Six Movies That Bring the Funk

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  03 Sep 2015 

The Godfather of Soul gets his cinematic with the James Brown biopic Get On Up, starring 42‘s Chadwick Boseman as the legendary singer. The prospect of watching director Tate Taylor’s dramatization of Brown’s remarkable life has left all of us in the RT offices with ants in our pants and the need to dance, so we decided to devote this week’s list to a celebration of all things filmic and funky. Jump back, we wanna kiss ourselves.

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6 Black Dynamite
imdb
rating

7.4

Black Dynamite (2009)

Action, Comedy

A blaxploitation spoof that actually functions as a fairly brilliant movie in its own right, Black Dynamite affectionately revives a discarded genre with humor that, while never shy about puncturing the shoddy production values and threadbare plots those earlier movies are known for, avoids settling for cheap scorn. Starring Michael Jai White as the titular martial arts-wielding ladies’ man, Dynamite tosses out all the expected story beats — a protagonist with a score to settle, a community writhing in the grip of drugs and crime, a litany of grave injustices perpetrated by the Man — and uses them to string together a series of absurd, hilarious, and absurdly hilarious gags. As Shaula Clark enthused for the Boston Phoenix, “As Dynamite kung-fu-fights his way through a vast conspiracy involving smack-addled orphans, malt liquor, and the best (read: worst) exploding-car scene of 2009, you’ll feel a rush of 1970s nostalgia you never knew you had.”

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This is the story of 1970s African-American action legend Black Dynamite. The Man killed his brother, pumped heroin into local orphanages, and flooded the ghetto with adulterated malt liquor. Black Dynamite was the one hero willing to fight The Man all the way from the blood-soaked city streets to the hallowed halls of the Honky House...

actors:
Michael Jai White as Black Dynamite   Arsenio Hall as Tasty Freeze   Tommy Davidson as Cream Corn   Kevin Chapman as O'Leary   Richard Edson as Dino   Bokeem Woodbine as Black Hand Jack   Buddy Lewis as Gunsmoke   Irwin Keyes as Henchman   Miguel A. Núñez Jr. as Mo Bitches (as Miguel Nunez)   Nicole Ari Parker as Mahogany Black   Salli Richardson-Whitfield as Gloria   John Salley as Kotex   Mike Starr as Rafelli   Nicole Sullivan as Patricia Nixon   Mykelti Williamson as Chicago Wind   Cedric Yarbrough as Chocolate Giddy-Up   Roger Yuan as Fiendish Dr. Wu   Tucker Smallwood as Congressman Monroe James   Phil Morris as Saheed   Obba Babatundé as Osiris (as Obba Babatunde)   Kym Whitley as Honey Bee   William Bassett as Captain Yancy   Byron Minns as Bullhorn  

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5 Coffy
imdb
rating

6.9

Coffy (1973)

Action, Adventure, Drama

Pam Grier picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her work in Quentin Tarantino’s (arguably more widely seen) Jackie Brown, but if you want to know why he wanted to honor her with that role in the first place, you need to go back to the source — the string of blaxploitation features Grier made her cinematic bones with in the 1970s, including 1973’s grimly funky Coffy. Boasting typically strong work from Grier and a standout soundtrack from the monumentally talented Roy Ayers, Coffy follows the misadventures of an inner-city nurse who strikes back against the drug underworld that left her younger sister hooked on smack; given that her scheme includes posing as a Jamaican prostitute to get close to a devious pimp (Robert DoQui) and take down a vicious Mafia don (Allan Arbus), you can pretty much guess at the level of sex, drugs, and violence that go down during the movie’s 91-minute running time, but in this case, knowing what’s in store doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. “Jack Hill directs for maximal suspense, violence, and voyeuristic appeal,” wrote an appreciative Don Druker for the Chicago Reader, “which Grier certainly embodies.”

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Coffy is a nurse whose younger sister gets involved in drugs and is severely injured by contaminated heroin. Coffy sets out on a mission of vengeance and vigilante justice, killing drug dealers, pimps, and mobsters who cross her path.

actors:
Pam Grier as Coffy   Robert Do'Qui as King George   Sid Haig as Omar   Booker Bradshaw as Howard Brunswick   William Elliott as Carter   Allan Arbus as Arturo Vitroni   Linda Haynes as Meg  

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4 Purple Rain
imdb
rating

6.3

Purple Rain (1984)

Drama, Music, Romance

After scoring his first Top 10 pop hit with 1982’s “1999,” Prince went all in for Purple Rain, taking advantage of the complete creative control he’d negotiated from Warner Bros. to put together a musical biopic that presented a (very) loose retelling of his Minneapolis youth, set to the strains of the funkiest, most ambitious music of his career. While the results weren’t always thoroughly compelling on strictly cinematic terms, as a complete package, Purple Rain was one of the more purely enjoyable efforts of the year, and it kicked off a period of total radio domination for Prince that lasted for the rest of the decade. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Purple Rain,” opined Rob Nelson of the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, calling it “the Citizen Kane of Minnesota movies and a worldwide showcase for the ascendance of its then-26-year-old star into rock ‘n’ roll eternity.”

