Tag Archives: exploitation

Foxy Brown – Review

1 Dec

The 1970s was a really interesting time for film. This was the era of auteur film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg making major names for themselves and redefining how movies should be made. This was also a great time for B-movies that would be played as double features in drive ins or grindhouse theaters. The exploitation genre was thriving and this spawned another genre called blaxploitation, which is said to have started in 1971 with Shaft. In 1974, on a double feature bill with Truck Turner, came Foxy Brown starring the one and only Pam Grier. This movie has become known as one of the most influential blaxploitation films ever made, and despite the controversies surrounding it, has become a true cult classic.

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Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) has her hands full taking care of herself while also looking after her small time drug dealer brother, Link (Antonio Fargas), while also helping her government agent boyfriend, Michael (Terry Carter) recuperate after time spent in a hospital. Acting on his own misguided motivations, Link tips off gangster Steve Elias (Peter Brown) that Michael is alive and well despite what they originally thought. Soon enough, Michael is murdered in front of Foxy which ignites a fire that sends her on a mission of revenge. Disguising herself as a call girl, Foxy infiltrates the gang that uses a modeling agency as a front, and it doesn’t take long for Foxy to start working her way up the food chain to Steve and his partner, Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder).

There was a lot of very important names that went along with the blaxploitation genre like Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes, but one can not forget Pam Grier who made a living playing some of the most kickass female heros to grace the silver screen. This is the strongest element of Foxy Brown and the main reason why I could watch it over and over again. The way Grier delivers her smooth one liners while also not hesitating to shoot any villain that gets in her way makes Foxy Brown a really cool character. Another stand out performance is Antonio Fargas as Foxy’s overconfident younger brother that pretty much gets the plot of the film going. My favorite part of the movie has Foxy storming into her brother’s apartment and trashing after she holds him at gunpoint and lectures him on the mistakes he’s made. That’s going to be the scene I think of whenever anyone mentions this movie.

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Foxy Brown is an interesting movie to look at historically because it received a lot of praise and also a lot of controversy. Like many of Pam Grier’s roles, Foxy Brown was a very strong female character that spoke directly to African American women in 1974. She took good care of other people while also being more than capable of taking care of herself in all sorts of situations. On the flip side, the movie was criticized for the violence and drug use depicted in the lives of the black characters in this movie. There was also some critics who spoke out against the sexualization of Foxy Brown, even though many still were impressed by her ferocity and intelligence in dangerous situations. This opens up a lot of discussion and many people will have many different opinions. This kind of controversy helped turn Foxy Brown into the blaxploitation cult classic that it is.

Other than the controversy, another reason Foxy Brown has earned the title of “cult classic” is the fact that it’s just so damn entertaining. Having been originally released as a double feature, the run time is short which means the story moves at a very brisk and determined pace. Once the action gets started, it rarely slows down and Grier has a lot of great lines to say and asses to kick. While it is action packed, there’s a lot of surprisingly funny scenes as well. One great scene has Foxy and a call girl putting the heat on a judge which ends in a laugh out loud piece of slapstick. The grand finale is also one for the books with Foxy hijacking a plane from none other than Sid Haig, who starred in many Jack Hill films and became even more notorious as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

Foxy Brown may not be the most high quality film you’ll ever see and a great deal of its priorities and intentions can be seen as misguided and out of order, but you can’t deny that it’s one entertaining little movie. Pam Grier knocks it out of the park as the title character and the supporting cast really back her up. There’s something great seeing Foxy take down the gangsters that killed her boyfriend, even though the plot flies by at break neck speeds. Any fan of cult movie or the blaxploitation genre should consider this movie a must see, and anyone who’s just curious about the era might find some enjoyment as well.

Final Grade: B+

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Men Behind the Sun – Review

11 Mar

Oh boy. This is what it’s come to. I’m really digging up something with this one. This time we’re gonna be looking at T.F. Mou’s 1988 film Men Behind the Sun. It sounds innocent enough, but this infamous, though relatively obscure film, is one of the most brutal, grotesque, and disturbing films ever made. Look at any list about warped movies, and it’s guaranteed that you’ll find this one on here. Many people argue over what this movie is trying to do, but everyone seems to agree that it will definitely leave a mark on anyone who dares to watch.

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In the later days of World War II, the Japanese were getting desperate to turn the fight around to their favor, and a method that seemed both popular and deadly was biological warfare. The film follows a group of young Japanese boys enlisted in the youth corps that are stationed at Unit 731, a mysterious base run by a recently disgraced Lt. Gen. Shiro Ishii (Gang Wang). Soon the boys (and the viewer) finds out the secret work happening at Unit 731. The base is a testing ground for new biological weapons with the test subjects consisting of captured Chinese and Russian citizens.

This is actually the first part of an unofficial series that I’ve made the decision not to watch, mostly because they’re pretty hard to find and it’s pretty unnecessary considering the heavy subject matter. This is a movie that has torn audiences in to two separate factions with differing arguments on how to look at what is being presented. On one side, there are the people who think this movie is a disgusting piece of exploitive horror, using the testing and gratuitous gore as only a way to make people squirm. The other side truly believes that Men Behind the Sun is an important film that explores a horrific time of history in a no nonsense way. It’s hard to choose a side because there’s enough evidence to support both theories.

