Saturday, May 02, 2015

Lo-budget, hi-concept sci-fi - FREQUENCIES, COHERENCE

We're 1/4 a ways already into the New Year, with the Summer Movie Season about to get underway and already having had one big sci-fi spectacle - JUPITER ASCENDING - take a big pratfall during the Season of Dogs that is the movie season at the beginning of the year. JUPITER had money and talent behind it, lots of visual flair to make the fanboys pee their pants, and a script/story that didn't match the spectacle meant to prop it up. So it tanked - hard - and once again, the death knell for big budget sci-fi starts to toll.

What is it about big ideas that studio-backed science-fiction simply cannot get? We're years past the whole 'sci-fi is for kids' mindset that made Irwin Allen a fortune in the 60's, but Stanley Kubrick appears to be the only filmmaker to successfully work on that level. Christopher Nolan certainly gives it a grand effort (INCEPTION and INTERSTELLAR; and I'll even count Wally Pfister's Nolan-clonish TRANSCENDENCE), but just cannot stick the landing satisfactorily. Everyone else is chasing a franchise or doing requels of things that should be better left alone.

Whereas on the smaller level, sci-fi appears to get a fairer shake; there's as much cheese found as the usual studio product, but you'll also find the rare gem amongst the turds - movies like PRIMER, SLEEP DEALER, EUROPA REPORT, to name a very few. 2014 had two films of note that garnered great word of mouth on the film festival circuit and which are now available via VOD or physical media.

Now showing on the Showtime cable networks, Darren Paul Fisher's FREQUENCIES (AKA OXV: THE MANUAL) was a festival darling for most of 2013/14, gathering good reviews from critics and audiences alike. Set in an alternate world/time which is not quite here and not quite now; it's a universe where human beings have what is called 'frequency' - if one has a high frequency, then one would be considered 'lucky' - things will always go right for that person. If one has a low frequency, then everything will work against that person.

In this world, a person with ultra-high frequency would never meet a person with ultra-low frequency - but in a school, classmates Marie and Zak, high and low, are able to do that for exactly one minute before their environment attempts to correct that flaw in nature. For years, both continue the experiment until school is finished and they both go their separate ways. A little later, Zak and Marie run into each other again and Zak claims to be able to change his frequency. That claim and its results will eventually lead to events that change Everything...

FREQUENCIES is very clever, smart lo-key science-fiction that also plays as a clever romantic comedy - the world building is very well done, eschewing gadgetry and concentrating on the people and relationships.

Special-edition discs (Blu and DVD) are available directly from the filmmaker, although the Blu-Rays seem to go quickly, being non-region; the DVD is non-region, but PAL, so one should have an all-region player, if getting the DVD. It's packed with features including a commentary, behind the scenes feature, outtakes and deleted scene, cast auditions and director Q&A. Probably expect an R1 release in both formats later in the year.

FREQUENCIES - TRAILER from Darren Paul Fisher on Vimeo.

Also a festival darling for 2013/14 is James Ward Byrkit's ensemble drama COHERENCE, which also got rave reviews from critics and audiences who saw it. What starts off as a dirnner party among friends turns into something quite else due to the presence of a comet passing by the Earth. That's probably all you should know going into the movie; most of the fun is from the various turns that the story takes and the less you know beforehand, the better.

This is Byrkit's first feature, though he's no novice - he's contributed to the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series and credited with the story for RANGO, among other work on that film. He does an excellent job with his cast, which includes Nicholas Brendan (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, CRIMINAL MINDS) and Elizabeth Gracen (HIGHLANDER: THE RAVEN).

Oscilloscope Pictures releases the movie on DVD (no R1 Blu-Ray as of yet), with an informative commentary with Byrkit and making of featurette - and this is one picture that you will be watching multiple times.

Here's an interview with Byrkit I did for 366 Weird Movies.

