Sunday, June 16, 2019

Still Alive, and a Movie Review: Sam Jackson's "Shaft" (2019)


First, I just want to say that I am still alive, in spite of everything.  Real-life, unfortunately, must come first, and as such, finding the time to dedicate to the animation project is nowhere near as easy as it once was.  How I ever used to be able to finish a 15-minute short film in one summer is beyond me.

Rest assured that at some point, the #400 animated movie will be completed, and I do have other comic content I want to share with you guys, including some Flashbacks, and following that, some choice individual issues from the backlog.  We've been at this a long time, together, after all.

Speaking of movies, here's something you might enjoy:

Now you guys know I'm a big fan of Samuel L. BMF Jackson.  You can see that for yourself if Ages 25 & Up #200 "Dead Figure Storage" is still watchable in your region.  So when I heard that they were making another Sam Jackson Shaft movie, I was ready.

At least, I thought I was.  Then I saw the trailer linked above.  Then I was ready.

Okay, some history for the uninitiated.  In the '70s, actor Richard Roundtree starred in a series of blaxploitation crime movies based on a book about (to quote Issac Hayes' theme song) "the black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks," cleaning up the streets.  "Hotter than Bond, Cooler than Bullitt," Roundtree defined the black action hero.  Years later, Huey Freeman from the Boondocks comic strip would describe himself as "blacker than Richard Roundtree in Shaft in Africa," which is a bold claim.

But who could possibly be enough of a badass motherfucker to play Shaft today?  Easy.  Sam Jackson.  I mean, he played Shaft 20 years ago in that reboot/relaunch movie (which you don't need to have seen to enjoy this new one).

And how would you even go about making a Shaft movie today?  The answer is simple: Properly.  In the early 2000s, Newsday had this to say about Chappelle's Show, which it hailed as "the best show on TV": "In a world full of over-censorship, it's good to see someone still has the guts to cross the barriers," and I'd say the same is true about 2019's Shaft, which directly makes fun of the contemporary age of self-absorbed over-entitled kids, deals with issues such as racism, masculinity, and the drug trade, and still manages to tell a story about a broken family trying to patch things together again.

2019's Shaft tells the story Sam Jackson's John Shaft, returning from 2000's Shaft, as a private investigator keeping Harlem safe.  An attempt on his life in '89 terrifies his lover, who leaves him in order to keep their son, John Jr., safe.  JJ grows up without knowing his dad and eventually joins the FBI.  But when his best friend dies under mysterious circumstances, JJ will need help to solve the case.

He needs one bad motherfucker named John Shaft.  Because even though it's his name, too, JJ is a wimpy, weak, timid millennial without street smarts or life experience, and if he's going to find out what really happened to his best friend -- or even just survive Harlem -- he'll need to be taken under his father's wing, whether either of them like it or not.  Just don't tell his mom.

Along the way, they'll cross paths with street-level hustlers, pillars of the community whose businesses are fronts, hired guns, and a crime ring story straight out of the '70s (fictionalized in Ridley Scott's American Gangster).  They'll need help on this one.  And who better to turn to than Sam Jackson's Shaft's father, Richard Roundtree, the original Shaft himself.  (A throwaway line connects the 2000 and 2019 movies, and corrects the 2000 one's error.)  Together, three generations of John Shafts will solve the mystery and smack the shit out of those punk-ass criminal motherfuckers.

What does 2019's Shaft do right?  Basically, just about everything.  It opens perfectly, with the right colour palette, the right font (as seen in original Shaft and on Sam Jackson's wallet in Pulp Fiction), and the right music.  The groovy, soulful funk soundtrack is absolutely perfect (though I would have liked if they'd used more of Isaac Hayes' classic theme song), and the late title card even says "Copyright 1972" in Roman numerals.

The writing, dialogue, and delivery are spot on.  The whole theatre was laughing to the hysterical one-liners and outstanding player hating.  Like what you see in the trailer above?  That trailer isn't the best parts of the entire movie -- the best part is the entire movie is consistently that good.