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T.F. Mou is a very odd figure in terms of his filmography. After joining the Shaw Brothers, Mou worked in the genres of crime, horror, kung fu, and exploitation. The Shaw Brothers aren’t really known for producing the most thought provoking work, but Mou, himself, was very dedicated to making Men Behind the Sun as realistic and historically accurate as possible, and for that I commend him. He hired actors who looked like their historical counterparts and researched for over a year in order to create an accurate depiction. Wang’s performance as Shiro Ishii is especially memorable. This makes me think that T.F. Mou was really trying to create a historically significant movie that would shock people into understanding the horrors that people endured. Unfortunately, he sort of took it way too far.

There’s no way to be comfortable watching this movie. I first saw this movie in school during a class about horror movies, and I found myself looking away at many points during the movie. Me. The guy who loves gory movies, but this was just too real. This is where the movie seems to lose its footing in a major way. For an hour and a half, you’re just subjected to scenes upon scenes of relentless brutality that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s just way too much gore and sickening imagery to really keep someone’s attention focused on the history. Men Behind the Sun really is one of, if not the most sickening and repulsive movies ever made.

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Normally, I post a video in these reviews, but I just can’t for this movie. I can’t even write a review giving my opinion on it because I don’t know what it is. Technically, it’s very well made in terms of shot composition, effects, and historical accuracy. At the same time it’s a horrific piece of exploitation that is enough to make the most experienced movie watcher sick to their stomachs…or more. All I can say is that whatever this movie was trying to do, be it sicken people or depict a terrible history, it did it’s job. It’s just a bit to much for me to recommend to anybody.

Bad Lieutenant – Review

6 Feb

Abel Ferrara is one of those film makers that you either love or you hate. Some people may call his movies smutty or exploitive, but there are others who call him a true artist with a firm grasp on the medium. In my opinion, Ferrara takes exploitation movies to a more artistic level. I’ve already reviewed his 1990 film King of New York, but now I will be looking at what is objectively called his best movie. It goes without saying that it’s his 1992 crime film Bad Lieutenant.

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The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) is not exactly the kind of cop anyone wants to deal with. He seems a little rough around the edges, but he’s more than meets the eye. He’s violent, addicted to all sorts of drugs, and gambles away most of his money. He seems to have the year’s World Series all figured out, and begins betting everything he has into the game. During all of this, he is also investigating the rape of a young nun (Frankie Thorn), but this particular case gets him thinking about his own actions and what may be the only chance he has at redemption. As his gambling and drug abuse worsens, he is pushed over his limits and begins to lose track of his own life and the parameters of his enforcement of the law.

Before I started watching Bad Lieutenant, I had it in my head that this was going to be a straightforward crime film where the Lieutenant was going to have to catch the guys who raped the nun, and along the way we would see him engage in all of his dark, illegal activities. It’s actually the other way around, in a sense. We actually see the Lieutenant practically destroy his life with drugs and gambling, and sometimes he moves on the case, but not too often. This is more of a character study than it is a straightforward narrative.

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That being said, I do wish there was more of a story. There is some semblance of a plot, but a lot of the movie is just the Lieutenant on the job in the seediest parts of New York City as he gets into all sorts of depraved things. The depravity does reach an all time low in Bad Lieutenant, and there were time that I was surprised that the character went as far as he did. He’s a reprehensible human being, but also very interesting. Still, as cool as his character is, I wanted to see more from the movie. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because not a whole hell of a lot happens by the end of the movie. I guess part of this is because I went into it expecting a more straightforward movie and wasn’t really expecting a movie as wandering as this, if that makes sense.

Harvey Keitel does do an outstanding job as the Lieutenant. That same year he starred in Quentin Tarantino’s first film Reservoir Dogs, but his performance in that just doesn’t match the visceral intensity that he displays here. It was said by the people making this film that Keitel dove really deep into this character and Ferrara left him a lot of room for experimentation and improvisation. Now, the stuff that the Lieutenant gets into, if I hadn’t made it quite clear before, is reprehensible and by the end of shooting, crew member said it was almost hard to watch Keitel get so into character.

It would be easy to call Bad Lieutenant a piece of trashy exploitation, but whoever says that would be sorely mistaken. This is a beautifully shot movie filled with disgusting people and places. Abel Ferrara has a way of filming dirty urban environments and the characters that inhabit them with such a gritty style, and rare moments of true beauty, that it’s hard not to feel like you’re really in the movie with the characters. Now that I know what it’s all about, Bad Lieutenant deserves a second viewing from me, but this movie is not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, it has the hitting power of a Louisville slugger and is as loud as a magnum fired point blank, so if you can stomach the content check out Bad Lieutenant.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – Review

5 Nov

It’s pretty rare for a movie to really scare the shit out of me. In fact, I was thinking about this today and these movies include films like Audition and The Exorcist. Laugh if you will, but I can sincerely add the original version of The Hills Have Eyes to this small list of movies. To modern day horror fans this movie may seem tame, but to true appreciators, this is a horrific tale of one of the worst nights in the history of storytelling.

