What was blaxploitation? This topical ‘70s trend in trashy exploitation put a racial angle on revenge. Its method was to appeal to the viewers’ lowest instincts while delivering a fast, violent entertainment that pretended to be “empowering” while touching on real issues of crime, oppression, exploitation, and whatnot. In other words, black folks got to kick ass. Often written, produced, and directed by white guys (with a few notable exceptions), these films ran the gamut from the relatively serious to the distasteful to the fun. Sugar Hill (1974), not to be confused with a Wesley Snipes movie of the same name, tilts to the fun end of the spectrum.
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They say the third time’s the charm, a chance to make up for the mistakes made during the first two attempts. In the case of the Terminator franchise, this is doubly untrue. After two amazing installments by James Cameron (who created the concept, via Harlan Ellison). The third was an indifferent cash grab that recycled familiar elements from those films. It was a hit, but not a home run. Instead of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, it was The Matrix Revolutions.
Now, jump ahead a decade and we have another third. This time out, Terminator Genisys wants to reset the entire series. After Rise of the Machines, and the awful McG waste of time Salvation, the new film’s narrative goes back to the beginning, back to the moment when Kyle Reese travels back in time to save Sarah Connor from the seemingly indestructible killing machine of the title. Of course, when the new version of our hero arrives, he comes across an equally new version of our heroine, and she’s got an aging robot companion as her bodyguard/bestie.
We know you’ll sympathize, dear reader, when we whine that Criterion is putting out too many damn fine Blu-rays to keep up with. Pity us, watching masterpiece after masterpiece and having to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, or synaptic impulses into digital space, to explain our insights. It’s all too much.
Sometimes, we just have to give briefer takes on these releases, so here’s ten films to watch and why. Bottom line: All are worth your time.
I have spent parts of the last month visiting and revisiting the films of Todd Haynes, and I’ve observed a few things concerning my viewing habits with his particular brand of cinema. For one, the only film I finished in one sitting was his 1995 masterpiece Safe. By comparison, it required seven sittings to finish Velvet Goldmine (1998), six to complete I’m Not There (2007), and 12 to finish Mildred Pierce (2011). I’m not completely sure what that says about my compatibility with Haynes’ films, but what can be said with certainty is that I enjoy his films tremendously.
Kings of the Sun shows that in 1963, they were still making ‘em like they used to, to the consternation of some and the indifference of others. With novelty, this historical epic takes place in Central America before anyone called it that, and before Columbus and other johnny-come-latelies. Long before Europeans showed up, as the script by novelist Elliott Arnold and James R. Webb (How the West Was Won ) points out, the land was a hotbed of colonial conquest and resistance, immigration, and diplomacy.
George Chakiris plays Balam, the young leader of the Mayans. They’re attacked by invaders equally bird-hatted, but with metal swords more effective than the Mayans’ wooden ones. Are these Toltecs? Aztecs? Wikipedia kindly informs us of tribal conflict led by Hunac Ceel against Chichen Itza around the 13th Century, but it’s still confusing. In short: Balam calls it a day and leads his people over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to what might be Louisiana. Again, they didn’t know what to call it yet, but the place has swamps and a tribe led by Black Eagle (Yul Brynner).