown, as well as a personal favorite of mine, Switchblade Sisters.

Compared to other nudie cuties, this one is pretty standard. Now while I don’t enjoy it as much as Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead, it still fits well within this bizarre and short lived genre. Also, it was a launching pad for one of the best directors of the last half century.

For this being what it is, even with such a low rating, I can’t run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. It works for its genre, which was a genre not known for its quality. Plus, presenting a cornucopia of fabulous titties gets you off the hook.

Rating: 2/10