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Boss Nigger Review

February 24, 2014

Much like Gun Crazy or The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Died and Came Back as Mixed Up Zombies, if you have a title this wild for a film, you better do it right the first time. So think fast what film has the most offensive title that’s apparently family friendly?

Boss Nigger Film Rating
Kids could handle things like this easier back then.

Boss Nigger of course! A Blaxploitation Western with a cast and crew of young black stars of the day and old white people behind the camera. I wish the production history on the film was documented somewhere. It was written, produced and stars Fred Williamson, who has charisma to spare even when he’s relegated to minor roles. Thankfully, he has a starring role and much more screen time here than in 1990: The Bronx Warriors.

Here’some production run down:

Robert Caramico Cinematographer of the Ed Wood scripted pornography film Orgy of the Dead and Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive
Gene Ruggiero Film editor old enough to have worked on Ninotchka (1939). Boss Nigger is Edited alongside Eva Ruggiero (wife? cousin? daughter? what’s the link!?)
Jack Arnold Director of superior 50s science fiction films The Incredible Shrinking Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Current old white guy making film called Boss Nigger.

I want to see pictures of these guys on set next to D’Urville Martin and Fred Williamson! Jack Arnold was sort of at the end of his career making this film and had settled into mostly directing television. Even in his best films, I don’t know how much personal input he had to make his mark as a director. I mostly remember his more popular films either having solid 1950s special effects and cinematography (or in the case of Shrinking Man, a surprisingly heavy ending that comes out of nowhere!) It’s not the 1950s anymore, and outside occasionally nice landscape shots of desert scenery, the film mise-en-scene is pretty awful. The flat illustration below of the Western town is pretty much how the town looks the entire movie.

boss-nigger-review

So don’t watch this expecting The Wild Bunch or The Shootist. Boss Nigger is a completely different story. Its story revolves around Boss (Fred Williamson) and Amos (D’urville Martin) arriving in town, they saving a black woman from racist killers and electing themselves Sheriffs, because why not!? Between helping other minorities and seducing any attractive young woman in sight, we then follow a standard Blaxploitation formula:

WHITE PERSON ACTS RACIST
GETS SHIT KICKED OUT OF THEM
REPEAT FOR HALF AN HOUR

That sums up half of Boss Nigger’s running time. We are then treated to Boss and Amos rescuing a black woman from racist Outlaw kidnappers. It all leads to some bad decisions made by our heroes, as they have a showdown in town leaving quite a good number of the cast dead. If that sounds like a pretty basic plot that could’ve been shot as a TV show, you are right. Williamson and Arnold just really extend these scenes to make a feature and it’s not subtle.

Nobody enters Boss Nigger expecting a fresh take on the Western genre and it’s not even as creative as Blazing Saddles, made a year earlier. It’s about making real, serious issues (like racism) seem like a firearm-filled walk in the park with Fred Williamson arresting and fighting assholes. D’Urville Martin, by the way, is no Fred Williamson. He is supposed to be the comic relief, but the real humour comes from his complete lack of competence in the role, which makes him quite endearing. D’Urville is a bit short and seems to have trouble with horseback riding and basic gunplay in the film. By comparison, Fred Williamson is much funnier, even with less obvious jokes. Maybe D’Urville was distracted by his directorial debut, Dolemite, which was released in the same year.
Since D’urville is nominated for “person most likely to accidentally shoot himself in a fight”, the rest of the cast is mostly stock bad-racist whitey or “one of the good ones” Boss supporters. No one really stands out. They are only there to be the butt of jokes, or the in case of women, get naked or fawn over Boss. The action is also weaker in the film, with only Fred making fighting seem fun., Some fights are choreographed badly, particularly the final fight, where a good part is not in the camera’s sight as it’s behind a bar in the saloon. You see tons of whiskey bottles on the wall and no one even breaks them! It’s not as poor or laughable as Dolemite, but doesn’t leave much of an impression either.