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A young man with a talent for music meets an aspiring singer, Apollonia, and finds that talent alone isn't all that he needs.

actors:
Prince as The Kid   Apollonia Kotero as Apollonia   Morris Day as Morris   Olga Karlatos as Mother   Clarence Williams III as Father   Jerome Benton as Jerome   Billy Sparks as Billy  

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3 Shaft
imdb
rating

6.6

Shaft (1971)

Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller

Other cats cop out when there’s danger all about, but not John Shaft, the all-around bad mother — shut your mouth! — who runs around risking his neck for his brother man whenever he isn’t busy being a sex machine to all the chicks. Shaft is a complicated man, but director Gordon Parks’ brand of blaxploitation noir proved an easy sell for audiences, who generated a whopping $13 million return on MGM’s $500,000 investment, producing one of several bankruptcy-staving hits in the studio’s colorful history and helping, along with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, to kick off a wave of like-minded features. Shaft remains a standard-bearer of the genre, however, thanks to Richard Roundtree’s imposing performance in the title role — and Isaac Hayes’ classic ode to the character, which anchored a soundtrack that went on to set a sales record for the Stax label. “Shaft,” declared Filmcritic’s Christopher Null, “is nothing short of a classic.”

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Cool black private eye John Shaft is hired by a crime lord to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter.

actors:
Richard Roundtree as John Shaft   Moses Gunn as Bumpy Jonas   Charles Cioffi as Vic Androzzi   Christopher St. John as Ben Buford   Gwenn Mitchell as Ellie Moore   Lawrence Pressman as Sergeant Tom Hannon   Victor Arnold as Charlie   Sherri Brewer as Marcy   Rex Robbins as Rollie   Camille Yarbrough as Dina Greene   Margaret Warncke as Linda   Joseph Leon as Byron Leibowitz   Arnold Johnson as Cul   Dominic Barto as Patsy   George Strus as Carmen   Tony King as Davies   Antonio Fargas as Bunky   Eddie Barth as Tony  

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2 Soul Power
imdb
rating

7.1

Soul Power (2008)

Documentary, Music

Part history lesson, part sports documentary, and part concert movie — all of which combine into a joyous, effortlessly entertaining whole — Soul Power looks back on the Zaire 1974 music festival planned around the Rumble in the Jungle heavyweight boxing championship match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in October of that year. Featuring performances from James Brown, the Spinners, Bill Withers (Hope She’ll Be Happier), Miriam Makeba, B.B. King, and many others, Power adroitly walks the line between lamenting lost cultural potential and celebrating a truly unique moment in time; as Ann Hornaday observed for the Washington Post, the end result “turns out to be an unusually resonant time capsule, one that weaves together theatrics, musicianship, cosmopolitanism and sharp political critique in a vibrant look-back that’s at once celebratory and wistful.”

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A documentary on the legendary soul music concert staged in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974.

actors:
Bill Withers as Bill Withers   B.B. King as B.B. King   Muhammad Ali as Muhammad Ali   Don King as Don King  

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1 Super Fly
imdb
rating

6.5

Super Fly (1972)

Action, Crime, Drama

Presenting audiences with a supposedly sympathetic drug dealer protagonist looking to score a million-dollar haul before getting out of the business is a lot to ask, but darn it if 1972’s Superfly doesn’t pull it off. Starring Ron O’Neal as Priest, a coke dealer who hatches the aforementioned scheme with his partner Eddie (Carl Lee), it’s a dark (and sometimes darkly comic) tale of the would-be kingpin as a put-upon middleman, squeezed from all sides by cops, thugs, girlfriends, and anybody else who wants a piece of the action — and an incredibly successful one, not least because of Curtis Mayfield’s classic soundtrack (which ultimately ended up making even more money than the film). Calling Superfly “one of the best to come out of the genre,” Counting Down’s Larry Carroll wrote, “O’Neal gives a fine (but always funky) performance in one of the last movies before the genre ate itself and became self-parody.”

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Super Fly is a cocaine dealer who begins to realize that his life will soon end with either prison or his death. He decides to build an escape from the life by making his biggest deal yet.

actors:
Ron O'Neal as Priest   Carl Lee as Eddie   Sheila Frazier as Georgia   Charles McGregor as Fat Freddie   Julius Harris as Scatter   James G. Richardson as Junkie   Sig Shore as Deputy Commissioner  

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