Undercover Brother: when it turns out that “The Man” is trying to quash black culture through brainwashing important figures, an all-black spy agency (the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.) send in their best man. The script grabs every stereotype imaginable by the horns and rolls with it: afros, fashion, jive talk, a mind-control drug deployed through fried chicken, Undercover Brother’s weakness is ‘White she devil‘, the agency have to employ a white guy through affirmative action… most of them are hits, but as a honky, there were probably a load that slipped by me. The director needed a better handle on this; doesn’t know if it should be a straight up spoof / blaxploitation / Spy / martial art or political… it covers them all, but in half-hearted, clunky segments. The camerawork is also quite poor: awkward jaunty angles overused and it breaks the 180-degree rule for no reason. A lot of the jokes reference the time where it was filmed (2002), so it feels a little dated now, and at 85 minutes, it does well to not overstay its welcome – but hey, the real James Brown appears at the end. Undercover Brother is both a hit and miss; it’s smart and dumb; has both high and low brow laughs – there’s something for everyone, but just not enough of the good stuff.
The French Connection: two NYPD narcotics officers uncover a smuggling operation with links to a French movie star. Despite being set in New York, his isn’t the Big Apple we all know; it’s filthy, seedy, unpleasant, and realistic with bodies in doorways, fires in the alleys and racial tension – there’s a thick social commentary here, and with it, documentary-level realism. Hackman is great – carving out a legendary cop figure as Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle; anti-heroic to the bone, he’s an unorthodox disobedient alcoholic racist, but has some fantastic lines and scenes to help out. Interestingly, the bad guys are also cunningly clever – particularly Fernando Rey, who’s the embodiment of dastardly, a joy to watch. Action scenes are intense (urgency of the car chase amplified by the road-level car cam) but are hidden among a lot of cops tailgating and observing their marks; it sounds boring but these sections are also very well done and exciting. Streets ahead of any ‘great cop films’ that came before it – sorry, Bullit – this became the blueprint for everything from cop dramas to computer games (Driver / Grand Theft Auto). Because of this it’s probably lacking a the full effect that it would have had 40 years ago – also, I didn’t understand the opening Marseilles scene – Doyle finds the smuggling ring without this. Bottom line: this is 90 minutes of all-killer, exciting and intriguing story – The French Connection is way, way more than just a fantastic car chase.
City of God: documents around a decade of life in a Rio De Janeiro favela (slum). It starts with 30 minutes of back story then dips in and out of flashback for the rest of the movie. To emphasise the violence in the hood the film’s pretty brutal in parts – ‘hand or foot’ and Knockout Ned scenes are particularly rough. Unfortunately, what’s supposed to be the film’s most crucial scene (in the nightclub) was ruined by strobing lights. For me, the main guy Rocket is a too easy-going: he never really seems to care much about losing his girl, then his job, then some family – and doesn’t want revenge. It’s probably about 20 minutes too long too. The overall message is that everyone, from respectable citizens through to the tiny children, ends up being pulled into the self-destructive criminal / gang lifestyle – and it’s hammered home through pretty much every character’s story progression. The critics said that Slumdog was better than this… and they must have been high. City of God is a well-told, pretty slick, cinematic epic that’s often called ‘the Brazilian Goodfellas‘ (bold statement). It’s definitely a must-see for fans of crime and world cinema.
Also, if you liked this the same director went on to do Blindness – well worth checking out.
Coffy: her eleven year old sister is a drug addict and her best friend has just been beaten into a coma by crooked cops; the real police aren’t making any progress so the ‘one chick hit-squad’ Coffy goes vigilante! This is the ultimate blaxploitation flick – to the point of parody, with characters like King George, ‘white devil’ speeches and very bad Jamacan accents. Coffy just wouldn’t work without a strong and sexy character like Pam Grier, (who may well be the hottest woman ever captured on film!?) dominating every scene in the film. Even today, it’s refreshing to watch an empowered heroin run around kicking ass. Despite this, every woman in the film – including Coffy – is also there for her legs, chest, ass, or all three. The film starts as it means to continue, with a potent mix of violence and nudity, epitomised by the campy but gritty chick-fight where all the ladies’ tops mysteriously get ripped off – fantastic! One of the only downers of this film is the absolutely terrible, gaudy, descriptive 70s soul music. Coffy is s cool, camp, kitsch and entertaining classic – and way better than Foxy Brown.
Hot Tub Time Machine: 3 middle-aged guys and a nephew go on a Ski Trip, and get transported back to the 1980s via a malfunctioning hot tub; partial hilarity ensues. It’s essentially a mish-mash of several tried and tested movies: American Pie, High Fidelity, Back to the Future, The Hangover, any ‘Buddy Comedy’ you can think of and the Butterfly Effect. Additionally, the characters are all pulled from the ‘Familiar and Safe’ cupboard; the cool / normal guy, Mr under the thumb, the wildcard and nerd loser. The strangest aspect was that it’s essentially a teen movie, but starring adults… weird to watch. There’s puke, piss, shit & many a gross-out but the ratio of hot tits to saggy men’s asses was disappointingly even (note to the director, this shouldn’t even be a ‘ratio’) HTTM is funny, and by no means a bad film, but it’s exactly what you expect a film called “Hot Tub Time Machine” to be and nothing more. Inevitably suffers from trying to be to broad and tick a huge bunch of ‘safe’ boxes, stick to the Hangover.