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Should Have Been Much Better, 18 February 2017

One Down, Two to Go (1982)

** (out of 4)

Chuck (Jim Kelly) and his crew enter a martial arts tournament, which they win but the mob decides not to pay them. Soon a friend is severely beaten so Cal (Fred Williamson) and J (Jim Brown) show up to show them who's the real boss.

ONE DOWN, TWO TO GO was directed by Williamson and it features four of the major stars from the 70's blaxploitation films. You've got SHAFT (Richard Roundtree), SLAUGHTER (Brown), HAMMER (Williamson) and BLACK BELT JONES (Kelly) all in one movie so what's not to like? Well, there's quite a bit not to like in this film, which is really too bad since you've got so many greats in one film.

Sadly, the screenplay itself is pretty much a mess for a number of reasons. The film starts off with a bunch of martial arts footage, which is fun to watch on its own but it probably shouldn't have been in this film. From here there are way too many boring dialogue sequences, which just don't go anywhere and especially when you'e got four masters of the genre on the screen. What you want to see them do is fight, blow stuff up and kill bad guys. We eventually get to that stuff and that's when the entertainment level goes way up.

The film suffers from a very low-budget, which prevents the action from looking the greatest but for this type of films it's okay. Of course, the best thing about the picture is getting to see the four stars in one picture. The majority of the film is based around the Williamson and Brown characters, which is fine as they add a lot to the picture. Both Kelly and Roundtree are basically extended cameos but it's still nice to see them. Fans of MANIAC will enjoy seeing Joe Spinell in a brief scene and we also get Tom Signorelli.

ONE DOWN, TWO TO GO isn't a masterpiece or even a good movie but it's mild entertainment, which should have been much better.

The Mack (1973)
Good Serious Drama, 18 February 2017

The Mack (1973)

*** (out of 4)

Goldie (Max Julien) gets released from prison after a five year stretch and heads back to the streets where he plans to become the greatest Mack (pimp) out there. His brother is against the idea and wishes he'd do something better for his people but Goldie becomes a pimp and soon has issues with two racist white cops.

The blaxploitation genre was just kicking off when THE MACK was released and it eventually found some new fame when it was used in TRUE ROMANCE. Watching the film today you can't help but rather respect it because it's not really exploitation. Instead of exploitation it really plays out more like an actual drama that tackles various issues that were in the black community. There's no question having a pimp playing your hero is why so many had issues with the genre but THE MACK is a pretty good film.

What I enjoyed the most is the fact that it didn't exploit the situation and instead the movie plays out like a very well-written drama. The Goldie character goes through a lot of changes throughout the film and I thought the character development was rather good. I also thought the supporting players like the pimps, the cops and the brother were also very good. There were a lot of ups and downs for the character but I thought it all played out very well and in a serious way.

Julien obviously steals the film playing the pimp. I thought he gave a very strong performance and one that kept you entertained throughout the somewhat long running time. Richard Pryor was also fun in his supporting role where he once again proved what a good dramatic actor he could be. Both Don Gordon and William Watson are a lot of fun as the racist cops.

THE MACK has some flaws including it running on a bit too long but I think most people will be surprised at how serious the subject matter is handled.

100 Rifles (1969)
Fun Cast but Film Runs On Way Too Long, 17 February 2017

100 Rifles (1969)

** (out of 4)

Yaqui Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds) robs an Arizona bank and heads into Mexico where he's eventually caught by Sheriff Lyedecker (Jim Brown). Soon the sheriff realizes that the young half Indian stole the money so that he could buy his people some weapons in order to fight. Soon Lyedecker joins forces with the group and strikes up a relationship with Sarita (Raquel Welch).

100 RIFLES is a rather interesting film to watch, although it's not nearly as good as one would have hoped. This film certainly has a very European feel to it yet it's pretty much missing all of the ingredients of the Spaghetti Westerns that were so popular at the time. I'm not sure why the director went away from delivering a type of film that was so popular during this era but either way we've got a very good cast that helps make up for it.

The cast are certainly the reason to watch the film even though I'd argue that no one really gives what you'd consider a "good" performance. Both Brown and Reynolds were still rather young in their careers so we can overlook that they're not strong dramatic actors. With that said, both of them certainly had a presence about them and they manage to help keep the film moving and slightly entertaining. Welch is basically here to show off her sexuality, which she does a great job at. The director constantly likes to hint at her sexuality and this is especially true early on when she goes to take her shirt off and just as you think you're about to see something... We've also got a young and beautiful Soledad Miranda in a small part.