Sunday, March 01, 2015


This session - DRUM, the sequel to MANDINGO... as the ad copy stated, "MANDINGO lit the fuse... DRUM is the Explosion!"
 MANDINGO was a hit for Paramount, if not for the critics at the time, so the next book in the Falconhurst series was chosen as the followup, with some of the same elements in play - Norman Wexler, who did the screenplay for MANDINGO also adapted DRUM; Ken Norton was again tapped for the title role - however, Richard Fleischer didn't come back for the sequel.
 However, this time around, due to the reception of MANDINGO, some were a bit gun shy. Burt Kennedy, who was the original director, was fired and replaced with Steve Carver (LONE WOLF MCQUADE, BIG BAD MAMA), and Wexler's script was rewritten - a prologue sequence that was to be the first third of the film essentially ended up being a five-minute montage at the start of the film - Paramount dumped the film, which was picked up by United Artists for release and producer Dino DeLaurentiis took his name off of the film to avoid the shitstorm that followed MANDINGO and probably this film.
 Sure enough, DRUM did make money, but the critics hated it as much as they did MANDINGO.
Of course, here at Guilty Of Being... WHITE, we're more concerned with emotional truth - and MANDINGO having 'the stink of truth' wrapped in trashy pulp, DRUM also can be seen as having that stink of truth, but wrapped up in even trashier package.
 The film proper starts 15 years after the events in MANDINGO - Ken Norton, again, plays the title character, who's raised to fight as entertainment for other slave owners. At one of these fights with Hammond Maxwell (played by Perry King in MANDINGO and now by Warren Oates) attending, Drum fights another slave, Blaise (Yaphet Kotto), whom he later befriends.
 One of these owners, Bernard DeMaringy (camped up by John Colicos, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), has a fixation on Drum, who rejects his advances, causing DeMaringy to swear revenge.
 Drum and Blaise are both eventually sold to Hammond, who has a daughter, Sophie (Rainbeaux "Cheryl" Smith) whose interest in the help pretty much sticks to the basics...
  Meanwhile, Hammond hasn't gotten past his habit of sleeping with the black help, like Drum's girlfriend Regine (Pamela "Pam" Grier), which his white fiance, Augusta (Fiona Lewis) doesn't appreciate.
Trying to stay out of Sophie's clutches and not end up dead proves to be pretty hard for both Drum and Blaise, who though a misunderstanding end up being punished by Hammond by being hung upside down naked and paddled (a punishment also administered in MANDINGO). And via a lie, Blaise is threatened with castration.
 Everything comes to a head during an evening when Hammond hosts a dinner party, DeMaringy also attending on the same night a bounty hunter with runaway slaves in his charge asks for shelter. Quicker than you can say 'Nat Turner', the prisoners lead a revolution, and things end in blood, gunplay, rape and fire.
As trashy as MANDINGO is, it is pretty unflinching portraying the evil of the ordinariness of slavery even when the soapiness gets deep. DRUM wallows in the trashiness of the storyline, even upping the ante in terms of its predecessor.

VERDICT: GUILTY. You'll really start hating white people a quarter into this.

DRUM was recently released on Blu-Ray and DVD, with a commentary by director Carver.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Today's session involves a classic teamup of superstars allied against The Man and a most nefarious plan.

It begins with a black man doling out food to other black people who are apparently imprisoned by a group of white men. He craftily hides a crowbar to use to get out of his own room, and after hiding amongst a roomful of corpses of black men, he overpowers a guard, grabs a weapon and escapes from some compound. With others in pursuit, this man finds a encounters a young couple camping nearby - the boyfriend, a young Corbin Bernsen - and motivates them to drive him to safety.
After a title sequence, with The Impresions singing the title track as we see record producer Jimmy Lait (Jim Brown) and his woman, Wendy Kane (Shelia Frazier) leisurely enjoying time together, they are acosted by the young couple, who brings them to the man who escaped - who turns out to be a friend of Jimmy's, House (Junero Jennings).

Rushed to the hospital, Jimmy tries to find out from House what has happened, but House is too weak to say anything other than vague references that, "They're out to get us... all of us!" Jimmy has a session to get to, so Wendy stays to keep an eye on House. However, the men who were after House have located him - they kill him and take Wendy with them.
Those of a certain age will recognize Head Honky Henchman (billed as "Keep"), Howard Platt who became known as Officer Hopkins, "Hoppy" on SANFORD AND SON, which makes for a very strange dissonance - like seeing Paul Benedict, the friendly British neighbor Mr. Bentley from THE JEFFERSONS as a racist slave owner in MANDINGO.
Jimmy doesn't take the murder of his friend and the abduction of his woman lying down - especially after they attempt to run him down... and fail, spectacularly.

Jimmy flies to Chicago to enlist the help of his friend, Jagger Daniels (Fred Williamson), who's dubious at first, but it takes a ham-fisted attempt on both their lives to make him a believer.
Wendy is taken back to the compound where she meets the Head Honky Honcho, white supremacist Howard Feather (Jay Robinson) who has a dastardly plan.

