Shut Your Mouth

Shaft (2019) has three Shaft’s for the price of one. Yet it barely lives up to the original Shaft or even the 2000 Shaft. The main problem was director Tim Story turning it into a comedy. John Shaft’s badass nature is constantly turned into a joke thanks to the overly sensitive modern era. Blaxploitation can’t really survive in the 2010’s. Shaft (2019) takes place almost 2 decades after Shaft (2000). It’s primary selling point was including three generations of John Shaft.

Samuel L. Jackson finds time to play John Shaft II between his many other movie obligations. He just feels more overly profane and out of touch than he was before. Richard Roundtree returns for the fifth time as John Shaft Sr. Now he’s the father instead of uncle and they do point out the inconsistency. Roundtree’s role is complete false advertisement since he doesn’t show up till the climax. Instead we’re forced to get to know John Shaft’s son John Shaft Jr. (or JJ). Jessie T. Usher is exactly how you’d expect a millennial Shaft to be. JJ is whiny, overly critical, and complains about using a gun.

A frustratingly PC Shaft that constantly calls out what made the series so successful just isn’t entertaining. The classic theme song that was used in the trailer is either a cringy throw away joke or a terrible remix. The plot itself is the standard ethnic drug lords in Harlem fare. It’s really a father-son bonding story with a mostly black cast. Regina Hall is a little over-the-top as the unseen ex-wife of Shaft, but Alexandra Shipp is a fine love interest for JJ. I didn’t really get invested until the end where they finally deliver on triple Shaft action. Shaft (2019) might have worked better if they took it more seriously.

Shaft (2019)

Three generations of Shaft

Preceded by: Shaft (2000)

A Bad Mother

Shaft (2000) brought Blaxploitation into the modern age. With Samuel L. Jackson in the role, there’s no doubt that this John Shaft is a bad mother (shut your mouth). I always knew there was another Shaft movie made in the 2000’s, but I always assumed it was some kind of remake. Shaft (2000) is actually a continuation with Richard Roundtree playing Uncle John Shaft to his nephew John Shaft II. Although Roundtree’s only contribution is occasional advice to his much more violent namesake.

Jackson is essentially playing himself playing Shaft in his usual charismatically profane way. Shaft’s tendency to shoot first turns him into a black private dick, but he’s rarely seen as a sex machine to all the chicks. Apart from a sex scene in the opening credits that plays Isaac Hayes’ theme song one of several times. Shaft (2000) was director John Singleton’s first commercial film. Its style is distinctly 2000’s with a whole celebrity cast.

There’s Vanessa Williams as his police partner, Jeffery Wright as a deadly Dominican drug lord, Christian Bale as an American Psycho rich kid involved in a heated race case, and Toni Collette as Shaft’s elusive witness. It’s a Singleton movie, so expect a rapper like Busta Rhymes as well. Shaft has a lot to deal with, but his primary concern is bringing Bale’s character to justice. Although the ending does feel a bit anticlimactic considering how important the case was. John Shaft II lives up to his name and makes the criminals of New York remember it. Shaft (2000) isn’t a game changer, but it is a badass reintroduction to a black icon.

4. Shaft

John Shaft II takes aim

Reboot of: Shaft (1971) & Followed by: Shaft (2019)

No One Understands Him But His Woman

Shaft in Africa is practically a black Bond film. Since John Shaft is taken out of New York and sent straight to Africa. Despite Shaft in Africa being another sequel released the following year, Richard Roundtree is the only returning cast member. Now the director is British and the budget is so big that they can now afford the new location. Along with many supporting characters.

Shaft is pretty much turned into a spy complete with gadgets who must learn African customs in order to infiltrate a slave labor ring. It’s similar to Bond, but this is still an R rated Blaxploitation film. Shaft is completely naked when he faces an assailant with an African fighting stick. Violence is a bit more intense with Shaft’s enemies being more merciless than before. He tries to blend in, but his cover is blown several times. Until an explosive climax that brings Shaft and his ring of fellow laborers to France.

