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Cut the Cord: Exploitation
July 2023. Volume 2, Issue 7.
Welcome back to Cut the Cord.
Every June, genre film fans convene over at FThisMovie.com for Junesploitation, their "month-long celebration of exploitation and genre films." Every day has a different theme, from aliens to Cannon to westerns to Fulci, and eeach day folks play and watch along.
2023 marked my second Junesploitation and I thought that since sites like Tubi and Freevee seem to be a great resource for those participating, I would make most of my picks Cut the Cord friendly and pass them along to you.
I couldn't participate as much as I wanted to this year, with Tribeca and a vacation and typical life excuses, but I did find a few good ones:
Class of 1984 (1982)
Andy is a new teacher at an inner city high school that is unlike any he has seen before. There are metal detectors at the front door and the place is basically run by a tough kid named Peter Stegman. Soon, Andy and Stegman become enemies and Stegman will stop at nothing to protect his turf and drug dealing business.
As a teacher myself, I can admit I've had many "teaching nightmares," like forgetting to submit report card grades or standing in front of a class with no lesson, (I just had one last week, in fact, where I was a teaching a six-hour long summer school class (?) without a lesson in sight. My plan? Wait it out until they all leave. I digress...)
Class of 1984, however, is probably the most hardcore version of that nightmare. Mr. Norris, a new music teacher, fancies himself a Mr. Holland, but instead spends most of his time riling up the gangs that inhabit his high school. They fight back in some pretty brutal ways, from criminally embarrassing to criminally criminal. Director Mark Lester (Commando, Firestarter) doesn't hold back in a movie bookended by a simple lyric from Alice Cooper: When does a dream become a nightmare?
Class of 1999 (1990)
The time is in the future and the youth gang violence is so high that the areas around some schools have become “free-fire zones”, into which not even the police will venture. When Miles Langford, the head of Kennedy High School, decides to take his school back from the gangs, robotics specialist Dr. Robert Forrest provides “tactical education units”. These are amazingly human-like androids that have been programmed to teach and are supplied with devastatingly effective solutions to discipline problems.
While not exactly a sequel to the original film, Mark Lester's spiritual successor still tackles issues in education, gang warfare, and policing. In this film, which is significantly more of an action film compared to the first entry, robot teachers take over classrooms with strict corporal punishment (the scene where one robot teacher spanks a student is unbelievably funny) and zero tolerance for nonsense. The techno-educators are played by Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, and Patrick Kilpatrick, under the direction of a white-haired and white-eyed Stacy Keach, to great evil effect. The film's tagline of THE ULTIMATE TEACHING MACHINE...OUT OF CONTROL shows the direction that the film will ultimately go because...of course this is a bad idea! But this teacher couldn't help but get a kick out of it.
King Solomon’s Mines (1985)
Ever in search of adventure, explorer Allan Quatermain agrees to join the beautiful Jesse Huston on a mission to locate her archaeologist father, who has been abducted for his knowledge of the legendary mines of King Solomon. As the kidnappers, led by sinister German military officer Bockner, journey into the wilds of Africa, Allan and Jesse track the party and must contend with fierce natives and dangerous creatures, among other perils.
Is this Cannon Group film a shameless rip-off of the Indiana Jones series?
Well, let me turn on Tubi and see...
And, less than 60 seconds in, there's John Rhys-Davies - Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark!
One could argue that it's not just trying to be Indy. Sure, the Allan Quatermain novels were 100 years old by then and public-domain fodder for many film adaptations. Yes, these kinds of films were all the rage - Romancing the Stone made over $100 million. And, of course, they're all just ripping off those early cinema serials anyway.
But when, as Austin Trunick's Cannon Film Guide Volume II: 1985-1987 puts it, "Cannon had the gall to use John Williams' famous Raiders of the Lost Ark score as placeholder music when they showed off an early...promo reel at Cannes," well, there's no doubt.
Just Cannon being Cannon.