My favourite thing about blaxploitation films is their soundtracks. Boss Nigger has a score with the very modern sounding “We Produce” name credited as the composer. It’s funny to watch Boss and Amos ride horses in a Western setting to a set of generic funk riffs. Occasionally, a more traditional Western score is heard, especially when the story shifts to the racist outlaws on set. However, it doesn’t last, as the final showdown has the racist outlaws riding into town with that crazy funk score again! Who screwed that up? There funk score even resembles the People’s Court intro theme. Isn’t cool when films date weirdly like that?

The notorious theme song is the most noteworthy piece, which is performed by Terrible Tom. I can’t find any evidence of Terrible Tom doing any other music outside this film. (If you are Terrible Tom or know anything about him, contact me). The song is not as strong as the music from SuperFly or Shaft, but if you find the title “Boss Nigger” in any way entertaining, you’ll find the chorus entering your mind when you least expect it.

The film has a surprisingly high rating on IMDb, which I assume stems from people enjoying the risque title. Boss Nigger has some amusing lines from Williamson, but as a story, it’s a mess. If the Blaxploitation traits of strong, overtly sexual and aggressive black men punching out idiotic racists is your thing, than this will satisfy you, as it’s slightly unique setting alone to make it stand out from other Blaxploitation hybrids like Space is the Place or Blacula. Despite the occasional weak production value and storytelling, it’s entertaining to see Fred Williamson do his thing with a lighter racial commentary. Besides, what other PG films has women and children killed, socialism praised, and racism handled with violence? If only all modern day PG films were as crazy as that, genre fans wouldn’t cry over PG-13 so much now, would they?

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Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris Review

November 1, 2013
gamera-trilogy

This blu-ray is for sale for $5 everywhere! Get it!

Does the “Giant Monsters from Japan” genre fall into the action genre? From my research, Godzilla and friends seem to be of greater interest to a sub-suction of science fiction fans who can’t get enough of their favourite monster’s showcasing their powers and unique designs more than the how good the films are when the monsters are battling.

I have seen a number of Godzilla films that came out in the 2000s, but have never watched the Gamera series until recently. The original 1960s Gamera series make some of the sillier Godzilla films look like Annie Hall. It does not help that the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew has permanently etched in the minds of audiences that Gamera films are juvenile junk. Surprisingly, their jibs and jabs have become a blessing in disguise. Godzilla expert David Kalat has stated that special effects artist Shinji Higuchi was watching MST3K in a Los Angeles hotel room when he saw the mocking robots tear apart the Gamera films. Both Higuchi and director Shusuke Kaneko were on the cusp of rebooting the Gamera series in the 1990s, and did not want their creation to be viewed in the same light.

The first two films in the 1990s Gamera series are mostly notable for their special effects. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe has very nicely detailed models but is hampered by poorly done compositing visuals that took me out of the film. The human characters are as stiff as ever in the first film, but they get a decent boost in Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, which has a story that feels inspired by/rips off Aliens and Them! As the third film re-uses and references the characters and plot points of the first two films, it is best to watch those if you want to get the most out of Gamera 3.

That being said, Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris is a great improvement from the first two films. Gone are the flatly lit sets, dull military planning scenes and half-asleep actors that only exit to talk about Gamera when he’s not on screen. The film also benefits from a darker tone and visuals that wouldn’t be out of place in a film like Dark City or Tim Burton’s Batman. The monster Gamera now looks far more threatening than before which suit the film’s plot written by director Shusuke Kaneko and screenwriter Kazunori Itō. This was Kaneko’s first time as a screenwriter in a Gamera film, while Itō’s resume includes the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell and the Patalabor anime series.

gamera-ghost-in-the-shell-poster
ghost-in-the-shell-poster
Put your mouse over the poster to see what could have been.

Gamera 3 isn’t as serious as Ghost in the Shell, but as of its release in 1999, it was probably one of the most entertaining monster mashes of the decade! The characters are not leveled with complexity, but they are far more memorable than any previous entries in the series. Characters like Ai Maeda who has a delightfully bizarre bond with the monster Isis adds a human element to both the story and the monster which is desperately needed in this genre. Thankfully, secondary characters like a scenery chewing mad video game programmer are also amusing in their own right.

