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Friday, 15 April 2011

Black Dynamite - 2009

I wrote this post as part of the LAMB's Movie of The Month event.

This is a film that might appear silly and cheap at first, and of course that is the whole point, but it must also be noted for it's amazing success among film buffs and critics, as well as the fact that it is in my opinion one of the best comedies of the decade.

I will admit that I did not expect much from this film, I am not at all familiar with the blaxploitation films, although I did have a general idea of what they were like.
In fact the grindhouse/exploitation side of Cinema is one I know next to nothing about apart from what I have read, it has just never really appealed to me. But I still ended up loving this film, I've seen it many times since and like it more each time which is quite rare for me.

It ranks among the very small gathering of films from the last decade that actually made me laugh (in a good way, not in the "this film is hilariously bad" kind of way) , and I recommend it to pretty much everyone.

Black Dynamite is an ex CIA Vietnam Vet (naturally), as well as a kung fu master, a ladies man, a father to multitudes of children and a vigilante.
When his brother gets shot in a drug deal gone wrong, Black Dynamite sets out to revenge his brother and unwittingly uncovers a conspiracy that involves a certain Anaconda Malt Liquor, black men's penises, a Fiendish Dr Wu and seems to go right up to the top, maybe even right up to the "Honky House" itself.

Despite it's undeniable success with the film buffs and with the critics, it's reputation was rather slow to get started, it's effect upon release was minimal and I only heard about it last year. Sadly it failed pretty badly at the bow office and while I do not doubt that it would have recovered most of it's budget from the DVD market and from overseas audiences it is still a shame to see such a brilliant film go unnoticed. Thankfully the Large Association of Movie Blogs has declared it to be Movie of The Month. So head over there to see a great collection of reviews from many film blogs, the majority of which will be posting positive reviews I think...

As I said earlier, I write this review from the point of view of someone who is completely unfamiliar with he Blaxploitation and B-movie genre, all I know of these genres is what I have read, heard or seen in such films as this one.
I do realise that it is important to have even a slight knowledge of these genres, but I've never really got around to exploring them yet.
But despite my unfamiliarity with the genre, I was still able to greatly enjoy Black Dynamite, for rather than being a film made for Blaxploitation fans it is a summary of the entire genre. It packs as many defining aspects of the genre as possible into it's rather short run time. So at the end of the day one does not have to be familiar with the genre to enjoy this film, for it is not only a  parody, it is also a homage and an excellent introduction to a whole style of film making.
BD vs Fiendish Dr
I've mentioned Blaxploitation, but the Kung-Fu genre's influence is also very apparent in this film, such films as the works of the great Bruce Lee (Enter The Dragon etc...) have clearly left their mark on this film. For example, one of the villains is named Fiendish Dr Wu and has a base on Kung Fu Island !
Seeing BD speak Chinese fluently was hilarious, Dr Wu's "Kung Fu treachery" was brilliant, and his ultimate downfall was as unexpected as it was hilarious.

So, how does one judge how successful a comedy is? Is it by how much you laughed while watching it or by how many times you quote it over the next few days? Is it by how clever or original the script is?
Of course it is a combination of all these things and more, each person has their own criteria upon which they judge a comedy than others, many people just want to be entertained for an hour and a half then forget about it and move on the something else.
But for me a successful comedy is one that you remember for a long time afterwards and quote. It doesn't necessarily have to make me laugh uproariously but if I can't remember one single witty line from the film afterwards I will not think much of that particular comedy;
Black Dynamite is a great example of how to make a perfect cult comedy, it doesn't wallow in it's own perceived hilariousness as some comedies do, instead it is constantly coming up with fresh surprises and great new jokes until it reaches the end of it's regrettably short run time.

But then again, is Black Dynamite really a comedy ? of course the is "yes, very much so", as this film is damn hilarious, but all the actors manage to keep such straight faces even when delivering some of the most ridiculous lines ever written and the whole style of the film is so similar to the films it is emulating (which were not intentional comedies) that at times the film can appear like a serious film gone wrong, that is where the films strength lies, for to have gone for the straight out comedy approach would have brought the film down considerably.

