Watch Out Mister… Here Comes the Twister!

The Human Tornado feels more intentionally bad than accidentally bad. Dolemite was far from high art, but I don’t expect that from Blaxploitation. Rudy Ray Moore fully embraces his Dolemite identity for an even crazier sequel 1 year later. With a title like The Human Tornado, you’d swear this was a superhero flick. Everything about Dolemite is exaggerated. He speaks in spoken word poems more often, his sexdrive is in overdrive, and all of his kung fu fights in the climax are sped up.

As for the movie, the picture quality is worse, the editing is ridiculous, and I’m pretty sure they dubbed a lot of the dialogue. Dolemite now finds himself finishing a comedy tour, but dealing with more blatantly racist police officers. He flees to California with his friends and a particularly flamboyant hostage. A young Ernie Hudson plays one of his friends, but I still don’t recognize most of the cast. Dolemite has to save his friend Queen Bee from a gangster and rescue two of his girls from kidnappers.

The R rating is exploited even further with more uncomfortable violence (mostly directed at women), almost constant profanity, and just about every actress getting naked whether it makes sense or not. I know you’re not suppose to take it seriously, since they throw in stuff like an out of nowhere sex fantasy. The Human Tornado is a whirlwind of nonsensical ideas.

The Human Tornado

Dolemite does kung fu

Preceded by: Dolemite

With his All-Girl Army of Kung Fu Killers

Dolemite is out of sight. I haven’t seen much Blaxploitation outside of Shaft and Foxy Brown. Dolemite is a name I have heard through the grapevine. Comedian Rudy Ray Moore turned the character into something of an urban legend that he used for his stand-up comedy routines. Moore worked hard to bring Dolemite to the big screen if it meant paying for most of the movie himself. The professional D’Urville Martin directs and plays the villain (but that’s a story for another review).

Dolemite is a tough black pimp recently released from prison. Dolemite fights a never ending battle against corrupt cops, rival nightclub owner Willie Green, and drug traffickers. Fortunately he’s got fellow pimp Queen Bee, a righteous preacher, the FBI, and a band of black & white kung fu prostitutes on his side. Dolemite himself does stand out thanks to his unexplained kung fu skills and spoken word poems that earned Moore the nickname “Godfather of Rap.”

Like almost all Blaxploitation flicks, Dolemite is loaded with drugs, violence, frequent profanity, and casual sex scenes. It’s technically a comedy, but I wasn’t sure when to laugh. I guess it’s the story that you shouldn’t take too seriously, because it’s so bad. It gets rough on the mean streets, but it’s nothing Dolemite can’t handle. Though I couldn’t help but compare it to the superior Shaft, Dolemite has a name all its own.

Dolemite

Dolemite and his girls

Followed by: The Human Tornado

We’re Supposed to Be Having a Race

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is your basic camping movie. Even the Peanuts can’t get too insightful with a set up like this. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown and its creator Charles M. Schulz are clearly just trying to have fun. I’ve known about the movie for a long time thanks to an add for Paramount home video that I constantly saw on my Rugrats VHS tapes. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown feels even bigger than Snoopy Come Home with vast wilderness settings.

The Peanuts stay at Camp Remote where they’re paired off into groups of four boys and four girls. The boys consist of Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, and Franklin. The girls consist of Sally, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie. Snoopy and Woodstock are mostly around to do cool things like riding a motorcycle to the camp. They do all the usual camp activities, but the primary focus is on an extended river rafting race. Plus dealing with camp bullies who constantly cheat.

Along with all his usual struggles, Charlie Brown mostly deals with having to be a leader. Peppermint Patty begins making decisions with her sidekick Marcie and the rest of the girls through the democratic process of voting. It gets old after awhile. The race itself goes on a little too long, but Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is still a satisfying adventure.

3. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

The Peanuts on the river rapids

Preceded by: Snoopy Come Home & Followed by: Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!)