 

The Carter family should have listened to the old man at the gas station. Not only are they stranded on a desolate road in the middle of the desert, but are being watched by a family of hill people who stalk and cannibalize any unfortunate people to pass through. As darkness falls, the Carters are beaten, raped, and some killed by these hill people. Come daybreak, the remaining Carters become the hunters, making the hill people wish they never came in contact with one another.

The 70s were a great time for horror movies. The Hills Have Eyes fall into the same brutal category as I Spit on Your GraveThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I even saw some Cannibal Holocaust sprinkled in. It’s gritty without being too graphic with some of the most disturbing scenes being the hill family watching the unsuspecting Carters down below. Wes Craven understands the horror behind be watched, as we can see in Scream, but this movie raises the stakes with the desert locale in an era without cell phones or computers.

 

What suffers in this movie is most of the acting. The entire Carter clan are pretty typical for horror movies. Some of their dialogue was written really well, including a disturbing scene about the family dog killing another person’s poodle, accompanied by their rambunctious laughter. It really makes them appear to be more than what they seem. The real stars are the Jupiter clan. Michael Berryman and Lance Gordon are a great team as sons Pluto and Mars. Their father, Jupiter, played by James Whitworth is intimidating and scary with some pretty disturbing make up.

The pacing of this movie really keeps the viewer on edge and generally made me feel uncomfortable. Wes Craven understands the importance of suspense, and fully utilizes this to create a tense atmospheres packed with terror. The punch of the actual attack by the Jupiter clan feels more intense because we’ve had to wait about 45 minutes to fully see them and what they are capable of.

The Hills Have Eyes may have  a lot of similarities to previous horror/exploitation films of the 70s, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Wes Craven’s talent in creating memorable scenes of violent terror and his ability to create and sustain tension makes this film a horror classic. Despite some of the stale acting and a few incidents of weird sound, this can easily be put on anyone’s top 10 horror films.

Hobo with a Shotgun – Review

28 Aug

Let’s face it. There are many movies out there that are just not meant to be taken seriously. One of the most extreme cases of this is the film based off an award winning “Grindhouse” trailer, Hobo with a Shotgun. This film is absolute trash film making, but it is self aware and revels in its debauchery with a glaring smile. If you can stomach the insanity, then this is a wild ride that hearkens back to the crazy days of exploitation film making.

 

Hope Town is in some serious trouble. A crime boss that goes by The Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sons, Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith), run the town with an iron and violent fist. Many people are killed everyday in the sickest ways possible, that is until a Hobo (Rutger Hauer) arrives via train and begins taking justice into his own hands with his trusty shotgun. Now the criminals are the ones filled with fear and Hope Town’s hope may be restored.

I’ve seen this movie twice now with two totally different people. The first person was laughing along with me and enjoying the mayhem and carnage that was relentlessly thrown at us. The second person sat there cringing at the geysers of gore and unflinching violence. This little experiment goes to show that you really need a certain level of tolerance to comfortably sit through Hobo with a Shotgun.

 

The style of this movie is in a league of its own. It’s over saturated, lit with neon, and at times simply out of this world crazy. It’s easy to get lost in the looks and I even strangely began to appreciate it as more than just a trashy film. There was obviously a cinematographer who knew exactly what he wanted and achieved it very well. I never thought I’d mention the cinematography in a movie such as Hobo with a Shotgun, but something about it just struck me as unique. The color palates are all over the place with shades you never thought would blend well together, but strangely enough they work. For example, a particular room is lit with blue, green, and orange gels. It looks weird, but appropriate.

While the characters may not be developed well, they are really cool. The Hobo is a totally kick ass character who has no qualms blowing off a pedophile’s head, with gratuitous chunks of brain matter decorating the window of the car. The Drake and his sons are whack-a-doos who sometimes act way too off the charts, but they were funny as hell and said some of the most ridiculous lines in movie history. The only character that I felt was lame was the prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth). She’s a main character who I never really care about. She doesn’t really do much or really anything I care about, save for one cool thing towards the end. But that’s ok. The Plague makes up for her more than enough.

 

I’d also like to mention the nice use of strange camera angles and lenses to distort some of the more intense or crazy images. Give the film makers credit. Despite this being a gore fest trash reveling movie, there are artistic bits that put it a step higher than your average grind house flick.

One thing that bothered me was some of the dialogue. I know, I know. It’s cheesy for the sake of being cheesy, but some of it was just too much. Any bit of dialogue concerning bears and zoos weren’t even funny. It was almost embarrassing at how horrendous the lines were and the sincerity they were spoken in. It was just so different from the other ridiculous lines that are obviously said as a joke.

Hobo with a Shotgun isn’t just violent. It’s ultra violent. Every scene has some new twisted and sadistic image in it that will leave you wondering how they think of this stuff. It’s trashy and devoid of good intentions. Hobo with a Shotgun exists only to push the limits of what is acceptable onscreen, and how far film makers can go to make us laugh. This certainly is not for everyone and it may not be considered excellent film making, but this film is destined to be a cult classic.