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I'm No Outkast-ee, but this Way Exceeded Expectations.
Let me introduce myself. I'm an occasional film goer who likes to support mostly indie films and documentaries. I'm also a young African-American woman who's never owned an Oukast CD in my life and the only songs I've heard by them were their "Hey Ya" and "Ms. Jackson" hits.
I went to see "Idlewild" based on the fact that, well, the previews looked interesting. I was out of town the weekend it opened, so I missed all the reviews and buzz the opening weekend. Finallly saw it tonight and my expectations were way exceeded.
The strongest points of this part-musical/part-gangster tale/part-love story were its score, choreography, cinematography and cast. After never owning an Outkast CD, I plan to buy the "Idlewild" soundtrack tomorrow. Both the incredible dancing and excellent acting really make this film believable, even if you have a problem suspending your belief to accept the rap songs circa 1930s. The special effects, lighting, editing and cinematography really make the film shine. This should get an Oscar nod for something, if not best picture.
The plot isn't without special merit either. Despite a few minor holes (Who is Terence Howard's character anyway? And what happened to the real "Angel Davenport?"), the plot was at all times, engaging, well-flowing, inspirational and entertaining. The main love story was especially poignant, with a love scene that is among the most tastefully erotic that I've seen in a mainstream film. I could have dealt without some of the violence scenes, but, hey, I'm in the minority these days. And, besides, most of them were necessary to the plot (and to the ability to attract an audience that likes a little "bang" for their buck).
And I give both the Outkast crew and the screenwriter special credit for tackling elements that are unusual for black films. I'm not going to give it all away here - see the film and you'll find out.
"Idlewild" was a pleasant surprise. I have no idea how well this film is doing at the box office, nor do I know if the critics like it or not. All I know is that I left the theater with a greater appreciation for Outkast, as well as a renewed faith in black filmmakers who want to release interesting, challenging and quality films that are an alternative to the cliché-filled nonsense that the mainstream studios feed us all too often.
The Wiz (1978)
OK Kids, get ready for a weird one.
This film remake of the outstanding 1970s Broadway musical of the same name both shines and clunks on the big screen. Coming off somewhere between "Thank God It's Friday" and "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" (and in Diana Ross' case, "Sybil"), the film version of The Wiz is not good, not bad -- just plain weird.
One of the main problems of the film (everyone's said it before and I'll say it again), is the casting of Ross as Dorothy. While I found her singing numbers to be wonderful and full of emotion, Diana just plays the role too dark and brooding. She cries so much that she winds up looking like a neurotic mental case on the verge of suicide. (Reviewer Leonard Maltin said she "weeps and whines" her way through this.) And no makeup job in the world could make the mature Ross look like a young, innoncent girl (even though, in the film, she's supposed to be a 24-yr old teacher). Diana is just a depressing, unbelievable Dorothy, despite what a wonderful singer she is.
Another problem is the look and feel of the film. For a movie that was rated G and based on the family fare of The Wizard of Oz, it sure wasn't that childlike. An overall depressing tone, low lighting, and freaky costumes and set design drag this film down. It freaked me out when I saw it as a kid, and now seeing it again as an adult, I now understand why. Don't get me wrong, I think the sets are outstanding, but kids movies should not look like a horror flick.
(And speaking of horror flicks, one scene even looks like one as attacking trash cans with teeth recall "Jaws.")
There are many positives of this film, however. The excellent score that was perfected in the Broadway run is enhanced by soaring arrangements by Quincy Jones. (A guilty pleasure is the funky disco Emerald City numbers.) Also, every member of the supporting cast is outstanding and well-cast.
But overall, the screenplay is just too weird for any adult, much less kid, to enjoy. At 133 minutes, it seems to drag on forever and ever. The Wiz is not a total failure, and everyone involved should have felt proud to be a part. But without the entertaining musical/dance numbers and a few comic-relief moments (delivered by the Scarecrow, Tin Man & Lion), The Wiz would just be a bad memory of Diana Ross' career. Anyone's who's really interested in the magic and promise of The Wiz should hope that the Broadway play is revived in its original glory (as it was sometime in the 1990s).
Undercover Brother (2002)
Hilariously Smart Spoof; You Just Have to "Get" It
OK. Let me start out by saying that this is a movie for people who "get it." If you don't "get" parodies, this movie is not for you. If you don't have an understanding or appreciation of the 70s blaxploitation film culture, you're not going to get Undercover Brother either. Most importantly, if you don't have an imaginative sense of humor, then you're going to walk out of the theatre saying the same thing I overheard a teenager say after seeing the flick: "That was stuuupid!" It sure was, but in a brilliant sort of way, just like many of our favorite blaxplo flicks were in the 70s.
Undercover Brother pokes fun at race and ridiculous stereotypes, amidst a smartly thought-out script, funky soundtrack, wild sight gags and well-casted actors in this tale of a funky super black hero caught in the 70s, but living in our time to save the world, with help from the Brotherhood and their white intern, from "The Man". Complete with razor sharp karate moves that would make Dolemite blush and dangerous Afro pics that move at the speed of light, Eddie Griffin plays Undercover Brother as if he was planning to play this part all his life. Major "props" also go to Chris Kataan (Saturday Night Live) who is brilliant as "The Man"'s assistant, Mr. Feather. Kataan is unforgettable in his face-to-face "confession" with Godfather of Soul James Brown (another scene that you may not "get" unless you're hip to Soul Brother #1, aka James Brown).