No Dogs Allowed

Snoopy Come Home gave the spotlight to Charlie Brown’s beloved pet beagle. Snoopy is every bit the icon that his owner is. Peanuts fans love his smart yet mischievous nature and independent spirit. Since A Boy Named Charlie Brown was such a success, Snoopy Come Home soon followed. This time Charles M. Schulz wanted a more cinematic feel. The first movie admittedly felt like an extended special. While the animation is still simple, backgrounds feel more immersive.

Another change was music from the Sherman Brothers instead of the usual Vince Guaraldi. Most songs feel a bit more Disneyfied than usual. Although it takes further advantage of the medium, Snoopy Come Home was sadly a box-office bomb. The story is very sentimental with Snoopy leaving home to visit his sick former owner Lila. Charlie Brown blames himself for his dog running away. Linus, Lucy, and Peppermint Patty all have shared mishaps that make them doubt if he’ll ever return.

Joining Snoopy for the first time on-screen is his faithful bird sidekick Woodstock. Together they endure the elements, a pet crazed kid, and near constant “No Dogs Allowed” signs. Snoopy nearly chooses to stay with Lila, but let’s just say a problem becomes the solution. Even though Snoopy’s tearful farewell is played for laughs, Charlie Brown almost saying goodbye to his best friend is very relatable. Snoopy Come Home is the best kind of “boy and his dog” story.

2. Snoopy, Come Home

Snoopy and Woodstock hitchhike

Preceded by: A Boy Named Charlie Brown & Followed by: Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

Monkey Suit

King Kong (1976) isn’t the remake the great ape deserved. Since monsters as iconic as King Kong never truly die, a reimagining of the classic 1933 film wasn’t entirely out of the question. Kong remained relevant throughout the 60’s thanks to being licensed in Japan. Toho made King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. Meanwhile, the rights to Kong in America were split between two seperate studios. The idea for a remake was pitched to both Paramount and Universal. Since RKO Pictures barely existed anymore, the rights were basically public domain.

There was apparently a big legal battle that allowed Paramount to make their version before Universal (29 years later in 2005). While I do have my mom to thank for introducing my brother and I to the original, I can’t say the same for the 1976 remake. I didn’t watch it because she warned me it wasn’t very good. King Kong (1976) is different, but bad is a strong word. 1933’s King Kong is an old fashioned larger than life adventure, while 1976’s King Kong is a contemporary light hearted romp. King Kong (1976) takes the basic structure we’re familiar with and changes it enough to be mostly memorable…

4. King Kong 1976

King Kong looks at Dwan

King Kong (1976) was developed by major Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin. Directing a movie that involved an enormous skyscraper wasn’t exactly new for him after The Towering Inferno. Their goal was always to make something different, but familiar to the original. It’s so different that you never know what iconic scenes will be kept, altered, or removed entirely. The biggest change was setting events in present day 1970’s. Rather than follow a film crew on a mysterious voyage to Skull Island, King Kong (1976) takes advantage of the current energy crisis. A decision that doesn’t always make as much sense as simply wanting to capture exotic wildlife. Carl Denham is replaced by Charles Grodin as equally reckless Petrox Oil executive Fred Wilson. He mounts an expedition to Skull Island with the belief that it’s rich with oil. Jack Driscoll is replaced by a very young Jeff Bridges as hippie primate paleontologist Jack Prescott. He stows away on the boat just to warn them against disturbing the giant creature that lives there. They ignore his pleas, but keep him aboard anyway as a photographer.

Since a Beast is only as good as his Beauty, a beautiful blonde woman literally drifts onto their ship. Ann Darrow is replaced by Jessica Lange in her very first film role. Although calling her Dwan instead of Dawn is dumb regardless of explanation, she is right about being memorable. Unlike the original crew, everybody loves Dwan’s fun loving personality. Despite being PG, I can’t blame them for giving her partially obscured nude scenes. Jack falls in love with Dwan and becomes her hero similar to the original. The build up to Kong is even longer, but it doesn’t drag too much. Skull Island natives are almost exactly the same with grand rituals and a desire to trade their women for Dwan. She’s quickly kidnapped and sacrificed nearly an hour into the 2 hour & 14 minute movie. Kong is slowly revealed with a signature chest pound, but his appearance is a mixed bag. Although often depicted as brown on posters or in Toho productions, black & white has always made him appear black.