The casting couldn't have been better.  JJ is as much of loser as he needs to be.  Within Sam Jackson's streetwise exterior beats the heart of a man who loves his family, and it does shine through.  The female cast's sass is palpable.  Not recognizing anyone but Sam Jackson and Richard Roundtree helps the cast feel real, I'll admit.

I really liked the fact that my credo of "Oldschool is the best school" is basically the tagline for this movie.  JJ's modern, high-tech, millennial ways are not enough to solve the case, and it takes someone as old-fashioned and oldschool (if not out-of-touch) as Sam Jackson's Shaft (himself a late-'90s take on Roundtree's '70s character) to save the day.  Almost like some kind of blaxploitation Demolition Man, only in a good way.

It's not without faults, though.  There are some messy jump cuts that remind me of those found in comedy TV shows like Reno 911! and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, possibly due to the same reason of being edited together from multiple takes, each slightly different due to hilarious ad-libs and reactions that couldn't be used on-screen.  That one's fairly minor.  The rope-swing stunt seen in the first trailer doesn't really make any sense, but it's a throwback to the '71 Shaft movie, so it doesn't bother me that much, as I see what they did there.

Standard Hollywood conventions apply, such as fantastical magic computer technology (hacking into anything, as you do) and the common presence of bulletproof everyday objects.  Some of the gun elements felt out of place.  The slow-motion shootout felt like it fell out of another movie altogether, and would Richard Roundtree's Old Man Shaft really have a contemporary KSG with a vertical foregrip in his arsenal?  Seems a bit too modern, too tacticool for the OG Shaft, even if Sam Jackson is the one to use it.

2019's Shaft does so much right, especially in today's age of over-entitlement, where exposure to anything that doesn't line up with your worldview causes you to go crying to the internet.  Sam Jackson's Shaft doesn't get offended -- he gets offenders, and stops the criminals even if it means putting his foot up their bitch asses.  Sometimes it takes oldschool thinking to get the job done, or to give the dumbass present a much-needed smack upside the head.  "The seeds of the future lie buried in the past," after all.

Sure, Shaft (2019) is technically an identically-titled sequel to a two-decade-old reboot of a series from the '70s, presumably greenlit in order to "monetize a dormant IP," but it feels like there's some real heart, here.  In an age where Hollywood constantly and consistently shits out oversaturated CGI-filled sequels and entertainment media panders to people who will never consume said media, it is very refreshing to find a big-name blockbuster as over-the-top, as politically incorrect, and as laugh-out-loud funny as this motherfucker is.

A proper blaxploitation action comedy in 2019?  I can most definitely dig it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Numbers' New Year's Newsletter: A 2019 Too Far

[Other years' letters: 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 ]

It is said that "Enough is never enough," that "The more you have, the more you want," and that "The more pure and innocent something is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt it."  Allow me to be the first to tell you, dear friends, that all of these statements are, in fact, the truth.

As you are no doubt aware from my previous years' Newsletters (linked above for your convenience), the past near-decade (zounds; has it truly been that long?) has been a tumultuous one.  My meteoric rise to riches by building an empire out of selling matches to schoolchildren met an asteroidal fall.  It crashed and burned.

But not before I had accumulated enough resources to develop power armour and mechs and defended my homeworld on countless occasions.  My good deeds were not unpunished, as my team of mech warriors and I were lost, on several occasions, through both time and space (plus there was what dimensional episode; details in previous Newsletters).

Such was our predicament following the destruction of the prisoner towing vessel/spacefaring fitness club Brostromo.  My surviving teammates and I found ourselves marooned once more on a planet with some kind of driving-based economy.  It was not a city of handouts, but a city of drifts.  Alas, we had no time to seduce the local drifting waifus -- we had Headquarters to establish.

