When I was young I would occasionally see an old movie that felt clearly dated and I would ask myself if nobody perceived these elements in the movie as being stale at the time. I couldn’t imagine people not recognizing the stiff acting or really crappy special effects, but being in my thirties now I’ve come upon movies I loved as a teenager but 20 years later don’t hold up as well as I though they would be. One of those movies I have these sentiments about is a movie I just watched again recently: Demolition Man.
Black Snake is set in 1835 on San Cristobal Island which was part of the British West Indies. Here, a section of the locals has been enslaved by the Blackmoor sugar cane plantation to perform forced labor. The plant is run by the blonde-haired, dressed in black, whip-wielding Lady Susan Walker (Anouska Hempel). Susan rides around on a horse giving orders and is happy to use the whip should these orders not be followed through. On the contrary to what you might think at first glance, Susan isn’t enjoying the abuse but she does love the luxurious lifestyle she can only maintain by running the plant firm and ruthless.
Susan has also left behind a trail of dead or missing husbands in her wake. Susan’s latest missing husband is Jonathan Walker, his disappearance is the reason his brother travels from England to the plantation to go undercover posing as a bookkeeper while trying to find out what happened to him.
Most of the day to day slave-running chores are left to the sadistic Joxer Tierney (Percy Herbert) who has a wide range of racial slurs he yells at the slaves. His rage is fueled by his impotence and he refers to his whip as a “black snake”, hence the title.
Highlighted also are the slaves who are slowly but surely getting ready to revolt against their imprisonment. They’re led by young Joshua (Milton McCollin) but his pacifist bible-quoting father Isaiah (Thomas Baptiste) discourages him in fear of repercussions, which is justified as Susan and Joxer eventually crucify Joshua to set an example but achieve the opposite as the boiling point has been reached and it sets of the revolt.
With the release of Straight Outta Compton last week a somewhat dormant genre has been given a fresh breath of life: the “urban drama” or rather the “black urban drama” also known as “hood movies” though that term applies to all movies just set in a “hood”. There is an interesting circle of life thing going on here as the subject of Straight Outta Compton, the controversial rap-group N.W.A., is partially the reason this genre exists in the first place. Black urban drama movies where the logical follow-up to the blaxploitation movies of the 70’s. Blaxploitation movies were mostly movies that had no real connection with reality. Some of them dealt with down-to-earth stuff like drugs, prostitution and violence in the black communities but in such a way it could only be seen as escapism for black people who now had people on the cinema screens to look up to. Pam Grier, the one woman army going on a crusade of revenge in movies like Coffy and Foxy Brown or Richard Roundtree in Shaft. Most of the blaxploitation movies were over the top and gave birth to stereotypes like the pimp look which is still in favor today with at least one person at every costumed party.
When the blaxploitation wave of movies settled in the late 70’s black actors and actresses were more and more incorporated in mainstream TV and movies. TV shows like The Cosby Show had high ratings and actors like Mr. T. and Carl Weathers were household names. The only problem was that the black people portrayed on TV were often white in terms of behavior and their situations. The Cosby Show is a good example of this; here is a family living in a big house and the father is a well-paid doctor and the mother a lawyer. Problems like racism don’t exist in this world so there’s never an episode about how Theo was shot by a cop thinking he was going for a gun. In a way The Cosby Show was a movie about white people’s problems but the actors just so happened to be black.
But in the late 80s N.W.A. burst onto the musical scene with their controversial record “Straight Outta Compton” giving birth to gangsta rap, paving the way for artists like Snoop Doggy Dog, 2Pac and Ice-T. What these artists did was provide a rather large percentage of the black community in the US with a voice and gave them a face to the outside world. The world of ghettos and all that accompanies it was something few people outside of them knew anything about, but these artists were able to paint us a pretty good picture with their lyrics. But a picture is worth a 1000 words so it wouldn’t be long before black movie makers would bring the day-to-day life in the ghetto to the big screen giving birth to the “hood movie”.
To me the character of the Hulk seems to be difficult to make a really good movie about. It’s basically Marvel’s take on Jekyll & Hyde but with the Hyde character being an giant green monster seemingly going on a mindless rampage every time Marvel’s Jekyll, Bruce Banner, turns into him. How do you make a good movie about a something which is mostly known for just being tremendously strong, impervious to most weapons and having a mere three word dictionary? Apparently to focus on two things: the man behind the Hulk and love. In 2003 director Ang Lee made the first real theatrical outing of the Hulk which turned out to be nothing short of a disaster. His idea of approaching a comic book movie about a green giant who smashes things was to make a two hour art-house movie with crazy scene transitions who look like comic book panels.