This Kong stands upright with dark brown fur worn by a stunt performer. An ape suit can’t beat the meticulous effort of stop-motion, but he is expressive and it is impressive to see him in the same frame as the humans. Kong lumbers around at an even bigger 55 feet tall. A lot more attention is given to Kong’s love of Dwan. Their romance has less subtle sexual undertones shown when Kong bathes and undresses her. Dwan isn’t exactly afraid of Kong, but she doesn’t want to stay with him either. Their relationship feels like a screwball comedy at times. Kong protects Dwan by overturning a log like the original, but the remake’s lamest decision is leaving out all of the dinosaurs. The only creature Kong has to fight is a giant snake. Kong doesn’t even terrorize the native village when he crashes through their wall.

Another change is actually seeing Kong’s boat trip to New York. Wilson makes the unusual decision to use Kong as a promotional tool to sell oil. Dwan wants to be a star, but she and Jack can’t help but feel sorry for Kong. In fact, Dwan is actually split between her two loves. She comforts Kong when he gets rowdy, but still participates in the show. Kong is instead locked in a giant cage with a crown on his head. He escapes captivity and steps on Wilson. A train is destroyed and a woman thought to be Dwan is tossed aside, but the most major deviation is Kong scaling the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building. You can imagine the changes that were made to the poster after 9/11.

Kong takes Dwan to the Twin Towers where Jack thinks he’ll be netted by helicopters. Little does he know they plan to shoot him down. The change in venue only succeeds in giving Kong 2 buildings to jump from. Otherwise, Kong meets an even bloodier fate after barely defending himself at all. Dwan cries for Kong since an attempt was made to make him more sympathetic. The iconic final line is replaced by Jack unable to approach Dwan in a sea of photographers. Although critics were split, King Kong (1976) was a rare successful remake with another Special Achievement Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. King Kong (1976) left its footprint on cinema regardless of quality or personal opinion.

5. King Kong 1976

King Kong prepares to climb the Twin Towers

Remake of: King Kong (1933) & Followed by: King Kong Lives

The Chase Continues

French Connection II kept the train going a little longer. After the success of The Godfather Part II, a sequel to Best Picture winner The French Connection seemed like a good idea. Even though I never heard of it beforehand. It’s a strong follow up, but it does take away from the ambiguity of the first film’s ending. New York police officer Popeye Doyle never caught his French assailant Alain Charnier.

French Connection II continues the chase and gives Gene Hackman more time to shine in his Oscar winning role. Directing reigns were handed over to John Frankenheimer, while Roy Schneider was too busy making Jaws. Popeye is now all by himself in Marseille, France. He deals with the language barrier, has trouble ordering drinks, fails to pick up French women, and can’t carry a gun. All while attempting to work with the French police department in order to catch his Frog.

Fernando Rey is the only other returning cast member. Charnier is still a sophisticated drug trafficker who proves increasingly difficult to catch. The pacing is a lot slower with more time dedicated to Popeye being forced into a heroin addiction. It’s only after he gets clean that Popeye becomes the violent cop in desperate pursuit again. The sequel ends with a decent chase from the streets to a rail bus. Popeye loses Charnier once more on a yacht, but I knew they wouldn’t end another movie without a resolution. French Connection II offers closure to an already perfect crime thriller.

French Connection II

Popeye Doyle gives chase

Preceded by: The French Connection

Missing the Train

The French Connection changed the rules in Hollywood. Considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, The French Connection feels realistic with documentary style filmmaking, flawed protagonists, and a real life drug smuggling case at the center. Based on a 1969 book about two police detectives involved in the titular case. Before The Exorcist, Superman, or Jaws, director William Friedkin and stars Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider hit the mean streets of New York. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle is an iconic police officer distinguished by his pork pie hat. Even his entrance dressed as Santa Claus is iconic.