Not all is perfect in Gamera 3, the film’s pace slows down a bit towards the middle where it becomes overtly talky. The anime influenced storyline is…daffy to say the least. Take the part of the plot that involves Gamera needing mana to survive…or something! These nature-preservation themed things are handled in much less derpy manner in films like Princess Mononoke.
Some reviewers have complained about the computer generated imagery of Isis as straying too far from traditional kaiju territory. I’m not 100% for CGI in films, but I feel that Gamera 3 is a very strong combination of practical and computer generated effects. Besides, there are far more dated effects in Guardian of the Universe. If CGI was needed to create Isis, than I’m all for it as the creature is one of the more interesting beasts in the series. He/She/It follows my rules for a good monster in film.

1) Don’t tease the audience about the look of a monster. People entering the film know it’s a monster movie and have seen trailers and posters so we all know how the monster looks! Give us something and make the monster evolve and change so it’s not some giant reveal for the last 15 minutes of the film. Gamera’s first reign of destruction happens fairly early in the film and is then followed by the development of Iris.

2) Keep the monster motives interesting. After it attacks once, let part of the plot be finding out why it attacks and what kind of unique strengths and weaknesses it has. It’s more interesting to see what it can or cannot do and how people in the film deal with their monster problem. This works well in films like Tremors with the rock hopping to avoid the creatures or The Descent where the crawlers can only hunt their prey through sound. In Gamera 3,the characters who trust Gamera as a savior begin to have doubts while Isis’ connection with Ai Maeda keeps their status above par.

The film was released on Blu-ray a few years back and is very easy to find at a price of under $10. So why is Gamera 3 never talked about?
According to the website Tohokingdom.com, the film was not as financially successful as the previous Gamera films. The film ends in a cliff-hanger and no direct sequel. The next Gamera film was released in 2006 and was not part of this 1990s series, not made by Toho, and was a more family-friendly affair with a cute baby Gamera.

I think Western audiences were more interested in the wave of J-Horror films like The Ring and The Grudge which were the newest hip films from Asia at the time. Not to mention that Battle Royale and the controversial films Takashii Miike were also a hot commodity of their day. It’s too bad, because Gamera 3 deserves as large of a fanbase as these films have. Perhaps it was because Gamera as a monster is harder to market. Gamera’s has to to appeal to a fanbase by sticking to it’s roots: he better still spin in his shell and fly around! Outsiders will definitely have a tricky time with the concept as, surprise, surprise: Turtles do not fly. Godzilla at least resembles more familiar lizards and audiences can associate him with a fire breathing dragon or a gargantuan dinosaur. It’s not easy being a turtle, let alone a flying one.
Despite some minor flaws, Gamera 3 is heads and tails above other giant monster films in terms of story, action and spectacle. I have no hesitation in recommend picking it up the Gamera trilogy, so you can watch the other two films first to prepare yourself for the monster-bashing feast that is Gamera 3.

go-go-gamera
Put your mouse over Gamera!
Go Go Gamera! Happy Halloween!

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Misleading Film Adveristing

October 13, 2013

I don’t know about any of you but I’m pretty much done with film trailers. I’ve always tried to avoid posting any new trailers on this blog as I feel they give me a false perception of what a film will even be like these days. On the other hand, I cannot just put on my nostalgia glasses and pretend everything was hunky dory two or three decades ago. For example, let’s take a look at international advertising with the 1973 Blaxploitaiton film Savage!.

”Savage” was directed by Phillipino director Cirio H. Santiago who is surprisingly still kicking out action films to this day. Santiago is probably better known for producing some women-in-prison films in the early 70s and directing several blaxploiation films and what I call the “girl-army” films of the 1970s. ”Savage!” is marketed as a blaxploitation film but doesn’t really dwell on following any rules of that genre too long. (It’s more about the main character joining a team of female vigalantes to overthrow a government). Italian advertisers must have felt the same way as me, as they decided to turn this:

Savage blaxploitation 1973 poster

to this:

Racist film poster 1970s.