Of all the movies Russ Meyer made The Seven Minutes must be the one which is played the most straight. Even during his roughie period when he made movies like Lorna there was always time for some playful exploitation, but not so here. The Seven Minutes is mostly a courtroom drama leaving little room for Meyer to include his trademark breast-centered shots. As much as the poster promises with a tagline that goes like “An explosive film about a banned book, a rape, and a trial that tore a town apart!” so little does it deliver… in fact only the trial part might be true about that line.
If there is one thing notable about Furious 7 it’s of course the passing of its star Paul Walker during filming. In a twisted sense of irony Walker, one of the few characters that were in the series since the beginning, died in a car crash in the midst of filming this movie leaving the rest of the crew not only devastated but with one problem: what to do with the movie? Together with Vin Diesel they were the characters the movie revolved around, each appearing in 5 of the 6 previous movies. The production crew of the movie decided to finish the movie and keeping Walker’s scenes intact by using his brothers as body and voice doubles as well as CGI to film the rest of the scenes making Furious 7 the final role of Walker and his last performance to be the one that made him famous 14 years ago.
When the slasher franchise Friday The 13th reached its sixth installment subtitled “Jason Lives” the series had reached a point where they could not longer take itself seriously. The result was a slasher that played with the standard conventions of the genre and went for a tongue-in-cheek approach. To emphasize this they parodied the famous James Bond gun barrel sequence by having Jason walk on and throw a machete to the camera. Like “Jason Lives” the third Sharknado movie also has a spoof on the gun barrel sequence as returning star Fin (Ian Ziering) walks on and throws a chainsaw to the camera.
With Sharknado 3 the world’s unlikeliest franchise has come to a point where it’s so familiar with the conventions it two predecessors have set, it embraces them and gives the characters a firm sense of self-awareness making it the goofiest Sharknado movie to date, which is a feat considering the content of the other movies.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls might be the most stand-out movie of director Russ Meyer’s filmography. Compared to his other work this is such a different movie, one that still has the typical Meyer touch, but isn’t anything like his previous work. Meyer, working of a script by Roger Ebert (the well known film critic), has been given a a big bag of money by a renowned Hollywood studio to make them a movie after “Vixen!” proved to be a smashing box-office success, which is saying something since a movie like “Vixen!” would simply go straight to video nowadays. It shows as the production values are clearly higher than any of his other movies, there is a really large cast and in terms of story telling Ebert’s style of writing is vastly different than Russ Meyer’s style. The result is a mixed bag which can only be described as outrageously camp.
There is a funny sense of hypocrisy in Russ Meyer’s “Cherry, Harry & Raquel!” as the movies starts off with a lengthy statement against censorship and how “no man has the right to decide for another”. After this statement we are treated to a lengthy opening monologue about how marihuana is smuggled in from Mexico, how it’s pure evil as is has a corrupting influence on its users, who are innocent victims subjugating their own free will. On the one hand Meyer embraces the sexual revolution of the 60’s by providing the care-free flower children of that era with gratuitous nudity filled skin-flicks and any protest against them is considered to be a threat to his and their freedom. On the other hand he paints another element so closely associated with flower power, marihuana, as the root of all evil, as a hard drug turning its users into addicts and therefor an item that is rightfully illegal. So far letting people decide for their own selves what they do and don’t do. It’s sad Meyer isn’t with us today, I wonder how he would have responded to today’s current political climate in which marihuana is not only used as a medicine, it’s freely available in several states. But there is another reason there is a certain sense of hypocrisy surrounding his stance on marihuana: “Cherry, Harry & Raquel!” seems to be made by a guy high on drugs.
A voluptuous young woman is lying naked and drunk on her bed. Also in the room is another well-endowed woman whom she tells that she has got to take clothes off also. The woman starts taking of her clothes and the already naked woman gazes at her breasts and says “So that’s what my husband was after… not bad, not bad, I gotta admit that’s not bad at all”. The woman she’s talking about is Erica Gavin as the title character Vixen, but she could just as well have been referring to this landmark Russ Meyer movie of which I got to admit: it’s not bad, it’s not bad at all.