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The Black Godfather (1974)

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Blaxploitation may be one of the most misunderstood genres.  While initial movies like Superfly and Shaft received mainstream audience and critical attention, much of the attention seemed to focus on the violent aspects of the films - so much that many devolved into self-parody over the next few years.  However, while they had their initial run, it proved two things: anyone who had some ambition, a few friends and a camera could possibly make a decent profit on an independent film, and American audiences, regardless of race, were becoming open to some of the ideals within these movies.

I understand that many of the messages about racism, second-class treatment of African-American citizens and police brutality got lost among the sex and violence, but they were there.  Many of the movies featured flawed heroes, but heroes none-the-less.  They were all human beings, and that resonated with white audiences - a little too well in the end, since it was ultimately white audiences being a bi…

The Nude Bomb (1980)

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Get Smart! is one of those comedies from the 1960s that one can still appreciate.  It was one of the few that got making fun of James Bond and its imitators correctly, while being surprisingly innovative and exciting at the same time.  The fact that Mel Brooks was involved had more than a little do with it, but all the writers did a good job in keeping the show consistent.  And, of course, there was always Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, adding both sexiness and competence in her pairing with Maxwell Smart (Don Adams). 

The show lasted until 1970.  Brooks had moved on to making hit movies, and American television was moving on as well.  Still, the show remained popular in reruns so, 10 years later, a Get Smart! movie still sounded like a great idea.  The Nude Bomb is a prime example of how Hollywood is often a place where great ideas go, get a job waiting tables, get discovered, get worked over and then crawl away to die in a flophouse. 

Maxwell Smart may no longer be in CONTROL, but he s…

The Burglars (1971)

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The big Hollywood heist film, largely known for its larger-than-life antiheroes, stuntwork and long, drawn-out car chases.  Before the action film changed to what most of us are familiar with in the 1980s, the above largely began to define American films from the late '60s and into the 1970s.  From well-regarded films such as Bullitt and The French Connection to hangers-on like Grand Theft Auto, it became a source of escapist entertainment for American audiences and something for critics to hang their disdain on.

After all, European films (if you consciously ignored most mainstream films coming out of England and Italy) were so much more intellectual, right?  This was real cinema. 

Except it turns out that European audiences like their heists and their car chases just as much as we do.  That is why Le casse, released under the English title The Burglars, had the biggest opening in France up to that time.  Give art its due, but seeing Jean-Paul Belmondo jumping between buses to es…

Predator (1987)

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I am starting to realize what an effect 1987 had on me.  First, since I was 15, my parents really weren't caring if I watched R-rated films anymore as long as they weren't loaded with sex.  That was fine, since I liked horror and sci-fi anyway, and if an actress happened to show off what she had, that was a bonus.  Still, at the time, R-rated films still meant something, and that something was that directors went all out to entertain audiences that were starved for these outrageous action films.

Thing is, even though PG-13 existed by this time due to parents freaking about about Gremlins in a microwave, a facial peel in Poltergeistand impromptu heart surgery in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, R-rated films were still largely aimed at the audience that PG-13 is aimed at now.  It was pretty much accepted that, even though you were supposed to be 17, most likely the audience was going to be 12 on up to 50, and they better have something in there that entertains everyone.

I…

RoboCop (1987)

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At the time that RoboCop came out in 1987, Peter Weller was largely known for the cult movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.  Honestly, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who already a hit playing a similar cyborg (albeit evil) role in The Terminator, was among the actors first considered for the role of resurrected Detroit police officer Alex Murphy.  Like most casting choices after the fact, I have hard time imagining any other actor playing RoboCop other than Weller.

There are many pieces that come together to make this a classic film: Paul Verhoeven's frenetic directing, the over-the-top violence and the underlying satirical edge.  However, both in this and the first sequel, it is Weller that keeps things together, expressing a humanity that can't be submerged by either programming or corporate malfeasance. 

RoboCop is also the kind of movie that could have come out of the time it did, which makes any attempt at a neutered remake laughable.

Officer Alex P. …

Arrival (2016)

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These days with Hollywood largely churning out superhero films (with the Marvel ones usually being halfway decent at least), giving every character of every franchise their own film and, way too much, churning out empty big-budget nonsense that is no longer even really meant for an American audience, those of us who enjoy "The Cinema" grasp at whatever we can.  I've never been as pretentious and single-minded as some critics, liking as I do quite a few films that usually end up being good despite the people and the circumstances that made them - many of which the majority of the film going public (and critics) consider utter trash. 

Every once in awhile a director shows up that starts to buck current trends, and Denis Villeneuve is one of them.  He is in no way a new director.  A number of his original Canadian films are highly regarded, and he already established a reputation in the U.S. with Sicario prior to Arrival.  Originally when I heard about Arrival, though, I a…

Backtrack (1990)

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Dennis Hopper was one of the most recognizable actors.  His idiosyncrasies seemed to translate to his characters regardless of the role he was asked to play.  He played a number of different roles from his debut in Rebel Without a Cause to famous villains in everything from Speed to Super Mario Brothers.  

What many people who grew up with him as a character actor in the 1980s and 1990s forget is that Hopper, after doing his time on television in the 1960s, decided that what he really wanted to do was direct.  And direct he did - Easy Rider quickly became one of the most famous American road movies, as well as a statement about the life and death of the '60s counterculture. The problem was twofold: Hopper, outside and inside of filmmaking, was an artist first, and it seemed that his other goal in life was to do all the drugs that Keith Richards managed to let slip by.

Easy Rider was hours of footage, made largely under the influence, which was edited down to the form we know.  His…