The biggest problem with 100 RIFLES is the fact that it runs on way too long and there's just really not much of a story to carry the extended running time. I really do wish the film had been edited down further because there are some great scenes scattered throughout. The highlight would have to be a battle sequence where the bad guys are on a train and the good guys do a surprise attack. This scene here is certainly worth sitting through the movie for.

Big Timers (1945)
More of a Variety Show Than Anything Else, 17 February 2017

Big Timers (1945)

** (out of 4)

Here's another example of a race movie that sadly didn't have much financing and the end result is obviously cheap. The film has a basic plot dealing with a woman who met a rich guy when she was singing. The guy wants to marry her but he doesn't realize that she's actually poor.

At just thirty-six minutes there's certainly nothing ground-breaking here. If you're a fan of these race movies then you'll want to check it out but most people will probably be hitting the stop button long before the short running time is over. As you'd expect, the low- budget means that the entire film has a rather cheap look to it and it was obviously filmed in a rush but this doesn't hurt it too badly.

What really kills the film is the fact that there's just not too much going on. Stepin Fetchit gets top-billing but he actually doesn't have too much to do. In fact, I'd argue that this is probably the least entertaining that I've seen him in any movie. The supporting players mostly consist of people who were making their first and only film appearance.

The majority of the running time is devoted to these new folks who do several dance and musical numbers. The film really does play out more like a variety show and not an actual film. What the point of the silly plot line is anyone's guess but some might be curious in watching these since there's simply no other place to see some of these unknown acts.

Mildly Entertaining Race Film, 17 February 2017

Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938)

** (out of 4)

Cowboy Bob Blake (Her Jeffries) is accused of a murder he didn't commit so him and his brother (Mantan Moerland) head off. Soon Bob takes over the identity of a gangster as he tries to find out who the real murderer is. It turns out there's a greedy landowner wanting to steal some land and he hires a man (Spencer Williams) to kill a witness.

If you've seen any "B" Western from this era then the plot of this should be rather familiar. What separates this film is the fact that it features an all black-cast, which makes it a rare race film set in the West. As was the case with many race pictures from its era, sadly there just wasn't too much money to be spent so there are flubs in the film and other technical issues but these things are to be expected.

For the most part I thought the film was mildly entertaining as long as you don't expect too much from it. After all, it is a "B" Western shot with an extremely low-budget so one shouldn't be expecting the work of John Ford anyways. I thought Jeffries and Williams were both good in their roles and overall I thought the acting was a lot better than we typically see. Matthew 'Stymie" Beard has a small role and adds some charm (and dialogue issues) as does Moreland.

TWO-GUN MAN FROM HARLEM certainly isn't a classic movie and it's not going to appeal to too many people. With that said, if you're interested in these early race movies it's certainly worth watching.

Beware (1946)
Worth Watching for the Music, 17 February 2017

Beware (1946)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Ware College, a historically black college, receives a notice that the new owner is about to close it down. The school doesn't have the greatest attendance anymore and the new owner just doesn't care about its history. Thankfully Louis Jordan and his band stop in the town.

BEWARE runs just under a hour and I must say that it's one of the better race movies from this period. If you're looking for a good story or some heart-warming type of movie then you certainly won't find it here. I say that because there's really not much of a story here and the entire college thing is just a set-up for Jordan whose music is certainly the main focus of the picture.

At just under a hour there's really not much here. The greatest thing about the movie is certainly the music by Jordan who performs a lot of different songs. If you're never heard of Jordan before then the film will at least give you a chance to hear some great Jazz music. This here alone is what makes BEWARE worth watching and the music is great enough to where anyone should want to check it out.

Raw and Ground-Breaking but It's Not All That Good, 16 February 2017

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

** (out of 4)

Male prostitute Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles) gets tired of seeing a black man getting beaten by two white cops so he kills the cops. Sweetback takes off trying to evade the police who are hot on his trail.

Thanks to its classic title and the fact that it's a historically important film, SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG has become somewhat of a folk/cult movie. There's no question that the film was a very important one for black cinema because it kick-started the blaxploitation genre but it also showed a different type of black man on the screen. White audiences were used to seeing Sidney Poitier and his kindness but none of that was to be seen with this film.

Instead of taking it from the man, Sweetback decided to give it to the man and kill any white person who tried to hold him back. I'm sure a lot of people would watch this film today and call it all sorts of things but I think it's important that people realize that this was released just a few years after black people were still being beaten by the police and had water hoses turned on them. There's no question that Melvin Van Peebles broke all sorts of new ground and he deserves a lot of credit delivering this type of movie.