Strangely enough, in this day and age of 100+ million dollar films and revolutionary techniques (3D camera's, 48 fps etc) there seems to be a resurgence of B movies, naturally they are not exactly mainstream yet but the release of such films as Death Proof, Planet Terror, Machete, Rubber, Hobo With a Shotgun and Piranha 3D seem to point towards a certain new trend that seems to be aimed mainly at film buffs, for who else would watch an intentionally terrible film if they had not idea what that film was parodying or referencing.

But what is additionally strange is that the aforementioned films are reasonably successful from a financial point of view, despite the fact that their budgets are many times larger than the B movies of old.
Yet in my mind, the most successful of the "new exploitation" films is by far Black Dynamite. It surpasses all other by a long shot and ironically made far less money than any of them.

Michael Jay White plays Black Dynamite and he carries the whole film on his shoulders, without his ridiculous amount of screen charisma, perfect line delivery, stunning physical feats and ridiculous fashion sense, this film would have only been half as good.
He has achieved one of those relatively rare performances that forever weld the characters name to your face, for now whatever he does next in his career he will always be Black Dynamite in the minds of millions of fans. Few actors achieve this, some achieve the opposite, their stardom impacts on the film and people see the actor not the character, take Mission Impossible for example, it is far more common to hear people say, "Tom Cruise' character did this and that" or even "Tom Cruise did this and that", for the well known name overshadows whatever character he is trying to portray.
Michael Jay White on the other hand will always be referred to as "Black Dynamite" or "the guy that did Black Dynamite", or at least he will be in my mind...

The role doesn't especially require much acting talent, all it requires is brute force and a massive screen presence as well as good comedic timing and above all a straight face.
White does a great job though and I hope this will prove to be a breakthrough in his career, he deserves more roles.

What I especially admired about this film was that it captured the tacky, low budget style it was aiming for perfectly, far better than any of Robert Rodriguez's multiple efforts. For such films as From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete cost well over 10 million dollars yet went for a cheap tacky style on purpose. Somehow this feels like a big waste of money, I mean why use a relatively large budget to make a film that is meant to appear like a tight budget film? It doesn't really make any sense.
Black Dynamite though was filmed on a budget of about 2 million which is far closer to the budgets of B-movies, additionally the director have stated that much of that already small budget was used to by stock footage from Sony.

The greatest strengths of Black Dynamite lie in it's simplicity, it has no lofty goals and consequently it achieves it goals perfectly without overreaching itself, which is where many films fail. Machete would be a good example of a film overreaching itself, and I'm sure all those that have seen it will agree.

Yet this same simplicity only is rather superficial and lies mainly in the filming techniques and acting for in fact when you look deeper you will see a faithful and highly detailed reconstruction of 1970's America.
For example, the outfits of the entire cast were perfect, of course they were at times deliberately over the top, one just has to take a look at the pimps to notice that:
Also, the cars used were all vintage 70's cars, the slang was at times almost incomprehensible to me due to what I assume to be it's accuracy.
To further establish the whole 70's America atmosphere, the film even included a few mentions of the conflict in Vietnam, as well as an organisation that looked very similar to the Black Panthers. I liked the fact that the film makers decided to keep the film so firmly rooted in it's time, even if it meant that maybe younger generations would find little interest in it. 

Overall, I loved Black Dynamite, it is a surprisingly accurate comedy that I thought cast a lot of light into the genre of blaxploitation, but it still remains exceptionally fun to watch and enjoyable to quote.
I would highly recommend to pretty much everyone, if you're a fan of the genre then it's a must see, if you are looing for a goo laugh it's a must see, in fact even if you're not familiar with the genre at all and are not particularly interested in comedies (like me) then I recommend it anyway.

Finally, on a somewhat related note, here is a deleted scene from Kill Bill in which Michael Jay White fights none other than Bill himself!!

I know the scene was probably a bit to silly to fit into the rest of the film, especially as it's Volume Two, but it still is undeniably awesome.

Don't hesitate to share your thoughts on Black Dynamite below, and don't forget to check out the LAMB's Movie of The Month Event!

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