I can understand Italian distributors thinking that a white lead would sell better, but I don’t understand in actually trying to fool the audience into thinking the lead isn’t black! If they go see it, wouldn’t they think they’ve stepped into the wrong cinema?

The Italian poster goes into further exploitation territory as well. Note the officer’s flame thrower on the American version has turned into a shotgun, and his victims have been added to the slaughter on the second advertisement. The race-hopping lead has also moved from a gun smoking to full blown guns blaring. Even the director’s changes aliases between posters: from Cirio Santiago to the nationality-confused name of Cirius Xantiac!

I have yet to see the film and don’t know if I ever will. It has very small release on DVD and was released on VHS under various titles (which also features images of actors not in the film). Among the few reviews I’ve found online, none have spoken to positively about it, generally referring to it as a weak film even among blaxploitation aficionados.

So who’s to blame for the race-change? The artist who designed the American poster was John Solie who did several other films posters (including the Shaft series) while the only unique credit I can find that isn’t an alias on the Italian poster is Remo Angioli as a presenter. Sadly, Angioli’s filmography is even more obscure than the film itself as the only other film credit I can find for him is being the producer of the Italian horror film ”Nude for Satan”. So who’s the real culprit in this ad? Has anyone else seen this happen in other posters of the era? Little help anyone?

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Righting Wrongs Review

September 21, 2013

When people think of Corey Yuen, their thoughts turn to two things: Jet Li’s partner in crime and the person in question when text is tattooed across a DVD cover shouting, “From the Director of The Transporter.“ For me, Yuen is probably just as important as Tsui Hark for getting Hong Kong films up to American production standards. Where Tsui Hark was importing Hollywood visual effects artists for Xu Warriors From the Magic Mountain or producing films for up and coming directors, I feel Corey Yuen always had an international audience in mind and was doing it in his own way.

Need proof? Corey Yuen was the first New Wave Hong Kong directors to make an American production via the (Fist of B-list favourite) No Retreat, No Surrender, a film that just missed being a big hit by premiering at 11th place in the American box office when released. But hey! It still beat John Woo to the punch for directing in the United States. Corey Yuen’s second film as director was the multi-titled Yes, Madam!, which was the debut film of white American Cynthia Rothrock. Rothrock’s role was probably producer Sammo Hung’s idea, but they still had the lone white American who could showcase her martial arts chops well enough for her stand out as being a token white girl in these types of films. People still talk about Rothrock today, right?

In the same year as No Retreat, Corey Yuen starting working on what would be one of his most memorable Hong Kong Films: Righting Wrongs. For this film, my theory is that Yuen was reaching out to an American audience. Yuen not only got Rothrock front and center again, but there’s also Canadian kick boxer Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham who Yuen worked with on No Retreat as well as stunt actress Karen Sheperd who Rothrock gets in a fancy foot chase with. Of course, the film’s real star is Yuen Biao, but even with him as the star, the film still has more ties to American productions. Biao has even stated that Righting Wrongs’ production was planned early on, allowing for less of the “make-it-up-as-we-go” spirit of other Hong Kong action films of the era. It’s far less scattered than Yes, Madam! and this planning is evident.