We set up shop in an old derelict firehouse, sourced an old Cadillac, and soon, we were setting records and winning pinks all over town.  It wasn't long before our Ten-Second Cars appeared on magazine covers, then DVD covers.  Sponsors, and funds, rolled in.  But enough is never enough.

We had the tools and we had the talent.  But if we were going to get enough bank to make it home again, we'd need some plans.  We decided, in secret, to conduct daring, high-stakes, vehicular-themed heists of varying degrees of spectacular, each time selecting our mark from a list of the biggest villains on the planet.

Another saying I keep in mind is "Disregard wenches; acquire currency," and soon enough, Wealth Acquisition lead to Wealth Redistribution, funding the revolutionaries so they might take back their planet.  For a world without a level head needs a disciplined trigger finger.

A breakthrough came when one of my most trusted advisors and dearest friends, a former Admiral who'd earned the codename "Killthunder," unearthed intel that might let him live up to his name.  The biggest criminal on the planet happened to have bought the weather.  The madman's wealth was matched only by his lunacy, and he planned to annihilate some flavour of perceived threat by unleashing an electric storm upon the city.

Rather than heist enough money to build a quantum-space-capable starship, we could harness the power of the storm to simply power a quantum drive mounted to a ground vehicle, allowing us to temporarily rip and tear spacetime itself just long enough for us to drift into a slipgate.  We could "ride the lightning," if you will, to get us back home.  And, as a bonus, if we timed it right, we could parry the lightning, sending the excess electrical energy back into the villain's system, overloading it catastrophically in an explosion he could not survive.

We could save this planet, and return to our own.  If it worked.

It was time to build a Ten-Lightsecond Car.  Having sourced the necessary quantum drive off an internet auction site, we got to work building our car, while tracking the storm.  We needed time to finish the build.  One missing piece, one overlooked detail, and it'd be game over, man.

As our head mechanic slammed the hood shut, we saw the stormclouds gathering in the distance.  Time was running out.  We loaded the vehicle with as much as we could take, moulded PE4 to the already-overtaxed load-bearing members of our firehouse headquarters, and jumped into the ride.  It would appear to the locals that our headquarters was destroyed in the weaponized electrical storm, which would leave the neighbourhood looking like a demilitarized zone, and we would be considered among the casualties.  When in doubt, fake your death -- a perfect escape plan from any predicament or responsibility.

Our driver put his foot down and headed for what intel suggested would be prime targets: the university district, the library, the medical research institutes...  We were not wrong.  The clouds gathered over the university and thunder cracked the sky.  Only we had banked on the library being the first target, since it was closest to the villain's primary hideout, the golf course.

Furiously, our driver shifted through a dozen gears but we still were not going fast enough.  He hit the NOS button, but nothing happened.  A loose connection somewhere?  With only moments to spare, I sprung into the Stunt Position, grabbed onto the beefy bullbars, resting my feet on the sweet chin spoiler, and saw what was the matter: the setup was still in "nitrous purge" mode for those sweet style points.

Quickly solving the matter, I grapple hooked my way back into the car as the driver used some ornate staircase as a ramp.  We rocketed through the air, flames shooting out the back of our car, as the lightning struck us.  Our car's systems grabbed what power it needed for the quantum leap and shot the rest right back towards the villain.  We'll never know if our parrying the lightning connected or whiffed because we jumped right into the slipgate.

And now we're here.  Only we don't know where "here" is.  We crash-landed in some kind of barn.  Or comms are down.  Navigation is down.  We don't know where we are, but we have an idea WHEN we are.


If our calculations were correct (and barring any quantum space turbulence), we should be home.  So where the hell are we?  No one knows for sure, but I intend to find out.

I have just been informed that we have to leave the car behind.  We will salvage what we can, using its precious scrap metal to build exosuits, and head out on foot.

This will not be my final transmission.

- Numbers, Mercenary Philanthropist
Ten-Lightsecond Car Barn Crash Site
January 2018

[Other years' letters: 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 ]

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