Justin Ellis (Portland Press Herald) & I on the new releases for 2/16/10!

For yet another week Videoport Jones and I are forced to contend with Gerald Butler as he’s popped up in yet another new release. Is there something we’re missing outside of the general fog of hunkiness? Fortunately this week’s new DVDs also include a solid blaxploitation parody and two biopics. Also, a movie about hair. Trust us, it’s not as boring as it sounds.

Black Dynamite

Videoport Jones: “To heck with the would-be blockbusters this week, this blaxploitation parody is the most anticipated movie this week, at least around the ol’ Videoport water cooler. One might question whether we really need a parody of the 70’s low-budget action genre, but, well, shut up. I mean, if we are subjected to movie versions of TV shows, unnecessary horror remakes and an annual Keanu Reeves movie, then why not a funny and affectionate tribute to an era of filmmaking that gave us Issac Hayes, Jim Brown, Carol Speed, Jim Kelly, Thalmus Rasulala, and, of course, the incomparable Ms. Grier, all showcasing their unique talents in scruffy, energetic, over-the-top action flicks all about black empowerment and stickin’ it to the man. ‘Black Dynamite’ stars Michael Jai White, the former ‘Spawn’ (and perhaps best known these days as the angry mobster into whose henchman’s head the Joker makes a pencil disappear in ‘The Dark Knight’), who brings his legit martial arts skills (seriously, the guy’s a beast), some serious leading man charisma, and a heretofore-unimagined nimble sense of humor to the titular role, ex-CIA agent, full-service lover man, and professional to-the-man sticker Black Dynamite! The whole enterprise is a lovingly-recreated approximation of the second (at least) tier of the blaxploitation universe, (say such enjoyably-grubby non-classics as ‘Dolemite,’ ‘Soul Vengeance,’ or ‘Monkey Hustle’), and, if such a thing is possible, it is an affectionate evisceration. Unlike sporadically-humorous, but too-broadly-jokey genre parodies like ‘I’m Gonna Get You Sucker’ or ‘Undercover Brother,’ ‘Black Dynamite’ is a straight-faced, slyly-intelligent take where all of the conventions are tweaked just a quarter turn to the left (at least until it goes hilariously hog wild near the end), and I had a blast. And Justin, notice how I didn’t make a joke about this movie stealing the title of your autobiography. You’re welcome…”

Justin: “That’s OK Jonesy, I was always more partial to the title ‘Chocolate Thunder: Justin Ellis’ American Story.’ You have first dibs on a cover blurb. I’m just gonna come out and say it right now: I not ashamed to admit ‘Black Dynamite” has been one of the most highly anticipated movies on my ‘MUST WATCH’ list. Do you hear that ‘Avatar?’ Why? Because aside from being funky, having great soundtracks and awesome actors, they somehow rode the line between full-blown cheese and serious drama. So yes, the top tier flicks like ‘Shaft,’ ‘Black Caesar,’ ‘Superfly’ and ‘Coffy’ were serious about sticking it to the man, but the ‘Dolemite’s of of the world on the other hand…well, that’s just all cheese. And a lot of fun. It’s clear the makers of ‘Black Dynamite’ get that and decided to blow it out big, bringing in the full cast of hustlers, junkies, jive turkeys, white devils, soul sisters and everyone else. I’ve enjoyed Michael Jai White as he’s popped up now and then in movies. He’s a serviceable action star – the dude’s got black belts – but as far as comedy? Who knew? Doing satire or parody is never easy, but as ‘Undercover Brother’ showed (a movie I do own), you can hurt yourself just as easily as you help yourself. It takes more than afros, karate and some Cutis Mayfield to make a blaxploit-parody. I’m gonna snatch this one up quick for my personal collection. ‘I thought I told you honky’s from the CIA Black Dynamite was out of the GAME!’ How can you not get psyched for dialog like that?”

