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.

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