Racist scientist, Dr. Fortero (Richard Angarola) has come up with a biological agent that will only affect Black people, while leaving other ethnicities unaffected (read:alive), and the plan is to introduce it into the water supply of several American cities with large Black populations - Washington D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles to start.
Jagger & Jimmy head to New York City to enlist the help of their mutual friend, kung-fu master Mister Keyes. Mister doesn't need much convincing, as they find him fending off corrupt NYPD officers who attempt to frame him. With Mister also on board, the trio start to get to the bottom of things.
 They foil another attempt on their lives and capture the culprit - Keep! To get him to talk, Jagger sends out for Royalty - The Countess, The Empress & The Princess - a multi-ethnic trio of dominatrixes who go to work on Keep and get him to talking, spilling the plan - however, when given back to the ladies, he drops dead of fright before they start again.
Informed of the scheme, the trio start the mandatory kicking of asses to foil the evil plan - enlisting help in Detroit and D.C., they successfully come out on top. What's left is to return to L.A. to rescue Wendy and to cut the head off of this particular snake. And is there any doubt that they're successful in stomping The Man's ass into the ground?

Gordon Parks Jr.'s follow-up to the iconic SUPER FLY, also proved to be a blaxploitation classic, being the first time 3 major black action stars team up. The trio was also enlisted for the western TAKE A HARD RIDE, also a worthy watch, but doesn't have the 'Kill Whitey!' vibe.
Verdict - TOTALLY GUILTY. You can't get much guiltier of being White than planning genocide...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


After a long hiatus...

HEAR YE, HEAR YE... Court is again back in session!

A controversial choice, mainly because it's so on the nose in so many ways, it'll be uncomfortable to discuss - which means that it's a perfect candidate, especially considering that 2014 was not one of the best years for The Negro.

Set in the 'future' 1991 - 18 years after the end of the previous ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES - where apes have been domesticated as pets, originally to replace dogs and cats who've been wiped out by a plague, and due to their intelligence have essentially been converted into a slave class, doing menial work and household tasks. It also appears that the government has now evolved into a police state.

Returning from ESCAPE is circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban) and a now-adult Caesar (Roddy McDowell), whom was hidden with Armando's circus as an infant in ESCAPE. 

Caesar is hiding in plain sight, as he would be immediately killed if discovered. It is also the first time that he is in human society, and shocked by what he sees, he slips up and draws attention; Armando attempts to cover, and they are separated - Armando taken by the police for questioning and Caesar takes cover amidst an incoming shipment of primates, and is processed into the system for training and to be sold.

Caesar is auctioned off to Governor Breck (Don Murray), which puts him in the midst of the ruling core. In the midst of an interrogation, Armando kills himself to protect Caesar and Caesar - his link with the good side of humanity now gone - begins to surreptitiously teach rebellion tactics to the enslaved apes, and they start gathering weapons.

Eventually, Caesar is discovered, and slated for execution, which is foiled by Breck's sympathetic aide, MacDonald (Hari Rhodes). Escaping, Caesar leads the apes in a revolt against their masters, which leads into a full blown riot.

The apes succeed in capturing the Governor and the command center, and with Caesar now in place, the circle is now complete, with the genesis of what will become the Planet of The Apes.
CONQUEST, the fourth in the "Apes" series, had been considered one of the series low points, mainly due to the reduced budget in comparison to the previous films and the level of violence involved; it started being critically reappraised starting in the 90's. Of all of the Apes sequels written by Paul Dehn, it's by far the most overtly political - Dehn and director J. Lee Thompson drew directly on the recent riots in the late 60's, and it's pretty strong stuff, even now some 40 years later. And looking at some of the screen grabs from the film should bring to mind recent images from Ferguson and NYC. 

In fact, if watching CONQUEST, you should pick it up on Blu-Ray, since that release is of the original version of the film - what was screened to preview audiences before their reaction caused the studio to tone down the film, which famously ends with a speech by Caesar diffusing the powder keg situation. Since there was no money to spend, the studio made cuts and brought McDowell back in for revoicings in the version released in the U.S. Overseas, the film went out in its original form.
Even in its 'compromised' form, the film packs a punch, but seeing the uncut version is a revelation - it should have half the audience raising their fists in alliance and the other half of the audience shitting their pants.

Final Verdict - GUILTY AS F&%K!!