Friday, June 12, 2015

Olive Goes Pam Grier Obsessed and Brings Down the Hammer on Blu-ray

Foxy Brown (Blu-ray)

From Olive:

Directed by: Jack Hill

Foxy Brown (Pam Grier, Coffy, Jackie Brown) is “a whole lot of woman” and more. Just you wait and see.

Seeking revenge for the murder of her government agent boyfriend, Foxy goes to any means necessary – even posing as a prostitute to infiltrate a modeling agency that’s a cover for sex trafficking – to bring the killer to justice. Foxy Brown co-stars Antonio Fargas (Conrack, Car Wash), Peter Brown (Teenage Tease, Merrill’s Marauder’s), Terry Carter (Brother On The Run), Sid Haig (Coffy, The Devil’s Rejects, Jackie Brown) and is directed by Jack Hill (Coffy, Switchblade Sisters).

Foxy Brown is an iconic piece of Blaxploitation history displaying all the tropes and characteristics of a Blax film but not pandering to the audience. It’s a challenging film with the conventional moral code scrapped for pure vigilante justice, iconic for the unruly 70’s and a model for Jack Hill’s work both inside the Blaxploitation subgenre and beyond into movies like Switchblade Sisters.

The transfer is good, but the extras are nil. Olive Films is consistent with the transfer with few exceptions over the years. The issue with their releases will always be the lack of extras. If you do not care about commentary tracks, trailers or featurettes but prefer a release that preserves traditional poster art then this is will be the release for you. For the Region A market, it’s the one to pick up.

The only issue I take with Foxy Brown is that it seems to have gained more fame at least in name alone than its predecessor, Coffy, made a year earlier. I prefer Coffy (reviewed below from Olive) to Foxy Brown and though Foxy Brown has the appearance of a higher production value with some luscious shots of Pam Grier and more dominant heroic performance from Grier, the drama in Coffy and the duality of Grier’s performance is my preference.

Coffy (Blu-ray)

From Olive:

Directed by: Jack Hill

Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown) stars as Nurse “Coffy” Coffin in the mother of all Blaxploitation films, Coffy. Coffy is a one-woman vigilante force, out to even the score with those that have hooked her sister on drugs. Using her feminine wiles (along with deadly weaponry), Coffy sets about ridding the streets of low-life drug dealers, pimps, deviants and society’s scum in the kick-ass action film Coffy. Jack Hill (Foxy Brown, Switchblade Sisters) directs Booker Bradshaw (The Strawberry Statement, Skullduggery), Robert DoQui (Nashville, Short Cuts) and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects, Jackie Brown) in Coffy starring Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown).

Pam Grier started off in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and moved her way into the women in prison circuit. While she’s always a dominant force to be reckoned with it wasn’t until Coffy that the scope of her talent was truly explored. Yes, Coffy plays on and sets many of the common conceptions we find in the Blaxploitation genre (even before Foxy Brown), but the evolution and duality of Nurse Coffin is what I find so completely intriguing.

The movie plays out like a revenge flick but an almost unwanted revenge flick based around a societal evil du jour, heroin. Her profession is to help save lives as a nurse but ultimately she seeks out revenge for the death of her sister as a cold blooded, intelligent killer. She is amateurish in her tactics but she uses her wit and cunning to get the job done. She fails often and even succumbs to the demonic Sid Haig twice in the picture, but this only adds realism. She may be a badass, but she’s real.

Coffy suffers from a lack of extras and while the transfer is good, the movie is slightly washed out (as opposed to Foxy Brown which is vibrant) most likely due to the source material. This is the region A release by Olive, however I find it important to note for our international audience that Arrow has also released a packed release of Coffy. Olive and Arrow compete in different spaces and fulfill different needs. If you attention is on the extras and the full package, you’ll have to travel across the pond. The Olive release is otherwise completely acceptable in all other ways.

All my friends love Foxy Brown. I love a good strong cup of Coffy. While Pam Grier had done terrific work in Women in Cages and The Big Doll House as well as The Big Bird Cage, I think she created an icon in Coffy that essentially played out in Foxy Brown as a non-sequel, sequel.