Nudity is also more graphic than before with women both African and white wanting to sleep with Shaft. Similar to the previous movies, but at least some of the actresses get more character development. Shaft in Africa sounds like the most exploitative Blaxploitation movie for its title alone, but the scenery change at least makes it more memorable than Shaft’s Big Score! Despite a number of book appearances, this was the original Shaft’s last big screen adventure. Aside from a short lived TV show, Shaft in Africa retired the icon in over-the-top fashion.

3. Shaft in Africa

John Shaft takes aim

Preceded by: Shaft’s Big Score!

He’s a Complicated Man

Shaft’s Big Score! will blow your mind. It’s basically the first movie, but with a much bigger budget. Since Shaft was a major hit that ignited the Blaxploitation genre. Richard Roundtree and the original director return with only a year between movies. Shaft’s Big Score! is a groovy sequel with much more action to turn John Shaft into a more hands on action hero. The main similarity is Shaft once again dealing with New York gangsters both black and white.

Shaft’s Big Score! refers to a large sum of money connected to the brother of his current girlfriend. When he’s killed, Shaft contacts his old gangster associates and investigates each gangs role in the matter. All the while continuing to be a sex machine to all the chicks. Pretty much every female character ends up naked at some point in the movie. Shaft’s Big Score may lack the raw sincerity of the original, but it makes up for it with large scale action sequences.

Most slow parts are at the beginning with the violence really kicking in near the end. Shaft engages in fist fights, has a cemetery shoot out, takes part in a car chase, a speedboat chase, and even shoots down a helicopter. It’s exciting, but not really enough to make the sequel memorable. They didn’t even have Oscar winner Isaac Hayes to score the film. So the new theme can’t really measure up. Shaft’s Big Score! does big things and scores some points for its efforts.

2. Shaft's Big Score!

John Shaft takes aim

Preceded by: Shaft & Followed by: Shaft in Africa

Can Ya Dig it?

Shaft officially marked the beginning of the Blaxploitation era. Since it’s Black History Month, I thought I’d talk about the original black action hero. John Shaft is a black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks. He is the man who will risk his neck for his brother, man. The cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about. This cat Shaft is a bad mother (shut your mouth), well you get the idea. He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman. Shaft is such a black icon that I was shocked to learn he was originally written as a white man.

The original novel depicted John Shaft as a white private detective, but all that changed when newcomer Richard Roundtree was cast in the part. Suddenly Shaft was a take charge leading man that African Americans could root for. Shaft was a dignified presence with a groovy afro and stylish turtlenecks draped in leather trench coats. The movie itself was very low budget, but so successful that it launched a whole line of movies with a mostly all black cast and crew. Although Shaft is actually a pretty slow building old fashion detective film.

John Shaft jokes around with the police chief, has a run in with some Harlem gangsters, and agrees to help find the big bosses kidnapped daughter. Starting a race war between her Italian mob kidnappers and the black men Shaft recruits from Harlem. All the while living up to his sex machine status by sleeping with women of any race. Shaft is actually pretty subtle for Blaxploitation. People won’t remember Shaft’s 1971 movie as much as his badass theme song. Isaac Hayes became the first black composer to win an Oscar with his Best Original Song winning “Theme from Shaft.” A hip composition with funky beats that build up to those iconic lyrics. All I can say is “Right on” Shaft.

1. Shaft

John Shaft takes aim

Followed by: Shaft’s Big Score!

Working at the Car Wash

Shark Tale is the movie equivalent of “Sleeping with the fishes.” Next to Antz, the second most obvious DreamWorks Animation copycat movie is definitely Shark Tale. It only came out a year after Finding Nemo, but it’s obvious which one is better. Shark Tale is objectively the worst DreamWorks animated movie ever made. It has a serious identity crisis that mixes everything that worked for Shrek with serious adult themes, a celebrity cast, and lowest common denominator pop culture references. Think “gangster” meets “gangsta” with anthropomorphic humanoid fish people. I know it’s technically bad, but I still really enjoy Shark Tale even now. Not enough to think it deserved a Best Animated Feature nomination (it was a slow year), but I was 9 when my dad took my brother and I to see it. So it was still a prominent edition in my DVD collection. Even though it took me several years to fully understand the bizarre amount of mob movie references.

