Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ed Wood (1994)

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, G.D. Spradlin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Movies were his passion. Women were his inspiration. Angora sweaters were his weakness.

Plot: The mostly true story of the legendary director of awful movies and his strange group of friends and actors.

My rating: 9/10

Will I watch it again? YES!

This is my favorite of Burton's films, hands down. I have no idea how much truth there is in this picture but it doesn't matter. It's hilarious, tender and it's filled with wonderful performances (this is back when Depp was doing some real acting instead of playing live-action cartoon characters). Bill Murray slays me and Landau was pitch-perfect as Bela Lugosi. This is the one Burton film that Danny Elfman didn't score. I think they had a brief falling out or something but they were back together for the next one. Howard Shore provides a great batch of music for this one that makes you think of Elfman. I love this score. It's so lounge-y and fun and I LOVE the musical references to Lugosi's DRACULA (1931). The B&W cinematography is flawless and the care that was taken with every aspect of this picture is marvelous. It's clear that Burton had a true love for Wood and his low budget film making. ED WOOD celebrates and revels in it.

Black Fox: The True Story of Adolf Hitler (1962)

Director: Louis Clyde Stoumen

Starring: Adolf & pals, Marlene Dietrich (narrator)

More info: IMDb

Plot: Chronicles the rise of Hitler and Nazism by comparing Hitler to the trickster in the classic story, "Reynard the Fox."

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

#4 on the Black History Month Project 2012

This documentary does a pretty good job of presenting its subject in a scant 90 minutes. You're not going to get anything out of it that you don't already know if you're keen on the subject but you shouldn't go into something like this thinking you would. After all, it was made in 1961. I'm sure for its time it held more impact but by 50 years later it's one of many in a sea of documentary films on the subject. I wasn't wild about the parallel they were going for with the story of the fox. I get it but the film could have done without it and it wouldn't have made much difference if at all. Ezra Laderman's very modern classical score (performed by the New York Chamber Orchestra and the Juilliard String Quartet) has a 20th century dissonance to it that doesn't work for me. I'm more of a Romantic period when it comes to classical music. I'm glad I saw it but it's length dictates that it only stick to the broad bullet points of the rise and fall of Hitler's Germany.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Five on the Black Hand Side (1973)

Director: Oscar Williams

Starring: Clarice Taylor, Leonard Jackson, Kwasi Badu, Tchaka Almoravids, Bonnie Blanfield, Carl Franklin, Virginia Capers, D'urville Martin, Godfrey Cambridge

More info: IMDb

Tagline: You've been coffy-tized, blacula-rized and super-flied - but now you're gonna be glorified, unified and filled-with-pride... when you see "Five on the Black Hand Side"

Plot: A tale of an African-American family going through changes during the 1970s. The older brother Booker T. Washington Brooks is a socialist who talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk. His younger brother Gideon, is a black revolutionary who defies the father and everyone around him. Their sister is getting married and the mother, Mrs. Brooks has had it with her husband. She doesn't really want out of her marriage but she wants some change in their marriage, which not only means her, but her husband. Mrs. Brooks goes to war with help from her neighbors and children. Mr. Brooks wants the best for his children but he is too controlling of how they should live their lives which creates a friction between Gideon and him. He is also resistant to change.

My rating: 4/10

Will I watch it again? Noooooo.

#3 on the Black History Month Project 2012

Although I did spend my childhood growing up in the 1970s I did not, unlike Steve Martin, grow up in a black family. I am not the audience for this flick. Not only could I not identify with it (not that I have to in order to enjoy it, mind you) but it bored the piss out of me. It's a Blaxploitation light comedy/drama that just isn't funny nor is it engaging. The themes that are presented in this flick that some households experienced back then have been done many times - some of them worse and some better (I can't wait to tell you how much fun I had with the super low budget ABAR, THE FIRST BLACK SUPERMAN (1977)) but that doesn't matter because I'm not going to be unfair and compare this to anything. The performances are fine I guess but the whole movie is trying to be a social drama but with some eccentric performances that are supposed to be funny. It's in that grey area, walking that fine line of drama and comedy and not succeeding at either. Oh, and before you get all excited that the GREAT Godfrey Cambridge is in it...it's literally seconds and he got the only laugh out of this jolly-ass mother fucker...and at the very beginning of the picture, too. Great theme song and trailer, though.

