A Movie A Day #81: The Great White Hype (1996, directed by Reginald Hudlin)

The Rev. Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) has a problem.  He is the richest and the best known fight promoter in America but the current (and undefeated) heavyweight champion is just too good.  No one is paying to watch James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Damon Wayans) fight because Roper always wins.  Sultan has a plan, though.  Before Roper turned professional, he lost a fight to Terry Conklin (Peter Berg).  Conklin has long since retired from boxing and is now a heavy metal, progressive musician.  Sultan convinces Conklin to come out of retirement and face Roper in a rematch.  Since Conklin is white and Roper is black, Sultan stands to make a killing as white boxing fans get swept up in all the hype about Conklin being the latest “great white hope.”

In the days leading up to the fight, crusading journalist Mitchell Kane (Jeff Goldblum) attempts to expose the crooked Sultan before getting seduced into his inner circle.  Meanwhile, boxer Marvin Shabazz (Michael Jace) and his manager, Hassan El Rukk’n (Jamie Foxx), unsuccessfully pursue a match with Roper.  Conklin gets back into shape while Roper eats ice cream and watches Dolemite.

In its attempt to satirize boxing, The Great White Hype runs into a huge problem.  The fight game is already so shady that it is beyond satire.  This was especially true in the 90s, when the The Great White Hype was first released.  (Even more than the famous Larry Holmes/Gerry Cooney title fight, The Great White Hype’s obvious inspiration was the heavily promoted, two-minute fight between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley.)  The Great White Hype is a very busy film but nothing in it can match Oliver McCall’s mental breakdown in the middle of his fight with Lennox Lewis, Andrew Golota twice fighting Riddick Bowe and twice getting disqualified for low blows, or Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear.

The Great White Hype has an only in the 90s supporting cast, featuring everyone from Jon Lovitz to Cheech Marin to, for some reason, Corbin Bernsen.  Damon Wayans is the least convincing heavyweight champion since Tommy Morrison essentially played himself in Rocky V.  The Rev. Sultan was meant to be a take on Don King and Samuel L. Jackson was a good pick for the role but the real Don King is so openly corrupt and flamboyant that he’s almost immune to parody.

When it comes to trying to take down Don King, I think Duke puts it best.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Girls Night Out (dir by Philippe Gagnon)

Last night, before I went to bed, I continued to clean out my DVR by watching a Lifetime film, Girls Night Out.  I recorded Girls Night Out off of the Lifetime Movie Network on January 22nd.  It was the earliest recording on my DVR.

Girls Night Out tells the story of McKenzie (MacKenzie Mauzy) and three of her closest friends.  They’ve been close since college.  They were all in the same sorority.  They have a long history laughs, pranks, fun, and barely concealed resentment.  Now, they have all graduated and they’ve all found individual success.  McKenzie is marrying Reese (Cody Ray Thompson), who is nice but kind of boring.

While her friends take McKenzie out to celebrate, Reese runs into a guy at a bar.  Brandon (Jacob Blair) seems nice but he’s not!  In college, Brandon used to date McKenzie.  But, one night, after getting her drunk, Brandon raped McKenzie.  When McKenzie reported him, Brandon was kicked out of school.  He lost all of his friends at his fraternity.  He lost his chance to play in the NFL.  Brandon wants revenge and that revenge starts with kidnapping Reese.

Brandon announces that, unless McKenzie and her friends follow his every order, he will kill Reese.  He divides the four of them into two teams and then has them recreate extreme versions of some of the pranks they played in college.  One team is sent searching for thrown-away food and used condoms.  One team is ordered to sneak into a morgue and kiss a corpse.  One friend has to strip down to her underwear while her teammate writes on her with a marker.  Meanwhile, the other two friends have to go buy crack.  And that’s only the beginning…

Girl’s Night Out is a film that asks, “How far would you go for your friends?”  That’s the question that I found myself wondering as I watched.  I never joined a sorority but, when I was in college, I had a group of friends who were like sisters to me.  I called us the SBS, which stands for Sexy Bitch Squad.  My friend Lea used to call us the BNC, which stood for Big Nose Crew, which I think was her sweet way of trying to make me feel better about my own nose.  But regardless of what we were called, we were and are extremely close.  So, I could definitely relate to the scenes involving the bachelorette party and the male strippers.

But, I asked myself, if someone’s fiancée was being held prisoner and being threatened with murder, would I go to the same lengths as the characters in Girls Night Out?

Probably not.

I mean, seriously — climbing into the dumpster and looking for a used condom?  Ewwww.  Kiss a corpse?  No way!  But, luckily, I know that none of the members of SBS (or the BNC) would ever ask me to.  They know me well enough to know better.  That’s the great thing about friendship.  You don’t have to pretend like you’d wear high heels in a crack house just to keep your friend’s boyfriend from being murdered.  You can be yourself, flaws and all.