I wasn’t even into hip hop at the time, so my main draw was Will Smith. He bares an uncomfortable resemblance to his bluestreak cleaner wrasse character Oscar. Smith does his thing, but I’m sure he’s just as embarrassed as most of the other celebrities in the movie. Shark Tale is at least 60% fish puns (Katie Current for example). Complete with fish themed real world advertisements. Oscar is a lowly tongue scrubber at the local Whale Wash. He uses get rich quick schemes in an effort to reach the top of the reef. Renée Zellweger brings her usual best to angelfish Angie. The typical nice girl coworker secretly in love with the lead. Most fish give Oscar a hard time including his boss’ right hands Ernie and Bernie the Jamaican jellyfish. Despite being a kids movie, several gangster movie/TV heavyweights lend their voice to shark mob families. Robert De Niro is shark Don Lino and Martin Scorsese himself voices Oscar’s pufferfish boss Sykes. Oscar’s biggest problem is getting in deep with loan sharks and having to pay back his boss at the seahorse track. Which attracts the attention of Angelina Jolie as sexy lionfish gold digger Lola.

The plot kicks in when Oscar’s story intersects with Don Lino’s sons Frankie and the far less fearsome Lenny. Pre-Po Jack Black voices gay metaphor Lenny who just wants to be a vegetarian. He also dresses like a dolphin later on if it wasn’t obvious. When Frankie is killed by an anchor, Oscar takes credit as the “Sharkslayer.” Turning him into a rich somebody, but when Lenny swims back into his life, they become unlikely friends and keep the lie going. Until the mob catches up to them and the lie comes out. Ending in another big Shrek or Shrek 2 style party complete with a hip hop version of “Car Wash” sung by fish Missy Elliot and jellyfish Christina Aguilera. Apart from some genuinely fun bits like the shrimp scene, it’s mostly a bunch of unnecessary gross out gags. The computer animation has the underwater look, but it’s actually pretty ugly to look at. Fish faces will probably creep out the uninitiated. The hip hop soundtrack has several classics, but it’s just as out of place as everything else. Shark Tale is a fishy guilty pleasure that DreamWorks probably wants to forget.

6. Shark Tale

Oscar makes a plan with Lenny

Do Right By Me

The Color Purple did right by its source material. The 1982 novel was frequently banned, but that wasn’t enough to keep African American author Alice Walker from winning a Pulitzer Prize. The movie was made only 3 years after the book was published with none other than Steven Spielberg as director. It was his first serious drama, even though people thought it should’ve had a black director. Despite being Jewish and understanding the material well enough to do the film justice. I’m always impressed by Spielberg’s ability to turn even the most tragic stories into fully engaging epics. Apart from its reputation, I actually never knew much about The Color Purple growing up.

It’s the tale of two African American sisters growing up in the South at the turn of the 20th Century. A saga that spans approximately 40 years. Like most black women at the time, Celie is constantly mistreated by the men in her life. The PG-13 rating makes the darker themes easier to get through, but no less uncomfortable. Racism is present, but that’s not the primary focus. The only person who cares about Celie is her close sister Nettie. Unfortunately, Celie’s life takes a turn for the worst when her abusive father gives her to the equally abusive Mister and he separates the sisters for what seems like an eternity. The ensemble cast of respected black performers delivers some of their best work.

Whoopi Goldberg makes her breakout feature film debut as Celie. Effectively showing her progression from timid maid to strong independent black woman. Oprah Winfrey makes her film debut too, by practically disappearing in the role of the strong-willed Sophia. Even the much more irredeemably cruel Mister and Old Mister are fleshed out with Danny Glover and Adolph Caesar in the roles. The final ingredient was Margaret Avery holding the family together as singer/showgirl Shug Avery. SPOILER ALERT! It was satisfying to finally see Celie stand up for herself and just as emotional to witness her tearful reunion with her sister. The Color Purple had 11 Academy Award nominations, but not a single win. Ironically, it lost Best Picture to another female focused film with Africa as a setting. The Color Purple may have been overlooked, but that doesn’t make it any less deserving of appreciation.

