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SXSW: Quint on midnight French action/blaxploitation flick BLACK and Bigelow's THE HURT LOCKER!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I have to apologize for disappearing for a couple of days. Monday night my computer slipped quietly into a coma and hasn’t come back… I had ship the old boy off to the Mac Factory, which I believe looks a lot like the world Neo wakes up in in the original Matrix, and have busted out my old laptop, which is shaky at best. It runs slow-slow-slow, but it is stable enough to start getting caught up on the SXSW flicks I’ve caught this year. I’m going to discuss 2 flicks here before crashing for the night, start chipping away at that mountain of reviews. Let’s start with BLACK.

All I knew going into this movie was that it was a French action flick with a supernatural kick to it. Now this flick isn’t just an action movie, but a film that takes the best of ‘70s blaxploitation and ‘80s fun action and rolls it into a bizarre as hell voodoo backdrop. But don’t misunderstand me… the voodoo elements aren’t at the forefront at all, which makes it even that more weird. The flick really does feel like a bizarro-world SHAFT IN AFRICA. That’s mostly due to the note-perfect score. I wish IMDB wasn’t failing me now because I’d love to highlight the man or woman who composed this music because it’s the best blaxploitation score since the glory days of the genre. You’ve had countless films try to mimic that feel, even using the original masters like Isaac Hayes, but they only seemed to succeed for one title track (like Hayes’ awesome BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA theme song) or only work in moments throughout in flicks like UNDERCOVER BROTHER. But even those examples were used in comedies, which is one of the reasons I didn’t take to BLACK DYNAMITE, which promised to be an honorable black exploitation movie and instead just came off as a more accurate spoof movie. BLACK is its own movie… it’s not set in the ‘70s, it’s not about a swaggering pimp or charming bounty hunter… Instead director Pierre Laffargue and writers Lucio Mad and Gabor Rassov took the right path. They made their film just as they would have in the ‘70s. There’s humor, but it’s not a comedy. Everybody’s serious about the action and the comedy comes out of the characters, not gags. MC Jean Gab’1 plays the title character, a French hardass who begins the movie robbing an armored car with a group of buddies armed with shotguns and grenades. I knew I made a solid choice in my midnight movie selection when the flick not only kicked off with a badass, hardcore brutal robbery but with an African priest walking through the streets of Paris telling a tale of the transformation of the evil snake and the lion who will defeat him. The dude stops in front of the dump-truck our group is using and serves as our introduction to Black, who is identified by the priest as being the lion. So you have a movie that’s almost equal parts crazy action spectacular and fairy tale, but all wrapped up in a blaxploitation plot.

Black is the only one to survive the failed robbery and subsequent car chase and ends up on another adventure shortly thereafter. His skeazy cousin in Dakar works at a bank that is holding a few million dollars worth of raw, uncut diamonds. Now Black must assemble a new team and head down to Senegal to plot their heist. His team is awesome, by the way. Each one has their own distinct characterization… one’s a giant of a guy, one’s a germaphobe, etc. All of them are badasses. What they don’t know is a drugs and arms dealer (with a skin condition) is on the hook for a batch of bad AK-47s and only has a week to make things right with a ridiculously outlandish guerilla commander. He finds out about this deposit as well, thanks to the loose lips of the greedy bank manager. Before you know it, there are three separate parties trying to steal the diamonds at the same time. Now throw in the Nubian goddess/priestess/lover of the arms dealer, animal mysticism, a badass fro’d female cop and a roving gang of machete wielding wrestlers and you start to get why I flipped out for this movie. MC Jean Gab’1 is a charismatic figure and a hell of an action star. He’s a charming asshole when not beating the fuck out of people and you can’t take your eyes off him when he is. I hope to God this movie starts gaining popularity and they make a series of these things. Black In New York. Pair him up with Michael Jai White. Black In China and get Sammo Hung to play the villain. I’m telling you, it’d be awesome. BLACK is just fun. Good old fashioned fun with a liberal dash of “what the fuck?” thrown in when people start turning into snakes and our heroes gain the powers of other animals… then seem to just go back to normal. Just like in the good old days!