As for the rest of Girls Night Out … well, it took it a while but it won me over.  At first, everyone in the film seemed so shallow that I had a hard time imagining how I could ever have any sympathy for them.  But then Brandon showed up and was such a hateful character (and Jacob Blair did such a good job of bringing this loathsome jerk to life) that I found myself really looking forward to seeing him get his comeuppance.  Let’s face it — we’ve all had a Brandon in our lives and our greatest regret is that we never go a chance to witness him getting repeatedly kicked in his genitals.  Knowing that Brandon would eventually get his ass kicked was more than enough to keep me watching the film.

It took a while but seeing Brandon get what he deserved made the film more than worth watchiing.

A Movie A Day #80: The Palermo Connection (1990, directed by Francesco Rosi)

Carmine Bonavia (James Belushi) is an idealistic New York City councilman who wants to be mayor.  Despite an easily understood slogan — “Make A Difference!” — his reform campaign is running behind in the polls.  Having nothing to lose, Carmine announces that he supports the legalization of drugs.  By taking out the profit motive, the Sicilian Mafia will no longer have any incentive to sell drugs in the inner city.  Carmine shoots to top of the polls.  Now leading by 11%, Carmine marries his campaign manager (Mimi Rogers) and returns to his ancestral home of Sicily for a combination honeymoon and fact-finding tour.  The Mafia, realizing that Carmine is serious about legalizing drugs, conspires to frame him for the murder of a flower boy.  If that doesn’t work, they are willing to resort to other, more permanent, methods to prevent Carmine from ever becoming mayor.

The Palermo Connection is an unfairly overlooked film from Francesco Rosi, an Italian director who specialized in political controversy.  Though The Palermo Connection was sold as a thriller, Rosi was more interested in showing how organized crime, big business, government corruption, the war on drugs, and the poverty of the inner cities are all intricately connected.  When Carmine arrives in Palermo, Rosi contrasts the outer beauty of Sicily with the desperate lives of the junkies living there.  The pace may be too slow for action movie fans but Rosi gives the audience much to think about.  This is probably the last film you would ever expect to star James Belushi but he gives a strong and committed performance as Carmine.

The Palermo Connection, which was co-written by Gore Vidal, is a good film that predates The Wire in its examination of how greed, drugs, poverty, and racism all come together to victimize the most marginalized members of society.

Rockin’ in the Film World #10: THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (20th Century Fox 1956)


Frank Tashlin  combines two of 50’s America’s favorite obsessions, sex & rock’n’roll, in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, Jayne Mansfield’s first headlight headlining role. When Jayne sashays across the screen, turning heads, melting ice, boiling milk, and cracking eyeglasses a star is born, in CinemaScope and gorgeous DeLuxe color. But the film is stacked with more than just Jayne’s Twin Peaks; it features performances from rock royalty like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Platters, and a host of others.

The plot is very simple (and very familiar): a goony gangster (broadly played by a hilarious Edmond O’Brien ) hires a down-on-his-luck agent (Tom Ewell of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH) to make a singing star out of his honey (our girl Jayne). Only problem is, Jayne can’t carry a tune in a bucket, shattering lightbulbs whenever she starts to warble. Seems she doesn’t want to be a star…

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Trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel released the 2nd full trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is looking pretty good. It seems that having proved himself to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has received some cool upgrades to his Spider-Man suit. While Peter appears to want to join the Avengers, Stark would have him just keep an eye on New York City and some of the more low-level stuff. When The Vulture (Michael Keaton) threatens the city, Spider-Man may be the only one to stop him. Then again, it does look like there’s an Iron-Man team up here, which is sweet. This trailer is feeling like some of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man line.

The film comes out on July 7th. Enjoy.

A Movie A Day #79: Blindman (1971, directed by Ferdinando Baldi)

In the old west, a professional gunman (played by Tony Anthony) has been hired to escort 50 women to a Texas mining town.  The gunman is known as Blindman, precisely because he is a blind man.  He is also a fast and deadly with a gun and has an apparent psychic connection with his horse.  Unfortunately, for Blindman, it turns out that his partners double crossed him and sold the 50 women to a Mexican bandit.  Blindman must go to Mexico to rescue the women from the ruthless Domingo (Lloyd Battista) and his crazy younger brother, Candy (Ringo Starr).

You read that correctly.  This is not only a Spaghetti western about a blind gunslinger who owns a seeing-eye horse.  It’s also a Spaghetti western that co-stars the man who replaced Pete Best.  Of the four Beatles, Ringo was always the best actor and he is surprisingly convincing as a psychotic Mexican bandit.  As for the rest of Blindman, it can not compare to the best Spaghetti westerns but there’s enough novelty in the idea of a blind gunman that it is still interesting to watch.  Tony Anthony may have been one of the lesser known Spaghetti western stars but he probably gave the best performance of his career as Blindman.  Along with being a violent, bloody, and nudity-filled western, Blindman is also a comedy.  Most of the jokes are delivered by Tony Anthony, who spends a lot of time talking to himself and who, despite being blind, stares straight at the camera while doing so.  (Most of the jokes were also written by Tony Anthony.  He’s one of the credited screenwriters.)

Why does Blindman do what he does?  As he puts it in the movie, “To be blind, with no money, now that’s a bitch!”