The Color Purple

Celie and Nettie in a field of purple flowers

A Bad Kitty

Puss in Boots is Zorro with way more cat jokes. After stealing the show several times, Antonio Banderas was finally promoted to lead character in his own spin-off. A Puss in Boots movie had been in development ever since his debut in Shrek 2. With the Shrek franchise coming to an end, this was the only way DreamWorks Animation could continue with the world. Turns out a more focused swashbuckling adventure was exactly what they needed to regain a Best Animated Feature nomination. Puss is every bit the troublemaking Latin lover he’s always been, but now crude pop culture jokes can’t distract from his potential.

Puss in Boots was once an orphan living in the fictional Spanish town San Ricardo. His mama Imelda loved him and an act of bravery earned him his signature pair of boots. Until a terrible betrayal made him a legendary feline outlaw. Puss in Boots pretty much uses any remaining fairy tales not used in the Shrek films. Puss tries to clear his name with magic beans that lead to the Beanstalk containing a goose that lays golden eggs. The beans are in the possession of a villainous married Jack & Jill voiced by Billy Bob Thornton & Amy Sedaris. They don’t have much character outside of Jack wanting a baby. Puss’ bean job is thwarted by his female boot wearing black cat counterpart Kitty Softpaws. A role that could only be filled by Salma Hayek. It’s a Desperado reunion afterall.

The final piece of the puzzle is Humpty Dumpty himself. A bad egg voiced by Zach Galifianakis who has a history with Puss. Humpty is an eggy Da Vinci who was also an orphan obsessed with finding magic beans. Kitty is working for Humpty and they make a deal to retrieve the golden eggs with Puss. Except Humpty is really in it for revenge. With the Giant pre-defeated, their only obstacle is the baby goose’s giant mother. An elderly Jack tells Puss the whole story. In the end, Puss saves the town, redeems Humpty, and romances Kitty. With the influence of Guillermo del Toro, Puss in Boots was way better than it needed to be. The computer animation is still heavily detailed like Shrek, but it makes the presentation that much better. Puss in Boots is a bad kitty in a good movie.

21. Puss in Boots

Puss duels

Spin-Off of: Shrek 2

It’s a Fairy Tale Life

Shrek Forever After is stronger than Shrek the Third, but not by much. There’s still no competition between Shrek and Shrek 2. Even with the intention of making it The Final Chapter. DreamWorks Animation had changed so much since 2001 that their style barely matched the original movie anymore. DreamWorks finally found their own voice separate from Disney & Pixar and were no longer making movies out of spite. So a fourth and final Shrek movie wasn’t exactly special in 2010. Unlike Toy Story 3 released the same year, Shrek Forever After almost completely lost its adult appeal. Gone was the innuendo and occasional profanity of their glory days. Shrek is a family ogre with his wife Fiona and babies Fergus, Fargel, and Felicia. His swamp is a tourist attraction, Donkey, Dragon, and Puss in Boots drop by for playdates, and no one fears Shrek like they used to.

Shrek Forever After was the last major film role for Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy was stuck making kids movies, and Cameron Diaz was nearing the end of her career. Antonio Banderas was frankly the only actor getting something out of the final installment. With all other villains used up, Rumpelstiltskin became the primary antagonist. Just not the ordinary looking one from Shrek the Third. This Rumpel is cartoony with an annoying voice, a giant goose, several mood wigs, and a penchant for making sleazy deals. When Shrek’s goofy life pushes him too far, he makes a deal with Rumpel to have a day as a real ogre. Things come full circle with an It’s a Wonderful Life twist. As Shrek unknowingly gave up the day of his birth, he finds himself with one day to set things right. Since King Harold and Queen Lillian once made a deal with Rumpel, he inherited their kingdom. In this alternate reality, witches run rampant, Donkey is a cart mule, Puss is a fat cat without boots, and Fiona rescued herself from the tower. Gingy, Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and Big Bad Wolf are also dealing with the dystopian fairy tale kingdom.

