That’s Blaxploitation! 13: BLACK CAESAR (AIP 1973)

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1972’s blockbuster smash THE GODFATHER began an onslaught of gangster movies released to your neighborhood theaters and drive-ins trying to capitalize on that film’s success. American-International Pictures was right in the thick of it, and since Blaxploitation was all the rage at the time, why not combine the two hottest genres? Producer/director/genius Larry Cohen already had a script written for Sammy Davis Jr., but when Sammy backed out, AIP Boss of Bosses Samuel Z. Arkoff signed Fred “The Hammer” Williamson to star as the Godfather of Harlem, BLACK CAESAR.

BLACK CAESAR is a semi-remake of the 1932 classic LITTLE CAESAR starring Edward G. Robinson, updated for the Blaxploitation/Grindhouse crowd and spun around on it’s head by Larry Cohen. You already know how much I enjoy Cohen’s work, and the auteur doesn’t fail to deliver the goods with this one. Casting the charismatic former NFL star Williamson was a bonus, and…

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That’s Blaxploitation! 10: HELL UP IN HARLEM (AIP 1973)

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I’ve covered producer/writer/director Larry Cohen’s marvelously manic work in the horror genre ( IT’S ALIVE! , GOD TOLD ME TO ), but did you know the low-budget auteur also contributed some solid entries to the Blaxploitation field? Cohen’s gangster epic BLACK CAESAR starred Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and was such a smash a sequel was rushed into production and released ten months later. HELL UP IN HARLEM picks up right where the original left off, as ‘Black Caesar’ Tommy Gibbs is set up by corrupt DA DiAngelo and shot on the streets of New York City. Tommy has possession of some ledgers with the names of all the crooked politicians and cops on his payroll, and DiAngelo and his Mafioso friends want to put him out of circulation for good. Escaping via a wild taxi ride, Tommy is back in business and out for revenge.

This enables Cohen to serve up a series of crazy/cool set pieces that…

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That’s Blaxploitaion!: BLACK BELT JONES (Warners 1974)

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Here’s the recipe for the quintessential 70s flick: Take a huge hunk of blaxpolitation, add equal parts kung-fu action, throw in some Mafia type villains. Stick em all in a blender with some generic funk music, and you’ve got BLACK BELT JONES. This movie was made to cash in on all three crazes, and to make a star out of Jim ‘The Dragon’ Kelly, who appeared in director Robert Clouse’s previous kung-fu extravaganza ENTER THE DRAGON, starring the immortal Bruce Lee.  Kelly looked good onscreen, and had all the right martial art moves. Unfortunately, he couldn’t act his way out of a Chinese take-out box. Nobody can in this film except gorgeous Gloria Hendry, who plays Kelly’s kung-fu partner/love interest Sydney.

The plot’s basically just there to hang the action scenes on: Mafia chief Don Stefano tries to grab some land the city of Los Angeles wants for a new civic center. He sends Pinky, the local black gangleader, to…

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James Bond Review: Live and Let Die (dir. by Guy Hamilton)

One year and one day ago the very first James Bond film to star Sir Roger Moore, Live and Let Die, in the title role was reviewed by Lisa Marie, and now it’s time to revisit the eight official film in the series.

With the previous Bond entry, Diamonds Are Forever, we finally see Sean Connery run out of gas when it came to playing the title role of James Bond. Yet, despite the obvious boredom Connery was having in the film the producers of the series were still wanting him to come back for another Bond film. Maybe it was his experience during the production of Diamonds Are Forever or Connery finally decided it was truly time to go the series’ producers didn’t get their wish and were in a rush to find someone new to wear the mantle o Agent 007.

They finally found their new James Bond in the form of English-actor Roger Moore and production on Live and Let Die began soon after.

Roger Moore, for me, has always been the start of the less serious, but much more fun era of the James Bond franchise. His films still had the intrigue and action of the Connery-era, but the writers and producers of the series put in more one-liners and humor in the story. We begin to see the start of this in the previous Bond film (not handled as well and came off as awkward at times), but it was in Live and Let Die and in Roger Moore that this change in the series’ tone finally hit it’s stride.

The film dials back the global domination attempts by the series of villians both SPECTRE and not. This time around Bond must investigate the deaths of three MI6 agents who had been investigating one Dr. Kananga, the despot of the fictitious Caribbean island of San Monique. Kananga (played by Yaphet Kotto) also has an alter-ego in the form of Mr. Big who runs a series of soul food restaurants as a front for his drug business. Every Bond film always tries to out-elaborate the previous one with it’s villains plans. There’s no attempts by Kananga/Big to dominate the world. His plans are pretty capitalistic in a ruthless sort of way. He wants to corner the drug market in the US by flooding the illegal drug market with his own heroin which he plans to give away for free thus bankrupting the other crime lords and drug dealers.

