Fox in a Box Featuring Pam Grier
272 min, color,
The legendary Pam Grier starred in several blaxploitation films, none more famous than star-maker Coffy, and Foxy Brown. A third film, Sheba, Baby, is also included.
The most beautiful woman Quentin Tarantino’s ever seen kicks butt — and gets her butt kicked in all three films. In Coffy, Grier plays an ER nurse-cum-vigilante, posing as a high-priced call girl to take out the drug syndicate that dealt her sister heroin and shot cop boyfriend. In Foxy Brown, her NARC boyfriend is beaten to death by gangsters, and her nogoodnik brother (played by the fabulously cartoonish Antonio Fargas) is hooked on blow. Throwaway plots, indeed, (Sheba, Baby is a significant downgrade from the others) but they’re great fun and evocative about race and racism; every time Grier sticks it to the white man, black pride and anger is tangible.
For a box set all about Pam Grier, it sure is sparse on anything from the woman herself. And by sparse I mean completely lacking. Director Jack Hill gives awkward and repetitive – though informative – commentaries on Coffy and Foxy Brown. A fourth disc contains two rather pedestrian documentaries featuring various rappers; one is about blaxploitation’s influence on black culture and hip-hop, the other gives props to Grier. We get it, and we agree; Pam Grier’s great. Now why isn’t she here?!
Weak on extras, but essential films for blaxploitation/70s film/Pam Grier enthusiasts and anyone looking to learn about the genre.
Fun with Dick and Jane
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
$14.99, 95 mins,
color 1977 ,
Light comedy of classist manners directed by Ted Kotcheff, responsible, strangely enough for North Dalls Forty, Weekend at Bernies and First Blood
George Segal is a sort of American version of Albert Finney, with a smidgen less charm and significantly lesser gravitas. His smirking performance as an out-ofwork aerospace executive nudged into a life of crime by recessionary times suits the material though. Jane Fonda as his wife, bumbles good-naturedely through mediocrely amusing slapstick, projecting her particular ‘daddy’s girl gone bad… but not too bad’ persona. Their misadventures as upper middle-class lovebirds on food stamps will amuse those easily amused and offend the sensibilities of anyone with the slightest sense of class awareness with its depiction of the unwashed. They graduate from petty armed robbery to safe cracking against a backdrop of corporate gluttony and post moon-landing emptiness afflicting the American money-class. Messages ride shot gun to gags in this romp though.
Technically, none. But a cameo by Johnny Carson toadie Ed McMahon is a nice surprise. And make a parlour game of trying to guess the significance of the portrait of Israeli war hero and politician Moshe Dyan, gratuitously inserted into a scene.
Clearly a tie-in to the Jim Carey/Tea Leoni version coming to theaters. Not quite campy enough for nostalgia, or competent enough to be a classic.
Naked Among Wolves
First Run Features
$24.95, 103 mins,
From the DEFA archives, an East German party-liner in which Buchenwald inmates care for a four-year-old boy during the last weeks of WWII.
Thankfully, given the expectedly bland life affirmation of all scenes involving a foundling reacquainting hardened men with their capacity for tenderness, director Frank Beyer quickly shunts the child off-screen, focusing instead on the communist camp underground who risk their organization by concealing him. And so, since the guards are fascists and the red detainees at the center of the narrative political rather than ethnic prisoners, a German film about a concentration camp becomes an ode to nationalism. But, per interminable pacing and a muddled lay-out of Buchenwald’s various infrastructures and hierarchies, not a particularly inspiring one.
The copious historical materials include bios and brief clips from East German newsreels depicting, among other things, Stefan Jerzy Zweig, the real-life “Buchenwald Child” whose experience inspired the novel upon which Naked Among Wolves was derived. The packaging emphasizes the one name likely familiar to American audiences: thirty-something Armin Mueller-Stahl, in a supporting role as an earnest would-be martyr, one pious voice of brotherhood out of a tepid chorus.
State-sponsored communist filmmaking is usually either pulse-quickening agitprop or dull self-congratulation; this is squarely in the latter camp.