Black Moon (1934)

Director: Roy William Neill

Starring: Jack Holt, Fay Wray, Dorothy Burgess, Cora Sue Collins, Arnold Korff, Clarence Muse

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Love battling against the sorcery of the jungle!

Plot: A young girl who lives on a tropical island loses her parents to a voodoo sacrifice, but although she manages to escape the island, a curse is put on her. Years later, as an adult, she feels a strong compulsion to return to the island to confront her past. Her husband, her daughter and her nanny go with her, but once back on the island, the woman finds herself elevated by the locals to the stature of a voodoo goddess, and she begins her inevitable descent into madness, with disastrous results for her family.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

#2 on the Black History Month Project 2012

There's one thing I can generally say about movies of the 1930s, particularly horror pictures, and that I'm rarely bored with any of them. Maybe it's because a lot of the low budget fare hovers around the 60 minute length (this one's an hour and five minutes) and that they typically pack a lot of story in that brief time. They aren't always exciting and I might be disappointed but they generally entertain and keep me from falling asleep. BLACK MOON fits that bill.

The performances are likable. One thing I dig is that it took only 11 minutes to get out of the big city and to the islands where all the fun Voodoo shit starts to happen. There's a good deal of build-up of dread for the eventual showdown that comes at the climax (see the last 9 minutes in the video above) and it's a pretty good one, too. You'll have to look past the racial stereotypes that were prevalent at that time but by and large it's a pretty good horror picture. I couldn't help but be reminded the whole time of a better island Voodoo horror flick from 1943, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. Another thing these two flicks have in common is the underlying dread weaved throughout each scene with the soft, constant and muddled beating of the drums. Tourneur used it to a better effect in ZOMBIE but I was surprised to hear it in this picture that came 9 years earlier. I wonder if Tourneur had seen this picture and garnered inspiration from it. Who knows. MOON is worth catching for fans of this type of horror but you're only likely to find it on TCM

Monday, February 6, 2012

Black Caesar (1973)

Director: Larry Cohen

Starring: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund, D'Urville Martin, Julius Harris, Minnie Gentry, Philip Roye, William Wellman Jr., James Dixon, Val Avery

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Hail Caesar, Godfather of Harlem...The Cat with the .45-Caliber Claws!

Plot: Tommy Gibbs is a tough kid, raised in the ghetto, who aspires to be a kingpin criminal. As a young boy, his leg is broken by a bad cop on the take, during a payoff gone bad. Nursing his vengeance, he rises to power in Harlem, New York. Angry at the racist society around him, both criminal and straight, he sees the acquisition of power as the solution to his rage. He performs a free-lance hit on a Mob contract to attract the attention of the head of a Mafia family. Reluctantly accepted into 'The Family,' he grows increasingly autonomous and aggressive, eventually starting a gang war.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Sure.

#1 on the Black History Month Project 2012

#96 on Drive-In Delirium Volume 1 (part of the TRAILER TRASH PROJECT)

When I first saw this years ago I didn't really dig it. I like more after this latest watch but it's not the home run you'd hope for...or maybe it is. I like how it's a lot like the Edward G. Robinson (one of my favorite actors) picture, LITTLE CAESAR (1931). It follows the same structure in the rise and fall of a big city gangster. BLACK even has a great montage with machine guns just like the '31 film and it feels like it was taken right out of a 30s gangster flick, too. Williamson (as Tommy Gibbs) does a great job as the titular character. He's a brute and even though his character is a little charismatic, he's selfish and not what you'd call a nice man. You get this early on in his rise to power when he takes his white business partner's (the guy who essentially helped (more than anyone) put him at the top of the bad guy food chain) apartment and everything in it. Then later he rapes the woman he loves in an attempt to make her reciprocate.

D'Urville Martin is always a hoot to watch. I love that guy. It's a fun flick for the first 2/3 but the pacing and the story suffer in the final half hour once things aren't looking good for Tommy. There's definitely a tonal shift for the final third and it's bad news on top of bad news for Tommy but there's something about this section that doesn't feel as strong as the rest of the picture. It's not as tight and it feels like it could have been handled better. I don't know. All I know is it's still a pretty good movie and it's much better than I remembered it. Plus it's got some great James brown tunes on the soundtrack (although they're used often enough to make you think they only hired him for the three tracks and wanted to milk that cow as far as they could).