With that said, there's still no question that the film itself isn't all that good. Basically we get a 97-minute running film where we see the hero bang several women, kill a few others and then he runs around the entire time. There's no question that the low-budget actually works for the film but at the same time everything is extremely slow and rather boring as well. Van Peebles is good in the role. He's given very little dialogue but that look tells you everything you need to know.

SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG isn't a masterpiece but it deserves to be called a classic since it did break through so many new levels.

Fans of Adamson Will Be Interested, 16 February 2017

A Stranger in My Home: Death's Final Cut (2014)

Al Adamson was a director in the drive-in era that created some rather awful but highly entertaining films. Movies like Dracula VS FRANKENSTEIN, NURSE SHERRI and SATAN'S SADIST continue to gain new fans with each passing year. Once you get into the work of Adamson you'll eventually get to his brutal murder, which is the subject of this episode of A Stranger in My Home.

Adamson's brother, his one time girlfriend, his co-worker, his maid and the police involved in the investigation are all interviewed here as we trace the final years of Adamson's life as well as the brutal and senseless murder. We learn about how he got involved with a man who he tried to help but this eventually led to his murder. All of the stories are quite interesting to say the least as well as the way that Adamson was murdered and how his family found out.

This same story was told in one of the E! True Hollywood Stories episodes but this here is so much more entertaining simply because of the interviews with those who were close to Adamson. His producer, Sam Sherman, is also interviewed so fans of him will enjoy watching this even if it's over a rather depressing subject. The episode is certainly of interest to fans of the late director.

Episode: A

Grant's Performance is Very Much Underrated, 16 February 2017

An Affair to Remember (1957)

*** (out of 4)

Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) and Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) are both about to be married to very successful people but the two meet on a cruise and soon realize that they have fallen in love. To be sure, they decide to give their romance a six month break after which time they will meet on top of the Empire State Building but things take a wrong turn.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER has, for some reason, become one of the most loved romance movies ever made. I'm sure some of it is because of the attention it received thanks to SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE but even before that film this one had a nice following. I'm not saying this is a bad movie because it certainly isn't but at the same time I've always felt that the 1939 version, LOVE AFFAIR, was much better.

With that said,t his one here still has plenty of things going for it that makes it worth watching. There are also some flaws that keep it from being much better. In my opinion the two long-winded singing sessions by the children towards the end of the movie could have been edited out without any harm done. I'd also argue that there's really nothing original with the story and that even by today's standards it's a tad bit dated.

In my opinion, the film also runs a tad bit too long but I've always felt that the movie is so loved because of the final moments in the film. Obviously I'm not going to spoil anything but there's no question that director Leo McCarey does a marvelous job at building up the tension, the romance and the eventual outcome that happens. This final sequence is beautifully shot, perfectly director and so wonderfully acted that you leave the theater on such a great note that you can overlook what flaws the film had.

Kerr is certainly very good and quite charming in the film but for my money the success of the movie is due to Grant. The poor actor never really got the credit he deserves even in some of his greatest pictures and performances. As much as I think this film is overrated, at the same time I think Grant's performance is very much underrated as he just brings a certain charm and a certain comic timing that perfectly adds to the entertainment level. Going back to the final sequence, the way he cautiously plays it is so marvelously done that you really can't argue about the talent he had.

Birthright (1939)
Good Race Picture, 16 February 2017

Birthright (1939)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Peter Siner (Carman Newsome) returns to the South after graduating from Harvard and he soon realizes that an educated black man isn't going to sit well with many folks. Peter plans to open some education centers for black youths but quickly comes up against opposition and dirty business practices.

Oscar Micheaux's BIRTHRIGHT is a remake of a film he made in 1924 and sadly that version is lost. The first two reels of this 1939 version are also lost but the print I watched had some dialogue and story lines to help you understand what was going on. From here we get another very low-budget film from the director but this one here is certainly among the most interesting that he made.

If you've'e seen enough of Micheaux's work then you already know that many of his films had to deal with low-budgets as well as technical issues that prevented them from being of a high quality. Those same issues are here but for the most part the story is good enough to overcome this and you're left with a pretty entertaining film that manages to give you a great idea of what it must have been like being black, educated and trying to function in the South.

As is also the case with much of the director's work, the performances are a mixed bag but on the whole I thought they were a lot better here than what we typically see. Newsome wasn't brilliant here but he was certainly good enough to keep you glued to the material and he was certainly a sympathetic character and one that you could feel for. As I said, the majority of the cast are hit and miss but none of them are bad enough to ruin the picture.

Hopefully one day the complete film will turn up as well as the original version. Still, this is an interesting movie and certainly one that is worth watching.

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