Popeye Doyle isn’t exactly a crooked cop, but he does drink, sleep around, disobey orders, and show many racist tendencies. Seeing him shakedown a bar full of narcotics is when I knew he meant business. Popeyes actually got its name from Doyle. Although he faced stiff competition, Hackman was the best casting choice. Just as good is Schneider as his more cautious partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo. Together they perform stakeouts in order to track a drug smuggling ring with a French connection. I don’t always understand police procedurals, but I gathered that it was all about stopping the flow of heroin into the U.S. Alain Charnier is a dapper French criminal with multiple hitmen under his thumb.

The French Connection is best known for its exciting chase scenes. Popeye pursuing Charnier in a subway is tense, but it’s a later car chase that really steals the show. Popeye in a civilian car pursuing a sniper on a train concludes with an exhausted Doyle shooting the assailant in the back. His almost obsessive need to catch the criminal ends on a suitably ambiguous note where the chase never truly ends. The French Connection is a Best Picture winner I knew I had to prioritize. No matter how many cop movies I’ve seen. It also won Best Director, Actor, Screenplay, Film Editing, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography, and Sound. The French Connection marked a welcomed shift towards realism at the Academy Awards.

The French Connection

Popeye Doyle waves

Followed by: French Connection II

Dueling Banjos

Deliverance is a story of survival I only knew by reputation alone. R rated films were already well established by 1972, but they were no less shocking to viewers at the time. Since the intense 1970 novel maintained its author James Dickey as a screenwriter. I avoided Deliverance for years with the limited knowledge that it involved banjos and hillbillies. As boundary pushing as it was, Deliverance was still an Oscar nominated hit with a soon-to-be all-star cast. Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds already made an impression, but Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox were just getting started.

Every actor is on equal footing as a group of city folk who take a male bounding canoe trip in the great outdoors. Lewis is the more experienced macho leader, Ed is less confident, Buddy complains the most, and Drew would rather play his banjo. Their trip starts off well with the iconic “Dueling Banjos” scene between Drew and a backwoods boy. The song puts you in a good mood before the terror sinks in. As the four men journey down the river, Ed and Buddy encounter a couple of malicious mountain men.

The most difficult scene to get through involves Buddy being sexually assaulted and forced to “Squeal like a pig.” It only gets worse from there when the men argue over whether to cover up the incident. They face intense rapids, drowning, life threatening injuries, and the remaining mountain man in a desperate attempt to survive. Director John Boorman maintains a realistic feel by having the actors perform stunts themselves. Even their trauma is explored where most movies would leave out the aftermath. Deliverance lures you in and never lets go.

Deliverance

Drew plays with a banjo boy

The Slow Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not the feature film Trekkies deserved. Star Trek: The Original Series is a landmark of science fiction created by Gene Roddenberry. The 1966 series was all about exploration through space, the final frontier. It followed the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5 year mission was to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, and new civilizations. “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” My parents have always been Trekkies who grew up watching the original series, but my brother and I always remained in the neutral zone. It wasn’t until last year that we finally decided to experience everything Star Trek at warp speed. I may be a casual fan turned instant Trekkie, but even I know they could’ve done better than The Motion Picture. When the original series was cancelled after only 3 seasons, The Animated Series was all that filled the void. Roddenberry felt the best way to revive the franchise was with a movie. Paramount disagreed and the continuation became a TV series titled Star Trek: Phase II.