Now I want to chat about a film that will be seeing a release in the states this coming June called THE HURT LOCKER, directed by NEAR DARK’s Kathryn Bigelow. The film, written by reporter Mark Boal based on his eye-witness accounts, is set in Baghdad circa 2004 and focuses on the bomb squads who go out every day finding IEDs and other explosives amongst the rubble, hidden in trash piles or even dead bodies. Early casting announcements lead me to believe Guy Pearce was the lead actor of the movie and in the opening scene you believe he is. But circumstances prove that report untrue and Mr. Pearce exits the picture early… in a rather spectacular way. The lead is actually Jeremy Renner (28 WEEKS LATER, ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES) playing a confident (perhaps overly so) thrill seeking Sgt. James. He’s new to the squad, but quickly proves he’s one of the best out there, even if he goes about his job recklessly, much to the disdain of his team. As you can expect, this film captures the tension of a WAGES OF FEAR or SORCERER… any film about people dealing with explosives can’t escape that comparison, but what’s fascinating about what Bigelow and Boal do with the story is they are able to switch gears on you multiple times. Not every scene is set around an explosion. For instance, there’s a sniper sequence that I just loved. I have a big soft spot for sniper stories and there’s a good chunk of the movie as our guys are pinned down and it becomes a battle of snipers. The twist is that they’re a mile from each other and the one manning the US gun isn’t a trained sniper. At that distance it’s a trial and error system. Not only that, but it’s a patience game. But that’s not the only example. We get a look at all forms of combat in the movie and most importantly I think for the first time I fully grasped just what it means when people are saying Iraq is a non-traditional war. I’m not a complete idiot. I understood the concept of the Urban warfare vs. tradition “front line” type warfare, but just seeing how the most innocent things could be a life-ender on a street that often times doesn’t look any different from some I’ve seen in my state just really sent it home for me. There’s a moment where Renner disarms a bomb and thinks he’s done… the disarming scene, was very tense and slowly paced as the tension grows with each passing second… only to find another wire connecting the bomb to something else. He pulls on the wire, causing me to suck in a breath and reveals a spider-web of wires, all connecting to other bombs around him. He gives another tub and he pulls a dozen bombs out from under the loose gravel and races to disarm them. That kind of sums up the movie and the situation over there. Every threat you think you take of seems to be tied directly into a dozen other hidden threats, closer than you think. Brian Geraghty and Anthony Mackie play the other two in the bomb squad and we get to know them as they deal with the hotshot new member to the team, whose antics they view as not only dangerous to him, but them as well. They all have their issues, like anybody would, but a sort of unstable bond develops between them. I know that sounds very typical and fake, but when I say shaky I mean shaky. Even by the end of the movie they still don’t like each other, even if there is a respect there. Bigelow makes sure each explosion has its own personality and is set in reality. There’s one explosion in particular that sends up tons of rocky debris that I thought was scary and beautiful at once. All in all, Bigelow, Boal and the rest of the team crafted a very entertaining movie that puts character first, but also gives you a real impression of what our troops are dealing with in the Middle East. The tension is real and works for every scene… hell, I got tense during regular scenes, expecting an unseen explosion to take out one of the guys, which I assume was something very much intended.

The flick opens in June. I got a chance to interview both Bigelow and Boal this morning and will have that to you when I can. It’ll probably have to wait until I get my regular computer back. This one is working fine for now, but is pretty unreliable and slllllooooowwwwwww. Tomorrow I have some time before heading out for more movies, so I’ll try to knock a few more reviews out. Got a good dozen on the docket and another dozen more to see before the fest closes. If you Twitter, be sure to check out my newly started Twitter page! Be back soon with more SXSW stuff! -Quint

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