Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted

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2004

BadAzz MoFo

Written, Directed and Produced by David F. Walker

We live in a time where people are in absolute terror of being labeled or having labels put on anything. Especially creative folk. Ask a writer what she writes and she may very well look at you as if you’re something that dropped from the south end of a northbound horse while replying; “I refuse to put a label on my work.” Ask a musician what type of music he plays and he looks at you like you tried to shank his momma as he answers; “I don’t like to put a label on my work. Labels are limiting.”

Now, you may ask what does that have to do with my reviewing the highly entertaining and informative Blaxploitation documentary MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED? To be honest, absolutely nothing. It was a thought that occurred to me while watching the movie’s various interviews with the icons of Blaxploitation: Ron O’Neal. Jim Brown. The late great Jim Kelly and William Marshall. Gloria Hendry. Fred Williamson. Antonio Fargas. Robert Hooks. Rudy Ray Moore. Glynn Turman. The question is put to each of them what is Blaxploitation and each and every one had a different interpretation of what the Blaxploitation genre meant to them on a personal and professional level. Maybe the problem with labels is not the label itself but that people can never agree on one solid definition of what the label means?

Yeah, my brain ran to thoughts such as that while watching the movie and that’s a good thing because I enjoy watching a movie that makes me think. Especially when it’s about a subject I love such as Blaxploitation. That period of American Cinema isn’t just history for me. It’s very much an alive and vital genre as I vividly recall seeing most Blaxploitation movie double and triple features on Manhattan’s infamous 42end street during the decade Blaxploitation dominated movie theaters. (Roughly 1970 to 1979) And it’s a genre that still has a massive influence on my writing.

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MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED runs only 92 minutes and covers a lot of ground in that relatively short running time. But writer/director David  F. Walker through his interviews manages to give us a fairly comprehensive overview of the psychological, financial and artistic aspects of the genre. And it’s an overview given by the men and women who were actually there and working during that time. And they speak quite frankly and honestly about how it was and what was going on. There are some truly eye-opening moments in those interviews such as when Jim Brown and Fred Williamson break it down financially exactly why Hollywood needs black actors far more than the black actors need Hollywood. Or when Jim Kelly talks about how Hollywood studios gladly sacrifice truckloads of money just as long as they can continue to promote the image of blacks that they want to promote.

I’ll occasionally have discussions with young black fans of films that are very dismissive and even disgusted with Blaxploitation. They see it as not being very far removed from the mammies and coons and minstrels of earlier Hollywood years. This documentary is made for them. It’s impossible to seriously study Blaxploitation and not also study how the genre related to the racial/political climate in America at that time. One is bound up in the other and if you explore one then you begin to understand the other.

And then when you throw in the dynamic that in the late 1960s Hollywood was dying as an industry and Blaxploitation saved it…well, that’s another whole bag of chips we done opened that we got to chew on if we’re gonna talk about the subject honestly. Sure, many of the images in those movies were hideously negative but some were uplifting and positive as well. Blaxploitation was just as much about empowerment and control as it was about making a profit and entertaining working folks on a Friday or Saturday night.

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But I’m not here to make the movie’s case. It does that very well on its own. My only job is to recommend it to you and I do so very highly. MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED can be seen uncut, in its entirety and for free on Vimeo. If you’re a fan of Blaxploitation or don’t know a thing about it, either way you’ll enjoy yourself. Peace.

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Super 8

2011

Paramount

Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by Steven Spielberg and Bryan Burk

Upon hearing that J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg were going to collaborate on a movie together, my reaction was the same as million of other movies goers: handsprings and doing the funky chicken victory dance.  I figured that with these two creative powerhouses on the same movie, they’d come up with a sure-fire, can’t miss blockbuster.  Upon seeing it in the theater, I felt let-down. And even now, after having let more time pass since the last time I saw it,  SUPER 8 is even more of a let-down.  It’s not that it’s a bad movie.  Technically it’s a good movie.  But the story still doesn’t turn my crank and there are too many things that don’t work for me that stack up higher and higher, forming a wall between me and the movie.

It’s 1979 and in the Ohio town of Lillian, a group of kids are spending the summer of that year filming their own movie: a homage to George Romero zombie movies.  Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is an aspiring make-up artist who has recently lost his mother in a steel mill accident.  He’s also lost interest in working on the movie until Charles (Riley Griffiths) the writer/director of the movie talks Alice (Elle Fanning) into joining the cast.  Joe has a serious crush on Alice and his interest in the movie is reawakened.

It’s during a nighttime shoot that Joe, Charles, Alice and the other kids working on the movie are witness to a horrendous train crash.  The next day, The Air Force moves in, quarantining off the town and searching through the personal research of Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman).  Seems as if Dr. Woodward knows what the Air Force is doing in Lillian.  And it involves something that was being transported on that train.  Something that is now prowling through the town at night, snatching both the townspeople and all manner of electrical devices.

SUPER 8 is described as a homage to the Steven Spielberg movies of the 70’s and 80’s.  “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” in particular.  I myself had the feeling I was watching a film made from a Stephen King screenplay written ages ago and maybe found on a shelf somewhere.  The Spielberg vibe escaped me totally as Spielberg had a way of getting totally natural performances out of his young actors.  None of these kids convinced me they were actually kids living in the late 70’s.  With the exception of Elle Fanning who is without a doubt the best actor in the movie, even beating out the adult cast.

A lot has already been said about that train crash that kicks off the story.  And indeed, it’s perhaps the most frightening train crash I’ve ever seen on film.  The problem is that it’s too much.  It would be right at home in a “Die Hard” or “Indiana Jones” movie but here it’s just ridiculous in the apocalyptic destruction that destroys an entire train station and what appears to me to be five square miles of countryside while leaving the kids untouched.  And that’s only the beginning of a lot of felgercarb we have to swallow if we’re going to buy the monster stuff.

And I guess that’s why SUPER 8 doesn’t work for me.  There’s a really wonderful coming-of-age-story that could have been told here about Joe and his friends trying to film their little movie while he comes to grips with his mother’s death and his emotional disconnection from his father (Kyle Chandler, who is so bad here he really should give back the check) all while experiencing his first romance with Alice.  The problem is the monster movie stuff Abrams insists on shoving in there.  A monster movie plot that bored me as there’s nothing special about it at all.

So should you see SUPER 8?  Let me put it this way: during the end credits, the finished zombie movie the kids have made is shown and I found that more fun and entertaining than SUPER 8.

112 minutes

PG-13