Good Hair

VPJ: “A documentary about hair. ‘I can’t think of anything more boring,’ you say. Well you couldn’t be more wrong, you, so just shut it. Sorry to fly off the handle there. See, this doc features the Rock – Chris Rock, that is – as he guides us on a tour through the surprisingly-compelling sociological significance of the hairstyles in the African American community. Rock, obviously, is hilarious and, also obviously, insightful while being hilarious, and he’s intensely likable as he interviews men and women who’ll go through expensive (and painful) procedures to get the newest-latest style. Famous follicle-centric celebs like Ice-T and Al Sharpton, and average people reveal their own perceptions and judgments about hair and identity. And, to head you off again, with your ‘it sounds boring’ nonsense, be assured that Rock (who co-wrote) isn’t out to create a scholarly anthropological document here, but, instead, a light-hearted, generous-spirited examination of the phenomenon of hair-centrism in the black community. Funny and entertaining, and not at all boring.”

JE: “As the resident blackologist I can tell you it really is an interesting, and sometimes divisive issue. That may sound crazy but think about what your hair says about you on any given day? Are you a mullet guy? Dreads guy? The comb-over baldness-denier guy? While this is true universally, in The Black Community (All caps because we are one community. Seriously, there’s a newsletter.) hair takes on a different significance. Thanks to stories and family photos from the 60s and 70s I’ve know the tales of ‘going natural’ (those were some substantial afros) and how that seemed unthinkable at one time. And then there’s straighteners and relaxers, which, depending on who you ask, are either a necessary evil, or just plain evil. Since Rock is behind this documentary, and he’s never been scared of talking about The Black Community (again, caps), it should be funny and compelling, all at the same time. Then again, what do I know. As someone who had a high top fade for a period, I may not qualify for ‘Good Hair,’ let alone being a blackologist.”

Law Abiding Citizen

VPJ; “I still can never remember whether it’s ‘Gerald Butler’ or ‘Gerard Butler’, even though I’ve seen like a half-dozen of the guys movies. That’s not a great sign, right? I don’t dislike the guy; he’s much more appealing when he’s allowed to be Scottish (as Colin Farrell is when he’s allowed to be Irish), but he’s just one of those actors I can never keep a picture of in my mind (other examples: Paul Walker, Mark Hammill, the Jessicas – Biel and Alba). And films like this one, a rabidly right-wing and manipulative deck-stacker about the titular average Joe (and technical genius) who decides that the legal system is too soft on criminals and applies his MacGyver-y skills to punish not only the the aforementioned and underpunished scum but also the entire, lily-livered, scum-coddling, Constitution-abiding-by, liberal-infested legal system, including the slick, conviction-rate obsessed prosecutor (Jamie Foxx) who had the nerve to offer a plea deal in order to gain a conviction. And the movie is rabidly on Gerald/Gerard’s side as he terrorizes public servants. Super. I’m reminded of the equivalently-FOX news-approved Sally Field vehicle ‘Eye for an Eye,’ where Sally Field enacts similarly-Texas-style justice on the most reprehensible daughter-violatin’, legal-system-manipulatin’ ne’er-do-well while the audience is expected to share her/the film’s point of view that only all-American, legally-armed wronged patri-/matriarchs are suited to dispense brutal vigilante vengeance. Like that thing, this movie made me want to set fire to the nearest Fox affiliate (do you have their address, by the way?). Butler’s all hunky and unshavenly-hunky and nondescript, and I continue to hold out hope that Foxx will halt the gradual erosion of his Oscar cred by choosing better projects than this, but I hate this movie. Oh, and it’s “Gerard”, by the way…”

JE: “He IS hunktacular, isn’t he? But seriously though, is this guy a robot? I feel like we’ve reviewed a particularly high number of his films over the last year. And we’ve haven’t had too much good to say about him. I think the guy is trying to spread the field, taking every and all script offers he can get, just to get his name out. Trouble is his name is getting associated with complete crap. Putting aside your rage over the right-wing death march, this film just feels like a non-starter. First off, how is making a prosecutor the hero a good move? Wouldn’t it be more exciting if it was a detective? Second,  Jamie Foxx as a prosecutor? Really? Third, are we supposed to think this is a legal drama, because even John Grisham fans aren’t buying that one. All of this is to say this movie just doesn’t make any sense. At. All. Meanwhile Butler’s onto a new flick where he plays a hitman who has to chase down his ex wife…that’s right, Jennifer Aniston. The streak continues Ger.”