But keep in mind, this film is a spoof, and anyone who gets offended by, instead of laughing, at the notion of "White She Devil" or of the General's Fried Chicken (with free 40 Ounce) commercials, is just not part of the audience that Undercover Brother is intended for.
No film has made me laugh harder than any other in a long time, and I have taken comrades of all races who "get" it to enjoy this wild movie. It's unfortunate, though, that you really won't get many of the jokes unless you understand some "under the table" or culture-related jokes. (Two references that come to mind include "Colored People Time" and the "Kid n Play" dance.)
Nevertheless, this film is destined to become a cult classic with those who "understand," and I can see the beginnings of "Undercover Brother" parties once this is released on video.
The Baron (1977)
Surprisingly entertaining and well-made black action drama
The Baron puts a unique spin on the typical 70s Blaxploitation shoot-em-up flick. Calvin Lockheart (who you may remember as a guest star on Good Times playing Florida's gambling cousin Raymond), plays an aspiring movie actor/producer/filmmaker who must turn to the underworld (and becoming some old lady's "Hot Dog") in order to raise money to make his film. And he must pay back his investors before someone gets hurt.
What Lockheart lacks in brawn (which seemed to be required for male leads in 70s black cinema -- i.e. Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, etc.), he makes up in character and charm as he "battles" the gangsters in order to give life on screen to "The Baron." And while there are fewer "battles" than a typical Blaxploitation action movie (This film is more drama than action.), the ones that are shown are even more convincing since they're not the usual quick-n-dirty gun battles that we Blaxploitation fans have seen over and over.
Plenty of suspense, exciting action, good editing, solid acting, interesting storyline, and a groovy soundtrack by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson make _The Baron_ a great rental choice when you're looking for some cool 70s black cinema. Especially if you're looking for something different from the same ole shoot 'em up/karate chop Blaxploitation film.
Disco Godfather (1979)
You may love Dolemite. You may love disco. You may not love this movie.
As a fan of all of Rudy Ray Moore's 70s films (from Dolemite to Petey Wheatstraw), it's surprising that this film doesn't do much for me. Or maybe it's not so surprising.
Hardcore Moore fans will enjoy the film's lighter moments such as the hilarious delivery of lines like, as another reviewer mentioned, "you stupid son of a b****" and "put some weight on it" 181 million times. And most bad b-movie buffs won't be able to get enough of the campy performances by people like the Disco Skate Dancers as well as the do-it-yourself karate that characterizes Moore's earlier great films.
But this film is heavy, not "lighthearted" action-oriented like the others. There's nothing funny about Angel Dust. But the hallucination scenes in this film are (unintentionally) among the funniest. And that disturbs me. Not to mention the way this film ends "unresolved" with our hero left to disintegrate before our eyes as viewers wonder "well, what in the hell happened?"
While this film is redeemed by the gloriously ridiculous disco sequences and exciting action scenes, "Disco Godfather" is supposed to be a serious look at PCP addiction. After seeing this film, you'll agree that it's difficult to take both the serious road and the humorous road with a topic like that. Especially when there's no solution in sight.
Rudy Ray Moore pictures usually leave us with a big grin on our faces. "Disco Godfather" will only leave you with a look of confusion and is only recommended for hardcore fans of the Rudy Ray series.
Poor Pretty Eddie (1975)
Beware Blaxploitation Fans. This is not what you think.
I rented this film under the title "Black Vengeance" thinking it was a classic action-filled blaxploitation flick in the style of "Coffy," etc. I soon realized that the film was probably retitled from "Poor Pretty Eddy" to "Black Vengeance" to make a quick buck off of blaxploitation fans. Simply, there is no "black vengeance" to be had from this movie, only scenes of redneck hillbillies committing acts of sexual depravity against a helpless African-American woman. If there was a point to it in the context of the film I could understand, but the scenes seem to be there only for shock value. After all, who really needs to see a scene of dogs copulating!
What could have been an interesting look at a celebrity who winds up in a twisted world of backwoods country-ville is actually just plain twisted. But then again, if bad country music and seeing nasty old men get their jollies on is the type of movie you're looking for, you may want to look into this film. But proceed with caution.
I am a fan of b-movies and blaxploitation flicks, and I enjoy bad movies for a good laugh every now and then. This film is the worse movie I've ever seen in my life. And when I say "bad" in the case of "Black Vengeance" aka "Poor Pretty Eddy," I do not mean good!
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)
Oscar-movie seekers, look elsewhere. Blaxploitation and b-movie fans, get ready for a great one!
--Don't take it seriously and you'll have a great time with this film.--
Here's another point of view about the "quality" of this movie. If you're the kind who doesn't take life too seriously, enjoys b-movies and/or blaxploitation flicks, and doesn't mind a classic bad movie every now and then for a good laugh, then you'll enjoy this film. But the point is to not take the film seriously. After all, what film do you know of with a character named Silky the pimp will be a contender for an Academy award!
No, this movie is not *that* scary, though there is lots of suspense. But it *is* funny (make your own jokes as the movie rolls), with lots of action, crazy blaxploitation-style music, kitschiness. . . did I mention Silky the pimp? It is not meant to be a commentary on race relations. It's bad film entertainment at it's worse, er, I mean best! It ranks up there with "Blacula;" it's quality comes from the fact that it is played so "straight."
I recommend this to all other fans of bad b-movies and blaxploitation films like myself. Kick back with this film, some friends, some snacks, and laugh all night!