Saturday, November 16, 2019

DOLEMITE (1975), DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)

 Rudy May Moore is...Dolemite


I was listening to a podcast recently featuring screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. They were talking about their newest film, Dolemite is My Name starring Eddie Murphy. It made me want to see it, but also realized I had never seen the original Dolemite movie before! How had I missed this classic?
So I knew I had to quickly get acquainted with the original.

Dolemite is both a masterpiece of camp and enjoyable in its on right. Dolemite (played by the one and only Rudy May Moore) gets released from jail and sort of goes undercover searching for bad guys and bad cops. He wears flashy clothes, makes out with a lot of sexy girls who can do Kung Fu and says Motherfucker! a lot! He also shares a lot of his slam/bam poetry with us and provides my favorite moments from the movie.
It's a fun ride and your 70's blaxploitation viewing resume isn't complete without it.

Eddie Murphy is ...Rudy May Moore...in
Dolemite is My Name!

This set me up to watch Dolemite is My Name! with Eddie Murphy playing Rudy May Moore. Rudy is an enthusiastic self promoter. He sings and does comedy in local clubs but never manages to make it big. He's into his forties at this point and that big break in show business is unlikely at this point...or is it? Murphy has a field day in this role as the never say die Rudy May. The screenplay gives us everything we could possibly want to know about the unlikely rise of  Mr. Dolemite. Some of the highlights of the film include Rudy's absorption of old stories from street people to create his Dolemite character and the making of the Dolemite film, which is produced on the cheap to say the least.

Alexander and Karaszewski also wrote the screenplay for Ed Wood, a story of another unlikely movie icon. Ed and Rudy May both had their loyal entourages, who we get to know well in Ed Wood and Dolemite is My Name! 

Friday, November 15, 2019

DISTANT VOICES, STILL LIVES (1988), HOUSEKEEPING (1987)


Distant Voices, Still Lives


Distant Voices, Still Lives is the story of a working class family in 40's and 50's Liverpool. It's a struggle to get by for the Davies family and their problems are exacerbated by an often abusive family patriarch (Pete Postlehwaite). The family uses music throughout to bond and get through hard times. Despite the creative and abundant use of song throughout, you are unlikely to leave this one taping your toes or whistling a tune.

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart. Proverbs 11:29


Housekeeping

Life also isn't easy for the two young girls growing up in the Pacific Northwest during roughly the same time frame as Distant Voices, Still Lives. The girl's single mother commits suicide early in the story and they end up living with their eccentric Aunt (Christine Lahti). The characters are well drawn and the chemistry between the principles and the vibrant rustic setting add much to the film.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heavenEcclesiastes 3:1-8

Sunday, November 10, 2019

DINER (1982), BUFFALO '66 (1998)


Bacon, Rourke, Daly and Stern enjoy lunch
...or is it breakfast? in Diner

Diner is Barry Levinson's autobiographical film about being a young adult in Baltimore in late 1959. The film features the guys in the film hanging out in the local diner (hence the title) and how they are dealing with various degrees of success facing adulthood, responsibility and even (gasp!) marriage. The film has always been a favorite of mine and is smartly written by Levinson and boasts distinctive and interesting characterizations. Reminiscent of American Graffiti a decade before it, Diner had a cast of unknowns that were to come to prominence in upcoming years: Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Paul Reiser and Ellen Barkin.

Johnny Unitas leads the 1959 Baltimore Colts
to another title

Are you ready for some football? Diner's Eddie (Guttenberg) is so obsessed with the Baltimore Colts, that he makes his fiancee pass a football quiz before he agrees to marry her. We see mostly his buddies as she is taking the test waiting to see if she makes the grade as if they are waiting for her to deliver a baby in one of the film's funniest scenes. The Colts were on their way to a second straight NFL championship in 1959, defeating the Giants in the title game 31-16.

Up for anything Layla (Ricci) poses
with the morose Billy (Gallo) in Buffalo '66

Writer/Director/Star Vincent Gallo's indy film Buffalo '66 rates most highly on my personal "quirky film meter." Gallo plays Billy, who right after serving a lengthy prison sentence recruits a girl named Layla (Christina Ricci) he picks up to pose as his wife to mollify his parents (Ben Gazzara and Angelica Huston). Recruits might not be the right word as kidnaps may be a more appropriate term. Of course, she seems oddly willing to go along with the not particularly likable Billy's scheme. We then get to see Billy's strange family dynamic, learn why the innocent Billy went to jail, witness gambling addiction and its subsequent consequences, observe a most off-beat romance between the two leads and of course, get a heavy dose of football obsession. The off-beat supporting cast also includes: Jan-Michael Vincent, Rosanna Arquette and Mickey Rourke (of Diner).

Quarterback Jack Kemp leads the '66 Buffalo Bills

Are you ready for some football? The title of this film is based on Billy being born during the Buffalo Bills championship AFL season of 1966, causing his fanatical football fan mother to miss the championship game, which she reminds him of at every opportunity. In reality, the Bills actually won the title games in 1964 and 1965 and lost the '66 title game 31-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs, depriving them of an opportunity to play in the first Super Bowl. So it goes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

THE EXILES (1961), HOOP DREAMS (1994)


Yvonne Williams going grocery shopping 
in The Exiles

I knew next to nothing about The Exiles, a seventy-two minute film about Indians/Native Americans in late 1950's Los Angeles when I popped the Criterion disc into the DVD player. In fact, going into my viewing I thought it was a documentary!

What we do have in this drama is the Native American/Indian people in this very small neighborhood doing various normal things in a snapshot of one night. We have a lady (Yvonne) who does the mundane grocery shopping or going to see a movie and dreams of a better life. We see several characters going out for drinks, including the jerky guy (Tommy), the guy who just sort of observes (Homer) and doesn't really react to much other than to go with the flow, and a large group that goes to a secluded place for a "49 Party", a type of traditional Native-American dance, which they do on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. Interesting for the historical value and time, movie commentator Sean Alexie (Smoke Signals, Who jokingly called it Native American Graffiti) points out that it was the first time in any film where you get to see a group of Native Americans doing something as mundane as buying gas! The film uses voice over narration and may have the feel of a Cassavetes film of the period to some, which Alexie points out.

The cinematography of the movie is very nice for something so low budget (maybe because of it?) and the final shot of the movie (below) is memorable.

Side note: They caught up to Yvonne Williams years later and she said she had never seen The Exiles, her only screen appearance.

A fun night's end in the final shot of The Exiles



Arthur Agee in Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams I have seen before and was a well deserved Oscar winner for Best Documentary of 1994. We follow two black youths in Chicago city schools over their four high school years whose dreams revolve around getting a chance to play basketball and perhaps getting to a point where they can reach the pinnacle and turn pro like their hero, Isaiah Thomas. It's most interesting that director is able to follow these kids around during their entire high school career and see how they develop. We see William the strong star player, whose career has ups and downs mostly due to untimely injuries. We have the smaller Arthur Agee, who actually gets kicked out of one school due to grades, but eventually makes a mark in basketball at his next school. We see the highs and lows of their family life, friends, neighborhood, coaches and teammates. We also see quite a number of scenes with Academic Counselors! A long film, but well worth your time.

Side note: In Danny Peary's Alternate Oscar book, he rates Hoop Dreams as the Best Picture Winner for 1994. This year featured Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption and several other notable films, but Hoop Dreams was Peary's choice.

William Gates in Hoop Dreams