Black Dynamite (US - BD RA)
Gabe is not Super Fly enough to entirely appreciate such a righteous movie...
Meet Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White), the smoothest, most baad asssss cat on the street. A former CIA agent, Black Dynamite springs into action when ‘The Man’ murders his brother, and he learns of a vast conspiracy to pumps heroin into local orphanages, and floods the ghetto with adulterated malt liquor. With a little help from his pimp and Black Panther friends, and his new soul sista girlfriend (Salli Richardson) Black Dynamite is the one hero willing to fight all the way from the blood-soaked city streets to the hallowed halls of the Honky House.
Black Dynamite is often a little too on-the-nose, but it’s a slightly different flavour of spoof than the similar Undercover Brother or I’m Gonna Get You Sucka, both of which mostly satirized modern culture through Blaxpoitation lenses. Black Dynamite more directly apes the things that make the relatively dead genre memorable, the good, the bad and the ugly, including silted acting, bad pacing, over expository and repetitive dialogue, unneeded flashbacks, blatant racism and sexism, awkward cuts, and continuity errors (in some ways Spawn, which also starred White, was almost modern Blaxploitation flick). In the end the comedy turns listless, and I can’t help but think it would actually be a funnier film if they played the whole thing a little more straight. The ridiculous storyline and purposeful bloopers are so perfectly pitched (the accidentally connected slap during a fight scene is probably the funniest thing in the whole movie) that the film doesn’t need the pointed Zucker/Abrahams goofs, or obvious grotesqueries to earn laughs. The dialogue is occasionally brilliant (‘Sarcastically, I’m in charge’, says one actor, reading his stage direction), but is also often too overtly silly, and unfortunately recalls the Austin Powers movies in tone.
Clearly Black Dynamite belongs in the same category as Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movies, and Ti West’s House of the Devil (which ironically enough is released the same day as Black Dynamite on home video). The difference here is similar to the inherent dualities of the two parts of Grindhouse, Death Proof and Planet Terror, and approval really comes down to personal taste. Being a non-fan of Airplane[i] approach of scene-by-scene spoof ([i]I’m Gonna Get You Sucka definitely belongs in this category) I enjoyed Tarantino’s take on the idea more than Rodriguez’s. Death Proof (and Kill Bill, which features White in a deleted scene) is a more genuine homage, and Tarantino creates something that feels more like the a real period movie, where Planet Terror, like Black Dynamite, is more silly, and pokes more fun at the genre’s excesses. Director Scott Sanders takes his action scenes pretty seriously (and White has the skills to pull it off), but outside the look, which is impeccable, Black Dynamite is clearly making fun of the genre (though with real affection). The one major advantage the film holds over the slightly more even (not to mention underrated) Undercover Brother is the hard R-rating, which leads to a few of the best jokes. Blaxploitation is a very politically incorrect genre, and spoofing it requires a less than politically correct touch (unless the satire is pointed at political correctness).
Black Dynamite, like the Grindhouse movies, has been altered in post-production to appear old (though apparently not digitally), and like Halloween and House of the Devil it was shot on high definition unfriendly 16mm film. Blacks are deepened the pure blobs, skin tones are reddened, highlights are yellowed, and overall grain is increased, and augmented with artificial artefacts. The only thing they don’t do is create a bunch of artificial inconsistencies. So why bother with a Blu-ray release when the film is made to purposefully look crummy and old? The same reason you’d want either Death Proof or Planet Terror on Blu-ray – a purer image marred by textured and intended artefacts, instead of an already difficult transfer being marred by DVD’s inferior compression. The over-warmed colours are certainly bold here, and they don’t revel in any real bleeding, blocking, or edge-enhancement. At the very least the animated sequences look fantastically clean and colourful. Details are never as sharp as Blu-ray fans have come to expect from the format because of the lower resolution of 16mm, but nothing needed is ever obscured, and the transfer is never blurry or pixilated.
Black Dynamite doesn’t waste it’s DTS-HD 5.1 track like you might suspect based on it’s emulation purposes, but noise-wise nothing but the back channels are left out of the mix. The majority of the effects and dialogue are placed centrically, as they would’ve been if the movie was actually made in the ‘70s, but the stereo and LFE channels are plenty busy with the film’s hilarious music. The sound of the music is perfectly warm, yet flat in that distinctly analogue fashion that comes with the era (according to the making-of doc the music was recorded very old school). Sometimes the lip-sync and aural consistency of dialogue is a bit off, but this is actually one of the more funny emulation elements. There are a few directional rear effects during some of the action scenes (bullets, explosions), but these are minimal at most, and are obviously meant to stand out against the otherwise lo-fi sound.
Extras begin with a commentary track featuring director/co-writer Scott Sanders, star/co-writer Michael Jai White and actor/co-writer Byron Minns. The track is educational from the standpoint of intended homage, but the participants lose focus attempting to recall set stories. It is consistently amusing to hear how the film’s sets were largely unchanged for filming, meaning that there are still people who decorate their houses and clubs out there, though the highlight is the moment where White realizes the young version of him might actually be related to him. Viewers with Profile 2.0 players can also chose to watch the film with Sony’s Movie-IQ activated.
Next up are a collection of deleted/extended scenes (25:15, SD). There are 17 scenes total, all presented in non-anamorphic video, occasionally with temporary on-set sound. The film verges on being too long, and the montage versions of some of these scenes actually work quite well, and no particularly funny jokes were cut. ‘Lighting the Fuse’ (22:50, HD) gives a fun look behind the scenes of the film, which started with White taking pictures of himself in costume. After the production team was gathered they shot a trailer to sell the film, and then wrote the script around it. Other subject matter includes casting, production and costume design, film stock, editing, music, and direction. ‘The ‘70s Back in Action’ (14:10, HD) looks back at the era and Blaxploitation genre with genuine love, and a truthful eye. Ideally the two featurettes could’ve been cut together and expanded, but the two parts still work pretty well. Things are wrapped up with ‘The Comic-Con Experience’ (18:00, HD), a look at the public roundtable, moderated by critic Elvis Mitchell, and a series of Sony trailers.
Black Dynamite didn’t quite work for me, but I found myself entertained, just on a slightly disappointed level. The whole thing is a little too silly for me, but would make a great centerpiece triple feature with the two Grindhouse movies ( Death Proof and Planet Terror). Even better would be a triple feature with Isaac Julien’s BaadAsssss Cinema documentary film, and Tarantino’s post-modern look at the genre, Jackie Brown, though I’m not sure what the preferred order would be. Real deal, hardcore Blaxploitation fans will get more out of the experience than I did (I’m really just a passing fan, personally), and fans of more pointed spoof filmmaking should definitely give the flick a look. This Blu-ray release features an old fashion look and sound, but these elements are delicately re-produced in all their delightfully grainy and muffled glory. The extras don’t fill a whole lot of time, but the quality of the disc’s two featurettes makes up for the lack of quantity.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 2nd February 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French
Extras: Director, Actor, Writer Commentary, Deleted/Extended Scenes, Lighting the Fuse, The '70s: Back in Action, The Comic-Con Experience, Movie IQ, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Scott Sanders
Cast: Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson, Arsenio Hall, Kevin Chapman, Tommy Davidson
Length: 84 minutes
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