Hammer (Blu-ray)

From Olive:

Directed by: Bruce Clark

Former football player Fred Williamson (M.A.S.H., Black Caesar) brings his athletic prowess and acting chops to the role of B.J. Hammer in the street-smart, action pic Hammer. A boxer on-the-rise, Hammer is asked to throw a fight by the local Mob who have figured prominently in his success. His moral dilemma hits close to home when the life of his girlfriend, Lois’ (Vonetta McGee, Blacula, The Eiger Sanction) is put in jeopardy. Rounding out the Hammer cast are Bernie Hamilton (The Swimmer, TV’s Starkey and Hutch) and William Smith (Any Which Way You Can, The Frisco Kid) in the Bruce Clark (The Ski Bum, Galaxy of Terror) directed film.

Fred Williamson is a goddamn genius in terms of how he holds himself, his delivery of key lines and the way he can make you feel even smaller than his already large stature should make you feel. He is truly larger than life, a phrase that is often misued or overused but applies to “The Hammer” appropriately. That being said and with all respect given to a man who has played in some of my favorite films, recent and past starring in Black Caeser, M.A.S.H, From Dusk Til Dawn and my beloved Vigilante, Hammer is not my favorite Williamson flick.

While Hammer has moments of sexual gratuity that drip off the screen like melted luscious hot sex, it has a lot of downtime. When Hammer is in bed or the ring or even on the docks, you’re good. It’s getting to these points that feels like an eternity in this average length picture. Still the moments that truly pop, when Fred is a confident, badass with good conscious and great attitude… these are moments worth enjoying.

The Olive transfer is delicious as well. The film grain structure is quite nice and for the most part it is filled with dark blacks and rich colors. There are a few low light scenes that leave something to be desired but is most likely an issue with the source material as is often the case with low light scenes (just wanted to point that out for detractors). The cover art is vibrant, though it isn’t my favorite artwork for the film. Unfortunately, there are no extras. It’s a bare bones release. Sorry Fred fans.

Friday Foster (Blu-ray)

From Olive:

Directed by: Arthur Marks

Based on the syndicated newspaper comic strip of the same name, Grier stars as intrepid photojournalist Friday Foster. No sooner has she been warned by her boss that her personal involvement in the stories she’s shooting will not end happily, Friday witnesses the attempted assassination of a prominent African-American figure and the murder of a friend.

Why is Friday the target on the hit list? What does she know? Teaming with private detective Colt Hawkins (Yaphet Kotto, Alien, Blue Collar), the search for answers will lead them to a startling and action-packed finale.

Directed by Arthur Marks (Class of ’74, Detroit 9000), based on his story, Friday Foster features supporting performances by Godfrey Cambridge (Watermelon Man, Cotton Comes To Harlem), Eartha Kitt (Boomerang, The Emperor’s New Groove), Carl Weathers (Rocky, Predator), Scatman Crothers (The Shining), Ted Lange (TV’s The Love Boat), Jim Backus (TV’s Gilligan’s Island, Mister Magoo).

I’m knew to Friday Foster. It’s a non-Jack Hill Blaxploitation movie, and while I know Detroit 9000, Arthur Marks and I aren’t better acquainted. While it has a stellar cast featuring some of my absolute genre favorites including Scatman Crothers, Jim Backus and Carl Weathers not to mention the ever lovely and ever present Pam Grier,  I’m afraid the movie feels like a bit of a fiasco with an amazing cast. The ending may be a great deal of fun but getting there is slow and filled with what feels like random scenes thrown together in a sort of genre stew.

Great transfer with some nice film grain, good color and plenty of contrast and detail, but no extras as is typical with Olive.

Friday Foster is perfect for fans of blaxploiation pictures, but it may feel a bit clean compared to the perfect dirt and grime of a Jack Hill presentation. It’s great to see so many iconic actors on screen together, and watching them individually I had an amazing time with Friday Foster. As a whole, it’s a bit of a mess. Still I can't help but think that's it's the most full bodied of the Pam Grier releases of this period. Not the best. Just the most well rounded.

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