This plan by Kananga actually looks to be very sound and it helps that he has the beautiful seer Solitaire (played by a young and beautiful Jane Seymour) to help him outwit ad stay ahead of his competitors and the law. His plan would’ve succeeded if not for the meddling of one British super-spy named James Bond.

Live and Let Die might not have been as serious about it’s story as the early Connery films, but it definitely had a much more faster pace with more action to distinguish Moore from Connery. One particular famous action sequence involves Bond escaping from Kananga’s drug farm in the Louisiana Bayou country being chased not just by Kananga’s henchmen but by the local police in the form of Sheriff J.W. Pepper who plays the role of fool and comedy relief in the film. Even the smaller action scenes in the film had more life and fun to them like Bond escaping a gator pit by timing a run across the backs of a line of gators to safety.

Where the previous bond film’s attempt at injecting humor and more action into the story were more failures than successes in this film Roger Moore Bond film they worked in due part to Moore’s playful delivery of the one-liners and bon mots the role has become known for of late. Any trepidation that audiences and producers might have had about  Moore taking on the role that had been made famous by Connery  soon went away as this film played out.

Live and Let Die still remains my favorite of all the Roger Moore Bond films and saw it as the highlight of his time playing the character. While the follow-up films were good in their own right it was this initial Moore entry in the series where the writers, Moore and veteran Bond filmmaker Guy Hamilton were able to find the perfect balance of thrilling action and humor that the rest of the Moore-era films couldn’t replicate.

Next up for James Bond…The Man with the Golden Gun.

Lisa Marie Does 6 Trailers In The Snow

I was so happy today and it didn’t  even have anything to do with the movies, either!  Early this afternoon, I was watching my cat twitch in his sleep (he has very violent dreams, apparently) when I happened to look out my bedroom window and you know what I saw?  Snow!  “Yay!” I yelled, waking up the cat. 

Now, I know that everyone else in the country gets a blizzard every other month but I live in Texas so snow is kind of a big deal to me.  I jumped off my bed, threw my Hello Kitty robe on, and went running down stairs.  I threw open the door, ran out to the front porch, and then slipped and fell right on my backside. 

My neighbor stared at me from his yard.  “Are you okay?” he asked. 

“Yay!”  I replied, “it’s snowing!”

He nodded and then went, “Better hope those power lines don’t ice over or we might be without electricity.”

At that point, I resolved to never speak to my neighbor again.

So, I was very, very happy but now, the snow’s gone.  It’s moved along to Arkansas and Mississippi.  Now, the only thing falling rom the sky is freezing rain and the roads will probably be really icy and scary when I’m going to work tomorrow.  So, as I sit here all kinds of pantsless with a big purple bruise on my ass, I’m cheering myself up by putting together the latest installment of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers.

1) The Dunwich Horror

From 1970: Dean Stockwell kidnaps and brainwashes Sandra Dee and he’s doing it all in the name of all mighty Cthulhu.  This is actually kind of a fun film as long as you can get the image of H.P. Lovecraft spinning in his grave out of your mind.

2) Curtains

I’ve never seen this 80s slasher film but I’ve read about its troubled production on various web sites.  I’m kinda embarrassed to admit it but I actually get scared when I see this trailer.  First off, that mask is disturbing.  And secondly, that doll…

3) Black Belt Jones

Fortunately, even if this world does occasionally give us a demon doll, it can also give us a Black Belt Jones.  I loved the trailer as soon as I saw Gloria Hendry shooting the dishes…

4) Frightmare

From Peter Walker, comes one of the greatest British horror films ever made.  It’s all about cannibalism, psychology, and fire place pokers.

5) Faceless

Jess Franco has directed close to a thousand films and approximately 12 of them are worth watching.  This is one of the lucky dozen, a remake of Eyes Without A Face.  The film gave Brigitte LaHaie her best role outside of the films of Jean Rollin and it also co-stars the great Caroline Munro.  And since it’s a Franco film, Howard Vernon plays a character named Dr. Orloff.  Plus, its got that cute little panther animation at the start of the trailer.

6) Electra Glide In Blue

Finally, it’s up to Robert Blake to restore some order.  This is actually a fairly interesting little movie as long as you realize that it’s such a 70s film, it might as well be wearing a suit with lapels stretching all the way to the end of the shoulders.