Still chewing this one over, and I suspect it’ll take a second viewing before it starts to come into focus. It obviously plays as a variant on Inglourious Basterds, but I miss that film’s ferocious set pieces and, especially, its strong central female character. But what Django Unchained does even better than Basterds is show up the essential timidity of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking. Django is singular in large part because nobody else is making bigtime narratives that deal with the history of race relations in America. I like Lincoln a lot, but it’s telling that when Spielberg turns his attention to roughly the same period in history, he comes up with Congress: The Motion Picture. And I’d love to see Spike Lee make a Django answer film, but I doubt he could get the funding.
Rape-revenge is the basest of movie formulas. What amounts to a social contract exists with the audience: during the first half of the film, you will experience the sadistic, brutal, misogynistic sexual abuse of an innocent, probably naïve young woman at the hands of cavalier thugs. And during the second half of the film, you will see this broken woman–this survivor–pull herself together long enough to exact a terrible revenge on those who wronged her.
Neither especially well-crafted nor completely inept, Death of a Snowman is less interesting as a film than as an artifact. You might hope that a low-budget crime drama shot in and around Johannesburg, South Africa, during the apartheid years would deal explicitly with political conditions in the segregated country. Instead — perhaps because of government censorship or fears of political reprisals — Death of a Snowman has only the whiff of racial tension about it, as whites and blacks doubt, disbelieve and double-cross one another from start to finish.
The 70s exploitation-film spoof Black Dynamite sounds like a fun idea on paper, and it starts to look like a can’t-miss proposition when you see the theatrical trailer, which showcases the technical qualities of this loving pastiche. Director Scott Sanders certainly gets the look right, thanks partly to no-frills era-aware photography by DP Shawn Maurer and partly to some digital tweaking that brings the colors in line with that ruddy aesthetic specific to some film prints of the period, and that’s crucial to the joke. As the titular bad-ass, a former CIA agent with a reinstated license to kill out to avenge the death of his brother, Michael Jai White combines a deadpan-comic screen presence with enough martial artistry to make a fight scenes work on a more visceral level than pure parody. But something about the execution is flat.
Crummy by mainstream standards, this low-budget martial-arts programmer has lots of charm, starting with the opening shot depicting the inside of a church with saloon-style swinging doors banging against the wind and dust outside, and Tarantino fans will make note of some of the source elements he appropriated for his Kill Bill revenge pastiche. But the real attraction here is Yumi Higaki, playing a talented but reluctant martial-arts disciple seeking payback for injuries to the body and pride of her master (Sonny Chiba, in an extended cameo at the film’s beginning). I had seen her previously in Sister Street Fighter, released two years earlier, but her poise and confidence has improved here. A prototype for any number of femme videogame ass-kickers, from Chun Li down the line, she has an overgrown-kid look to her that makes her determination and eventual triumph in the violent coming-of-age scenario more rousing.
Blue Underground released this notorious and oft-censored installment in the Black Emanuelle series, directed by the well-known schlockmeister Joe D’Amato and starring the knockout Laura Gemser as a labored metaphor for the free love movement. Emanuelle in America boasts the softcore action you’d expect, including some nude underwater frolicking and copious amounts of disinterested fondling and caressing. It also delivers the action you don’t expect — like a woman masturbating a horse (yes, this actually happens on screen) and some hardcore, ahem, inserts shot from the kinds of camera angles that might have been commonplace in the 1970s but now seem rather unusual.