Who is Jamaa Fanaka?
Black Sister's Revenge came in this week, and I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was: a low budget, truly independent film made at the tail end of the blaxploitation era. Many of the actors were in his or her only film role, most likely amateurs found by the director and taught the necessary acting skills for the role.
The film was made by Jamaa Fanaka, the producer, director, and writer of such films as: Street Wars, Penetentiary 1, 2, and 3. I've seen Street Wars and the first two Penetentiary films. They're brutal, fun, and most importantly, have a real sense of personal style. Fanaka is a '70s auteur akin to John Waters, but using ghetto archetypes where Waters used his menagerie of weirdos.
There are always scenes that surprise me. Street Wars features crack dealers in Ultralites doing fly-by shootings. In other films Mr. T shows up, as does Tony Cox, best known as the black little person in Bad Santa. Fanaka has his unique touches I don't see even imitated in other films; who else would dare?
I wanted to write a comprehensive column about this director, but I could find nothing on the internet but reviews of the films and lists of the films he has made. How is it possible that information that I need is not on the internet? There's nothing of real value on all those pages of nerdly knowledge.
Some years ago, I read an article about him in a magazine, and that's how I found out about his work. It was something like Mass Appeal or While You Were Sleeping or Vice. I can't remember which, and the library doesn't keep copies of those mags anyway. I don't know the approximate month or anything that which would narrow my search.
I'm putting the call out there. If you know something about Fanaka, drop a comment under this blog, or send me an email with a source. Better yet, if you have some contact information for him, I'll interview him for this column.
So far this year, I've spent over six days watching these films. I figure it's going to take between 24 and 30 days to watch them all. The thought of spending a month watching movies kinda freaked me out and kinda excited me. It is my favorite entertainment form, after all, but still, is that excessive? Then I got to thinking, that if I sleep 8 hours a night instead of 7, I'll lose 15 days out of the year. This is the kind of math that drives me crazy.
I hit 11 movies this week, which caught me up by literally a fraction. By my calculations, I have to average 10.09 a week from here on out to make 500 by the end of the year. So here's looking at another 11 disc week. I'd sure like to get that number per week down to 10.
The Pick of the Week
This week's pick is John Woo's Hard Boiled. Hong Kong action films, especially those of John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark, were all the rage in hip art film circles in the early '90s. Anyone who likes action films should love these bullet festivals that are choreographed as precisely as a Busby Berkeley musical. The action is well thought out and a thing of beauty.
Hard Boiled features a performance by the god of the Hong Kong action actors, Chow Yun Fat. Maybe you know him as "the Crouching Tiger Guy" or "the Bulletproof Monk." But if you haven't viewed him in his best Hong Kong roles, you have no idea why he is one of the most successful international stars.
The plot focuses on the familar territory of policemen and gangsters. Many of the films in this genre pick one of these sides to draw from. This one asks the ethical questions of the differences between the two professions.
Between the high drama and the explosive action, there is another facet: the unintended humor of the translations. The translations are sometimes off by a whole word, or make an inappropriate contraction, or use an incorrect verb tense. These flukes seem to happen during pinnacles of tension. If you haven't seen this film since it came out on video 14 years ago, it's time to watch it again on DVD.
Other John Woo films to check out: Bullet in the Head, The Killer, and A Better Tomorrow.