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.

Film Review: Ghosts of Mars (2001)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (complete title)
Release Date: August 24th, 2001
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Larry Sulkis
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy, Robert Carradine, Wanda De Jesus, Peter Jason

Storm King Productions, Screen Gems, 98 Minutes

Review:

“…Friday night, the whole place should be packed. A whole twelve hours before sun up and there’s money to burn, whores to fuck and drugs to take.” – Melanie Ballard

Well, this was the only John Carpenter film I had never seen. That is, until now. I just remember that when it was coming out, I thought it looked terrible. My friends that did see it only confirmed my reservations about it and in fact, they were harsher on this film than I expected. So I never really wanted to give it a watch but hey, I review movies and this was on my Starz app, so I figured I’d torture myself for 98 minutes.

I wouldn’t quite say that it was torture though. It was stupid enough to entertain me but it didn’t do much to excite me. And it’s not like John Carpenter did anything wrong, it’s just that this proved that his style had become dated. Had this script been shot by him in the late ’80s, this could have been a film that was remembered more fondly because it would’ve fit that era better.

A big issue with it though, is its reliance on poorly shot and constructed miniatures, very confined sets and going the digital route in places where practical effects would’ve probably worked better. Also, it definitely lacks in the violence department, at least in what one should expect from a Carpenter film.

It’s also kind of a boring movie, for the most part. The villains are pretty shitty and this is really just a movie with space zombies that understand how to use primitive weapons. Also, the main villain just looked like any generic horror monster from the late ’90s that was trying to be a scarier version of Marilyn Manson but just ended up looking like a goth kid without a good Halloween costume.

The acting in this is terrible too. Ice Cube can do better but he really just plays himself and dialed it in. Natasha Henstridge was okay and at least believable in her role but she looked bored. Statham was pointless in this, as was Clea DuVall, who can deliver a good performance when given the right role.

This isn’t an unwatchable movie but I can’t recommend it. I think that most people will actually hate it, even though I found it okay enough to kill 98 minutes during a tropical depression.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Later John Carpenter films, as well as other films from the era that dealt with Mars: Red Planet and Mission to Mars.

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: Mars Attacks! (1996)

Release Date: December 12th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Jonathan Gems
Based on: Mars Attacks by Topps
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Black, Christina Applegate, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, Ray J, Joseph Maher, Frank Welker (voice)

Tim Burton Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“They blew up Congress! Ha ha ha ha!” – Grandma Florence Norris

While this isn’t one of Tim Burton’s most popular films, it is one of my favorites and I feel like it missed its mark because it’s not the type of film that would resonate with most people.

Mars Attacks! came out in late 1996, not too long after Independence Day ruled American culture that same summer. Maybe people were confused that this was a ripoff of it or that one big alien invasion movie was enough to digest but either way, I don’t think people realized that this was vastly different and sort of a parody of the genre while also being an incredible live action adaptation of the Mars Attacks trading cards that Topps put out in the 1960s. It’s like those who were kids in the ’60s no longer cared and the teens of the ’90s didn’t know the reference.

Still, this is a hilarious romp starring dozens of top notch celebrities where not a single one of them is actually safe. I mean, these Martians murder Congress, the President and even try to crush a troop of Cub Scouts with the Washington Monument. They are sick, sadistic and really, just friggin’ awesome. They are also voiced by Frank Welker, the guy who gave life to Megatron from the original and still greatest Transformers cartoon.

By the star power that this movie has, it’s clear that Hollywood got the joke and appreciated it even if audiences didn’t flock to see this. Still, it wasn’t a massive failure, by any means. It did fairly well but not as well as what Warner Bros. was probably hoping for with Tim Burton being a mega earner for the studio. While it took some time, the film did earn back the $100 million that was put into it. It was considered a box office bomb in the United States but it fared much better internationally.

This is one of the most hysterical films of the ’90s put out by a major studio. The humor is perfect, the tone is great and it pokes fun at so many different facets of Americana that it almost feels like it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The special effects look dated but they looked sort of cheesy in the mid ’90s. The film was supposed to have a hokey, old school vibe to it though. Really, the effects are great and they work for what this picture is. It’s not Independence Day and didn’t need to take itself as seriously in the visual effects department.

From a stylistic standpoint, the film really has a timeless feel to it. It merges modern style with ’50s and ’60s style in a seamless way that gives this film a magical quality.

Additionally, this picture boasts one of my favorite Danny Elfman scores of all-time. The theme is powerful and perfect and really fits that old school Elfman sound. Frankly, watching this film makes me appreciate and miss the quality of Burton and Elfman’s old school collaborations.

What really resonates with me is how this film balances comedy with how dark it actually is. It’s an absurd picture in the best way possible and shows that Tim Burton really has a dark sense of humor. Well, Beetlejuice was really effective in showing that aspect of Burton as well.

Mars Attacks! was underappreciated when it came out in 1996. It is still underappreciated today, as people that like to list out their favorite Tim Burton films always have this near the bottom of the list. Like I said, it isn’t for everyone but Burton fans, who understand Burton’s influences, should really love this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Joe Dante’s Matinee and alien invasion B-movies of the ’50s.