Shrek tries to convince Donkey they’re friends, but most importantly, he tries to make Fiona fall in love with him. Easier said than done, since Fiona is now a cynical ogre warrior leading a resistance of ogres. The only time we see ogres other than Shrek or Fiona. Most of them are voiced by a celebrity cast that has their moments, but don’t make much of an impact. Things take a turn when Rumpel hires the Pied Piper to capture the ogres. Fiona starts to come around, but she doesn’t love Shrek just yet. Not until he helps her fight Dragon and take down Rumpel. I was sad to see Shrek go, but of course they live happily ever after. Ending with a party in the swamp set to “I’m a Believer,” followed by a montage of past movies. I saw every Shrek movie in theaters from age 5 to age 14. The far advanced computer animation was the main reason for it seeming out of place. Aside from a Christmas & Halloween special, stage musical, and several minor appearances, Shrek Forever After was the last we’d seen of the lovable ogre. Shrek Forever After did its best to go out on a high note.

18. Shrek Forever After

Shrek makes a deal with Rumplestiltskin

Preceded by: Shrek the Third

Ogre Babies

Shrek the Third is the royally designated third installment in the ever growing Shrek franchise. I continued to enjoy all DreamWorks Animation movies regardless of quality, but even at 11 I couldn’t pretend to enjoy Shrek the Third. It wasn’t half the classic that Shrek or Shrek 2 were. Similar to the closely released Spider-Man trilogy, the first movie is great, the second movie is better, and the third movie is a complete disappointment. Shrek the Third has its moments, but their mistake was forgetting what made Shrek so good in the first place. There’s an overreliance on childish humor, pop culture references are more cringy, and the soundtrack isn’t that memorable. My brother and I were still on board and Shrek the Third was actually the last movie our dad took us to see as a chaperone. Even though we were starting to see movies by ourselves at that point, my dad still wanted to see what came next for Shrek. I’m not sure if it’s the director change, but Shrek the Third barely feels like the same franchise. Even with Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Antonio Banderas returning, none of them are as funny as usual.

Naturally the next choice of villain has to be Rupert Everett returning as Prince Charming. He’s on a quest for revenge against Shrek for killing his Fairy Godmother mother and taking his kingdom from him. So Charming devises a plan with other fairy tale villains at the Poison Apple to seize the throne. Villains include Captain Hook, the Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin, enchanted trees, dwarfs (for some reason), and other ugly stepsister Mabel voiced by other talk show personality Regis Philbin. Another problem with Shrek the Third is their over reliance of celebrity voices outside of the main cast. Meanwhile in Far Far Away, Shrek is forced to do kingly responsibilities with his wife Fiona, Donkey, and Puss in Boots’ help. Donkey’s dronkey babies are featured characters now too. Since Shrek is still just an ogre, he’d much prefer someone else be king. After Frog King Harold’s seriously drawn out death, Shrek, Donkey, and Puss set out to find the remaining heir. King Arthur of course. Things just get complicated when Shrek and Fiona’s marriage makes the next obvious progression. As Shrek deals with the nightmare of being an ogre father, Fiona is having her own ladies only party. The most on the nose Disney jab by far is the somewhat unflattering use of various Princesses.

Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amy Sedaris, and Cheri Oteri join the cast as Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. In a group that also includes Queen Lillian, Doris, and already familiar fairy tale creatures Gingy, Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and Big Bad Wolf. Their material is especially lame, but the badass scene with the Princesses is pretty fun. Rapunzel is unsurprisingly working with Charming since she wasn’t a Disney Princess at the time. All the while Shrek, Donkey, and Puss visit Worcestershire Academy where we’re treated to a whole bunch of Arthurian high school jokes. There’s teenage Gwen and Lancelot, but Shrek is only here for Artie. Justin Timberlake does his thing, but he was really more singer than actor at the time. Artie’s main purpose is helping Shrek explore parenthood. They get help from a cooky Merlin voiced by Eric Idle who accidentally causes Puss and Donkey to switch places. It doesn’t add much. The climax is Charming attempting to assassinate Shrek live on stage. Artie uses diplomacy to turn the villains to good and Dragon finishes off Charming. Ending with Shrek and Fiona having ogre triplets back at the swamp. The only moderately memorable song is Puss and Donkey singing “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” during the credits. The computer animation has an old fashioned charm, but most of it was wasted on a lackluster story. Shrek the Third should be kept far far away from the franchise.

10. Shrek the Third

Shrek and Fiona get dolled up

Preceded by: Shrek 2 & Followed by: Shrek Forever After