Righting Wrongs also is a big change from Yuen’s previous Hong Kong production Yes, Madam!, as it’s nearly free of the “wacky” Hong Kong comedy that takes up a lot of Yes, Madam!’s running time. Even the film’s villain, played by Melvin Wong, acts without the usual scenery- chewing habits of other pulpy baddies, thus marking his character more realistic and memorable. In comparison to Yuen’s previous films and other Hong Kong films of the era, the story is played far more straight, which I believe was done as Yuen had a foreign audience in mind. Clearly, Corey Yuen was Hong Kong’s flag-waving all American patriot.

corey-yuen-american-patriot
Corey Yuen: All-American

That’s probably an overstatement, but the American influences are hard to miss and it’s still one of his better films Yuen has directed in America or Hong Kong. Righting Wrongs succeeds due to its successful action scenes, which are a huge step-up from what appears in No Retreat, No Surrender and Yes, Madam! in their intensity and creativity. I was entertained enough to forgive the occasional rusty editing. Take this car park battle with Yuen Biao. The audience I watched it with got some giggles when the car impossibly gets some air time when it leaps out one of the car park windows, but after witnessing the mayhem, the car could have sprouted wings and flew off and I wouldn’t have so much as batted an eye.

Another freeze-frame worthy scene involves some very obvious stunt doubling for the major cast members in the action scenes. It becomes especially amusing during the scenes where Rothrock is doubled by a Hong Kong male stuntman. Take a look:

cynthia-rothrock-stunt-double-above-the-law
I like how he shaved his legs. That’s stuntman commitment.

Other separations from the norm include a rare woman vs. woman fight scene. Yuen films the women respectfully and not merely for titillation as it’s free from faux-orgasmed “oohs” and “ahs” of films like Charlie’s Angels. Then again, who knows if that was even running through Yuen’s mind? He did direct So Close over a decade later which has a somewhat famous fluffy bathroom scene, so it’s hard to view Yuen as any sort of filmmaker with a female-empowerment message to get across. [Note: Sorry for linking to a video titled "Hot Asian Chick bathtub fight (catfight)", but everyone needs at least one sketchy thing in their browser history.]

So what’s holding this film back from being known as well as something like The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk? It’s had a weird life on home video with multiple titles and the current Hong Kong Blu-ray’s subtitles are a complete mess, making it’s plot frustrating to follow. The film’s plot isn’t helped by a side-story involving Wu Ma which doesn’t effect the main plot significantly or compliment the action scenes in any way. Worst of all, like Yes, Madam! previously, it has a needless bummer of an ending involving the death of pretty much every likable character in the film. Who screwed that up? Barry Wong is credited as the screenwriter for both of these two Corey Yuen films, so is he the culprit? Or did someone’s contract demand “no sequel” and decided everyone should die? Who knows!

I doubt there will ever be any serious critical analysis of Righting Wrongs released written, nor will it receive a 30th Anniversary re-release anytime soon, so my questions will probably remain unanswered. However, it’s a film that is very easy to recommend to fans of Rothrock, Corey Yuen, and of course, Yuen Biao. I’d recommend the Dragon Dynasty DVD (where it’s titled Above the Law) over the Hong Kong blu-ray due it’s better subtitles and bonus features. It’s a solid action film – just fast-forward as soon as you see Wu Ma – and you’re set!

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(Wo)men in Black Leather Suits

September 17, 2012

Your favourite Canadian action director is talkin’ shit again. Before making three more Smurf films, he’s speaking out on how he feels about films. In an interview with The Guardian, he spat out a bit on modern female action heroes.

James Cameron Superhero film

Strong words, but fairly apt. Let’s take a look at some films released in the past few years. Even without the plot, they all shop at the same leather shop.

Women action films

Granted, they all generally fit the style appropriate for their stories and films, but it is all a bit samey and are a fairly unrecognized cliche. Not sure if it makes them men, but I’ve seen as far as memorable characters go, I can’t even remember the character’s names. Is Mr.Cameron guilty of his own statements though? Ripley (Aliens) and Sarah Connor (Terminator 2) have all the fierceness of any macho post-Rambo characters, but they do avoid being strictly damsels in distress or eye candy with notable personality traits. One that stands out for me, is their own maternal instincts such as Sarah Conner desiring to save humanity and her son from Judgement Day or Ripley protecting Newt. Obviously, Titanic doesn’t follow into my argument as easily, but Cameron’s pretty bang on about the leather-clothed ladies. Forgive me if I don’t want to see Resident Aeon Evil Underworld Flux again in the near future!

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