Ironically, the success of Star Wars and the subsequent success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind ensured a movie would be made instead of a show. The problem with The Motion Picture is no one knowing the right direction to take. You can tell it’s trying to be as different from Star Wars as possible. Academy Award winning director Robert Wise is brilliant, but you can tell he has a very limited understanding of Star Trek. The script was often incomplete, production faced many problems, and one very important cast member almost didn’t return. William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Majel Barrett all agreed to return after a decade, but Leonard Nimoy was hesitant. I’m glad they worked something out, because Star Trek isn’t the same without the fan favorite Vulcan. The Motion Picture has an out of this world score by Jerry Goldsmith and impressive special effects for a 1979 film, but that’s one of its biggest problems. The runtime is an unbearably boring 2 hours & 25 minutes worth of slow moving shots of the USS Enterprise, wormholes, and a villain that’s literally a space cloud. There’s practically no phaser action, color, or sense of fun. The redesigned Enterprise has cinematic grandeur, but the new uniforms are incredibly drab.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 99096.66: The Motion Picture begins with a very important contribution to the warmongering Klingons. This is the first time they’re seen speaking Klingon and having ridged foreheads. The language was developed by Doohan himself. They’re attacked by the space cloud which is headed straight for Earth. Since the Enterprise is in range, Admiral James T. Kirk commandeers his ship long after the completion of their 5 year mission. Shatner is every bit the charming overactor he’s always been. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is just as snarky when reluctantly energized through the Transporter. Apart from Scotty trying to fix the faulty Engine room, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Nurse Chapel are basically glorified extras. I value what little screen time they receive, but even the return of Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand is barely given attention. More attention is given to characters who were indented to appear in the Phase II series. Stephen Collins plays Commander William Decker. The former captain whose job Kirk takes for himself. Bald model Persis Khambatta plays Deltan navigator Ilia. She shares a romantic history with Decker, but makes a point about her celibacy so that Kirk doesn’t get any ideas.

Kirk was supposed to get a new Vulcan science officer, but Spock returns when he dies in a Transporter accident. Spock is every bit the fascinating logical half-Vulcan he’s always been. Planet Vulcan makes its second live-action appearance along with a Vulcan language. Spock tries to purge his emotions, but his human half calls to the cloud. Turns out the cloud is really a sentient computer named V’Ger that is very slowly revealed when Spock mind melds with it during a trippy spacewalk. Ilia is turned into a living computer through V’Ger’s consciousness in an attempt to find its creator. SPOILER ALERT! The extremely philosophical ending culminates in V’Ger’s reveal as the Earth probe Voyager 6. The living machine must join with a human (that ends up being Decker) in order to fulfill its mission. The new lifeform seems important, but it’s never brought up again. Although the story isn’t too far off from the prime directive of Star Trek, the 2001: A Space Odyssey approach made Star Trek: The Motion Picture a snoozefest. “Live long and prosper.” πŸ––

1. Star Trek The Motion Picture

The crew of the Enterprise

Followed by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

His Legacy Lives On

Game of Death is the martial arts epic we sadly never got to see. Everyone (my mother included) was shocked to learn Bruce Lee passed away at the young age of 32. It seemed like he was just getting started. Game of Death was meant to be Lee’s second directorial effort, but Enter the Dragon kept him from finishing it. Despite over 39 minutes worth of footage existing, only 11 minutes were repurposed into an awkward American production. Needless to say, my mom was less than eager to recommend it. The much cooler original Game of Death plot would’ve seen Bruce Lee as retired martial arts champion Hai Tien.

The idea of him ascending a pagoda to fight increasingly tough opponents can still be seen in action movies and video games today. Same with his iconic yellow & black jumpsuit. The 1978 film butchers the footage with a less than original revenge story against racketeers. Every trick in the book is used to convince you several stunt doubles are Bruce Lee. The most infamous example being a cardboard cutout of Lee’s face taped to a mirror. Footage from Way of the Dragon and Fist of Fury are used since Billy Lo is an actor filming scenes from both movies. The stand-in always wears thick sunglasses and stands at a distance, but you can clearly tell he isn’t Lee in close-ups.

A presumed death, that distastefully uses real funeral footage, gives Billy the excuse to have plastic surgery and wear a disguise. When his American girlfriend played by Colleen Camp is threatened, Lo takes a yellow motorcycle tracksuit and faces the mob at their pagoda restaurant. As expected, the only highlight is seeing Bruce Lee himself. Although it feels harsher without the dialogue, it’s good enough seeing Lee fight the nunchucking Dan Inosanto, flashy Ji Han-jae, and 7 ft. basketball player kareem Abdul-Jabbar himself. Their fight is particularly memorable since Abdul-Jabbar is so huge. Game of Death has so much lost potential that can’t always be found in the finished cut.

5. Game of Death

Billy Lo (Hai Tien) faces an opponent

P.S. I’ve supplied the real Game of Death underneath.