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DVD Reviews - Soul Showcase

January 28th, 2005

Universal is released four films under the banner, "Soul Showvase." The set contains blaxploitation action heroes, extravagant pimps, con-artists and plenty of 70s soul.

Bustin’ Loose - Buy from Amazon

Richard Pryor stars as Joe Braxton, a small time crook who get caught trying to pull off the biggest caper of his career. And while he was able to cons the judge into giving him parole and escaping a jail term, his parole officer blackmails him into helping his girlfriend transport 8 troubled kids from Philadelphia to a farm outside of Seattle.

For a Richard Pryor movie, this is quite tame, in fact too tame. Richard Pryor is at his best when he's at his wildest, but he's held back when the movie takes an unfortunate sentimental turn during the middle of the film. It's almost like the creators decided halfway though making the film that instead of being a outrageous Road Trip movie, they wanted to make a safe family film. However, as the R-Rating would indicate, there are too many racy parts for it to succeed on that point. Had they picked one over the other the film might have worked, but as it is it tries in vein to be both.

There are some funny moments that occur mostly earlier in the film, especially Richard Pryor's cons and courtroom antics, but not enough for an overall positive review.

That Man Bolt - Buy from Amazon

Fred Williamson stars as Jefferson Bolt, a money runner blackmailed into taking $1 million from Hong Kong to Mexico City. But when he finds out the money is counterfeit and he's been set up the job takes a very dangerous and deadly turn. So with nowhere to go, he decides to take the fight right to the very crime syndicate that set him up in the first place.

Made during the 70s boom of blaxploitation films, this movie is typical of bunch. Take a strong, black, male lead, add plenty of fights, a car chase or two and several beautiful women, mix well and serve. On the plus side, the lead was one of the best in the business and there's little surprise that Fred Williamson was so in demand at the time, in fact, this was one of four films he starred in during 1973 alone. On the down side, the film has a very 70s feel to it, right down to the fighting choreography and car cases, and viewers used to the more frantic action of today's movies will find this one's pace is a little slow moving at times.

This movie isn't going to win any awards, but it is good escapist entertainment. And those who grew up on these movies should get a kick of nostalgia out of this film.

Trick Baby - Buy from Amazon

Mel Stewart is 'Blue' Howard, an older, black con-artist. Kiel Martin is Johnny 'White Folks' O'Brien, a.k.a., Trick Baby, his young, white protégéé. After one of their marks dies of a heart attack, they learn he was connected to the mob and his family is out looking for revenge. Now must decided between giving up on the biggest score of their lifetime and getting out of town, or staying to collect the loot and risking their lives while avoiding the mob, corrupt cops and everyone else out to get them.

I admit, I'm a sucker for con-artist films, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Heartbreakers, etc, so I enjoyed this film the most out of the four reviewed. The are quite a few cons perpetrated throughout the movie from the early diamond swindle to the more elaborate real-estate hustle and for the most part these are well written and executed smoothly.

However, what really set this film apart was the more serious sociological issues dealt with in the movie. The cons work by not only preying on people's greed, but their racial prejudices as well. For example, at a party Folks O'Brien went to we see a liberal and a conservative argue about racial politics with neither concerned with the welfare of blacks, just as long as their lifestyles are not threatened. Meanwhile, the whole time they are being served drinks and food by two black servants who not only remain silent, but react as if they didn't hear the conversation at all. The scene is made even more powerful with the cuts between this party and the party Blue Howard was attending at the same time.

This is the best film of the bunch with the best writing, acting and most consistent quality.

Willie Dynamite - Buy from Amazon

Willie Dynamite stars Roscoe Orman, who is more famous as Gordon on Sesame Street; Willie Dynamite is a capitalist pimp with plans to be numbers one in all of New York. But when he turns down an offer to organization with his fellow pimps he has to contend with their nasty reaction to his rejection, corrupt cops and a social worker trying to get his woman to leave him.

I had two completely different reactions to this film. On the one hand, this movie is seriously stuck in the 70s with its music, clothes, mannerisms and more. In fact, that theme song alone left me dumbfounded with how campy it was, so much so that if I saw the film on TV I would have turned it off based on that song alone. Which is a shame, because in the end the film turned out to be pretty good.

For the first half of the movie the film suffered from way too many wholly unsympathetic characters. Willie D. is a pimp, his competitions are all pimps and he's hassled by corrupt cops. For much of the movie there were only two characters that were compelling. Firstly, there's Cora, the social worker played by Diana Sands in her last role before her death. Her attempts to help Willie D's prostitutes avoids being ripped off, "a Ralph Nader for hookers" as she calls herself. Secondly, there's the prostitute she has her eyes on the most, Pashen, who was played by the beautiful Joyce Walker.

However, as the film progresses, Willie Dynamite undergoes real changes in his character and the film develops real depth making the viewing experience worth while. And that's something that I wasn't expecting after hearing that theme song.

On a disappointing note, there are no special features on any of the disc, however, this is not surprising given the average age of the films. The films can be purchased separately through Amazon, the Official Website or you can head over to our contest for your chance to win a complete collection of the Soul Showcase.

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