Girl in the Basement (2021)
Sara is a teen girl who is looking forward to her 18th birthday to move away from her controlling father Don. But before she could even blow out the candles, Don imprisons her in the basement of their home.
Everyone will remember the 2015 Brie Larson film Room, about the woman and her son held in captivity by their rapist/father. Despite being an excellent film, it's the very opposite of a rewatchable as it's an emotional wallop - my mother and I just held each other and cried as the credits rolled when we saw it together.
That film, a deserved awards darling, was probably all that the world needed when it came to films based on the life of Elisabeth Fritzl, the woman held in captivity by her father (and the father of her seven children) for over 24 years. However, the Lifetime Network, never known for subtlety and/or principles, slapped together an original film under their "Ripped from the Headlines" banner to put the story on the small screen. It's a cable movie mess and would probably be a lot more emotionally damaging if it was any good. It's community theater, it's trash. But I like community theater and if you're reading this, you like trash.
Caught Up (1998)
Daryl gets out of jail after 5 years. His mother has died, his girlfriend is married, and he can’t find a job. His new girlfriend Vanessa, whom he meets when a gunman opens fire on them, gets him a job as a car driver. Hitmen are still after them, and Vanessa tells Daryl that this is her former lover Ahmad who wants revenge.
In this neo-noir/blaxploitation mashup, Bokeem Woodbine plays a man recently released from jail, trying to keep his head down and keep his parole. Unfortunately, the world around him makes that really difficult, a world populated with Cynda Williams, Jeffrey Combs, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Michael Clarke Duncan, Tony Todd, and many others.
My real takeaway, despite this underrated cast of characters, is Woodbine. Damn, he's good in this. Why didn't he get a lot more to do? I would say, "Catch me on a Woodbine kick," but top billing for him seems rare, and when he does seem to have it, the movie doesn't look great, judging a movie by its poster. This, however, is certified.
An adventurer frees a prisoner from a lawman of the future, on an Earth washed by a river of wind. (Rotten Tomatoes)
I cannot really say that I recommend this movie, to be completely honest. It’s not nearly as campy as I wanted it to be, the VHS quality on Tubi leaves a lot to be desired, and it all but wastes Ben Kingsley, Robbie Coltrane, and F. Murray Abraham, among others.
But it does feature a long-haired Bill Paxton as the good guy and a bleach-blonde Mark Hamill as the bad guy, so if you’ve made it this far reading this list, that might be all you need.
Follows a struggling small-town gas station attendant and aspiring singer, Jodi Jackson, whose life is sent into a tailspin when there’s a robbery at work.
One of my favorite movies of the year is a Tubi Original.
Cinnamon is a genre-loving crime thriller that pays homage to the famous lovers-on-the-run films, blaxploitation icons, western tropes, and the great gangster movies.
Crime films often center around dirty money, it's the butter to the genre's bread. This money belongs to the family of Mama (Pam Grier*) and her bumbling boys. It's laundered in gas stations. It travels with cocaine. It's used for both the pizza and the paid sex with the delivery driver.
But when everybody wants a piece of that money, from their business partners to the girl who works at the gas station (and her criminal boyfriend), that money's going to end up filthy. And covered in blood.
Everyone is going to back-stab (or hand-stab, or cheek-stab) each other to get that money.
In just under 90 minutes, Cinnamon hits all the right beats. Using a mix of directorial styles and genre references, director Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. has collaged together an excellent feature debut. The young lovers are played by Hailey Kilgore and David Iacono and although you know that no one gets away with stealing dirty money, you really want them to. Damon Wayans plays the biggest idiot of the bunch, a role he slides into with ease, and crime films need bumbling idiots. He's not the only one, however, and this comedy-of-no-manners will turn violent fast.
It's an excellent film and any more would give away its twists and turns. It's a highlight of the Tribeca Festival.
*This woman has been a blaxploitation icon for over 50 years and she's STILL appearing in the genre's best.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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