Coco Before Chanel

VPJ: “Hey, yeah, it’s a biopic about fashion legend Coco Chanel! Starring the lovely mom-favorite Audrey Tatou from ‘Amelie!’ Yeah! She…wears pretty clothes! And…perhaps perfume… Over to you Justin!”

JE: “OK, so here’s the deal. You and I ain’t on the Chanel wagon, plain and simple, no matter how button-cute Audrey Tautou is. That said, Coco Chanel does have an interesting history (don’t know if I would call it a
rise to power. I don’t think she ever had anyone killed who was in her way…then again the world of fashion is rife with danger), poor family, lived in an orphanage, quietly became a seamstress and next thing you know FAME! OK, maybe not exactly like that, but an interesting story for fashion fans or ladies who love Chanel.”


VPJ: “Michael Fassbender. Know that name? Well, you should. He was pretty damned spellbinding as the British spy in ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (‘There’s a special rung in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch. And seeing as I might be rapping on the door momentarily…’), he’s heading for action hero-dom in the upcoming Roman soldiers in
ancient Britain flick ‘Centurion’ (from ‘Dog Soldiers’ and ‘The Descent’ director Neil Marhsall), and he’s reaping great reviews for this one, a biopic chronicling the last weeks in the life of legendary (or notorious, if you’re a Tory) Irish Republican Army leader/prisoner Bobby Sands, whose fatal hunger strike focused the world’s attention on his and his IRA fellows’ struggle to have their cause recognized by the Thatcher government as a political movement. In addition to Fassbender’s remarkable performance, ‘Hunger’ impresses with an enigmatic, stylized structure and direction from the awesomely-named yet sadly-unrelated Steve McQueen. It’s shocking, morally-complex, and often deeply-unpleasant, with some truly virtuoso scenes, including a riveting, five minute monologue by Fassbender/Sands that alone should have earned the actor a spot on the Oscar ballot this year. From those crazy cats at the Criterion Collection.”

JE: “Not so fast my friend. Some folks may recognize Fassbender (which is an awesome name, isn’t it?) from ‘300,’ (he was the shirtless one with a spear…wait) as well as a role in the epic HBO mini-series (one of my personal faves) ‘Band of Brothers.’ He’s made his way around a number of Brit films and series and seems to be poised to try and plant the flag over here. Of course I think he’ll find a better reception with American audiences for war/spy/clash of steel flicks than this one, which may be a generalization on my part, but I doubt it. How many folks do you think know about the IRA or their fight other than say, references from U2 songs? I’ve got no doubt this is a good film, and as someone who enjoys learning about history, particularly 20th century history, I’d watch this. Then again, people do love ‘taking a stand against injustice’ movies, whether it’s or ‘Philadelphia,’ ‘Avatar,’ or ‘Revenge of the Nerds.’ Which is all to say, I know nothing.”


– Best blaxploitation film?
– Is there something we’re missing about Gerald Butler?
– You’re choosing between biopics of Coco Chanel and Bobby Sands, which do you take?

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 10:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Boys, boys, boys: if I use the word courtesan, does that make you more likely to glance at the Coco Chanel bio-pic?

  2. I saw “Black Dynamite” in a college-y theater last weekend; it was easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a LONG time. The incredible amount of attention paid to detail warrants a second/third/sixth watching. It puts just about all mainstream spoof movies of the past decade to shame. You’d be doing the movie business a favor by renting the movie and upping its unfairly small gross.

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