Film Review: Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

Also known as: Blacula II, Blacula is Beautiful, Blacula Lives Again!, The Name is Blacula
Release Date: June 27th, 1973
Directed by: Bob Kelljan
Written by: Joan Torres, Raymond Koenig, Maurice Jules
Music by: Bill Marx
Cast: William Marshall, Pam Grier, Don Mitchell, Michael Conrad, Lynne Moody, Richard Lawson

Power Productions, American International Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Your bread, man, all of it! Or are we gonna have to become anti-social and kick your ass?” – Pimp, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any ‘bread’ on me, and as for ‘kicking my ass’ I’d strongly suggest you give it careful consideration before trying.” – Blacula/Mamuwalde

Blacula was a better than decent attempt at merging blaxploitation cinema with classic horror. It also did fairly well for American International, so a sequel was pretty much a no brainer.

William Marshall came back but that was it. But if you need to find someone to replace Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation pictures, you hire the other queen, Pam Grier.

This film also brings in a voodoo twist and its a voodoo ritual that resurrects the bones of Blacula and brings him back into the world once again. Grier also plays a voodoo practitioner that becomes the apple of Blacula’s eye since his beloved African princess isn’t in this tale. All things considered, while I loved Marshall and McGee playing opposite of one another, I really liked Marshall’s chemistry with Grier too.

The gist of the story is about how a voodoo priestess, Lisa Fortier, chooses an apprentice to be her successor that isn’t the man destined to be her true heir. The rejected heir becomes outraged, buys the bones of Blacula and uses his powers to bring the vampire back to life. The evil voodoo heir needs Blacula to help him get revenge but Blacula turns him into a vampire and enslaves his spirit. As the film rolls on, Blacula ends up with a large vampire horde that is hard for him to control and after being smitten with Grier’s Lisa, he must protect her from his own children of the night.

While this isn’t as good as the first Blacula, it isn’t a huge step down either. I liked Grier, a lot. I also liked the voodoo element and the fact that it came with its own twists and powers that could be exploited in this tale of hungry rogue vampires. Plus, William Marshall just looked so comfortable in the role. While he isn’t the traditional Dracula, he brings a certain gravitas and legitimacy to the Dracula mythos and holds his own against some of the greats. He’s certainly better as a Dracula-esque character than the vast majority of actors who stepped into the role of a vampiric aristocrat.

Scream Blacula Scream was good enough to at least warrant another sequel but alas, this was the last film in the short-lived Blacula series. There have been rumors of a remake for years but nothing has ever actually materialized. But I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Blacula as the undead never truly stay dead.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Blacula, of course! I also like watching these paired with those two Count Yorga movies from the same era and also put out by American International.

Film Review: Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

Also known as: Chains of Hate (alternate), Women In Chains (Canada), Hot, Hard and Mean (UK), Chained Women (Philippines), Frauen in Ketten (Germany)
Release Date: January 19th, 1973
Directed by: Eddie Romero
Written by: H. R. Christian
Based on: an original story by Joseph Viola, Jonathan Demme
Music by: Harry Betts
Cast: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Sid Haig

Four Associates Ltd., American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Some jive-ass revolution don’t mean shit to me!” – Lee Daniels

This film has been on my radar for years but I never had the opportunity to watch it until recently. I expected it to be a “women in prison” film but with the girls on the run and chained together while they spit racist shit back and forth at each other. However, it is a much better movie than that and to be completely honest, I was surprised about how good this movie actually is.

But really, I shouldn’t be surprised about the film’s quality, as Pam Grier has “the thing”. I can’t really define “the thing” but it’s this quality certain actors have that just makes them standout and rise above everything around them, as a beacon of absolute awesomeness, even if they are in a film that is total shit. Luckily, this film isn’t total shit, so it’s even better than just it’s great star.

Grier does have some help though because Margaret Markov, the white girl chained to her, is really damn good in her role too. You actually care about these girls and their separate agendas where in any other movie like this, you really wouldn’t give a shit and just hoped that violence or a titty were going to pop into the next shot.

Black Mama, White Mama also features Sid Haig in what is now one of my favorite roles he’s ever played. He’s basically a white cowboy criminal kingpin that wears colorful shirts, a sweet hat and rules his particular island of the Philippines with a big posse and big guns.

This starts as a standard “women in prison” movie, except that it takes place (and was shot) in the Philippines. Then there is an escape when the prison bus carrying the girls is attacked. One wants to go one way, to reach a boat with a lot of money, the other wants to go the other way, to her boyfriend and to help fight a revolution to free the island from tyranny. There are police in pursuit, a Filipino kingpin in pursuit, an American kingpin in pursuit, revolutionaries in pursuit, dogs in pursuit and a whole lot of sexy women running away from all of it.

Black Mama, White Mama is exceptional when looking at it within the context of being some throwaway, run of the mill, sexploitation, grindhouse, “women in prison” movie. It feels less grindhouse-y and more like something Cannon Films would make in the ’80s.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Pam Grier movies from the era. It’s not a standard “women in prison” film and it’s not an urban action drama but any Grier film will still probably flow well with this regardless.

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