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Who ever said that white men can’t jump obviously didn’t see the TV series The White Shadow (1979-1981). A show way ahead of its time breaking the “Welcome Back Kotter” and its idiotic “Sweat-Hogs” mold.

The White Shadow had the potential for really cliched premise for a show: a former NBA player forced to retire because of a knee injury returns to his old high school which is not the place it used to be. The school’s principal just happens to be his former roommate from Boston College and talks him into taking the job of basketball coach at their high school alma mater.  But there is a catch, these kids are tough and the times (and the kids) have changed and not for the better.

It’s tired story that has been overdone, like the White Shadow’s very popular contemporary “Welcome Back Kotter” for example, but “The White Shadow” was so much more than a Kotter redux. Produced by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s father) and MTM productions (the same folks who brought you “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Rhoda”), this wasn’t simply a basketball version of the insanely popular WBK.  The White Shadow was serious.  For the first time a prime time network show was centered around teenagers (black and Hispanic teens to me more precise) that didn’t reduce the characters into caricatures.  Everyone had their own complicated personality which saw the world as shades of grey rather than the often over simplified black-white or good vs evil typical of then network TV like WBK.  If you think about it, for all of the Sweat-hogs’ tough talk, the audience never saw those chumps get into a fight.  There have been a lot of stupid things forced down the throat of the America public, but “Welcome Back Kotter” is one of the dumbest.

Instead the “White Shadow” brought a real gritty reality to prime time television and showing the audience that modern teenagers didn’t live the life of Reilly and that the kids living in the ghetto are constantly bombarded with outright dangerous influences. From gangs to point shavings to drugs to high school prostitutes and even a member of the team getting gunned down in a liquor store before the city championship, if you were a Carver High graduate, you’ve pretty much seen the entire gambit of human misery. And it would’ve been easy for the writers to go the complete opposite way of like Kotter kids and make each episode a weekly “After School Special” about the danger du jour. They didn’t do that.

Unfortunately, The White Shadow didn’t garner the high ratings it deserved but the show received marked critical acclaim and paved the way for later more realistic dramas such as Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and My So-Called Life.

Fun fact: The show originated from (coach) Ken Howard’s own experiences as a high school basketball star at Manhasset High School on Long Island.  Howard was one of the few white basketball players at the school and the only white player in the starting lineup and had been nicknamed “The White Shadow.”

When the JPFmovies staff acquired the DVD’s they were not easy to find, but given today’s availability of virtually any show ever made if you want to see something groundbreaking which themes and gritty techniques are still used today give The White Shadow a look, chances are you won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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The JPFmovies staff and longtime contributor Tom V. discuss the current state of the American film industry.

The JPFmovies staff and longtime contributor Tom V. discuss the current state of the American film industry.

Hello again JPFmovie fans yeah, we know our staff needs to bring some more game to the table so here is a fresh start.  As anyone who has followed the JPFmovies posts over the years will tell you we have taken the position that Hollywood churns out nothing but crap.  However, after a recent discussion with long time contributor Tom V., we have refined our position, what follows is our discussion with Tom V:

JPFmovies:  It is nice to hear from you again.  During our last meeting about potential reviews you and the JPFmovies staff were considering when you brought up some excellent points.  You have a different take on why the state of the Hollywood film industry is what is it is today.

Tom V: Yes, I do on several fronts.  Look at the advertising/marketing budgets of films like “Fury” an excellent film in my opinion versus some Transformers movie for example.

JPFmovies:  Could you expand on that a little more.  I mean it sounds like you think that Hollywood has become nothing more than a giant spreadsheet and a bunch of focus groups.

Tom V: Yes, that is exactly it.  Hollywood no longer backing classics, they will reluctant will.  Movies like Mutiny on the Bounty, Casablanca, Good Fellas and Reservoir Dogs.  These films are either not made anymore or the studios simply don’t invest in these types of films the way they used.  They seem to have a sixth-grade focus mentality because that is what seems to sell because these films are costly babysitters.

JPFmovies: Well what has happened to the talent that made some of the best movies in history like Sir Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner, Blackhawk Down or Kill Bill?

Tom V.: Over the past couple of years you’ve seen the talent move to Netflix, Amazon Prime and other independent film outlets.  What Hollywood has been regulated too are comedies with singing animals and politically correct films, action films more about the more expensive special effects scenes and other formula driven rubbish.

 JPFmovies: OK so you see all of the talent migrating (both actors and writers) to the new business models like Netflix and Amazon—do this that Hollywood with adjust to these changing times?

Tom V.: It will never happen Hollywood seems to be stuck in a holding pattern of mediocrity.

JPFmovies:  Ok why don’t proven directors like Scott, Tarantino or David Lynch get the resources they deserve?

Tom V.: Because it doesn’t sell as many tickets as a formulaic Transformers movie despite the obvious merit of films like of Blade Runner 2 because their focus groups projected lower profits.  That film for instance should have been made by Netflix or Amazon because it would have been funded and promoted much better.

JPFmovies: So, you believe that the free market has allowed companies like Netflix, Amazon, AMC and others to think outside of the box and make great entertainment for far less money.

Tom V.: Yeah sure.  Amazon and Netflix are on the cutting edge but don’t have the resources to go toe to toe with a company like Paramount—yet.  For instance, the Netflix series Marco Polo was an amazing series had to be canceled because of the $100,000,000.00 price tag for another season—which for a company like Netflix or Amazon which could have probably handled the costs, but they wisely spread those resources to other programs.

JPFmovies:  What are your favorite series to date from Amazon and Netflix?

Tom V.:  Marco Polo for sure from Netflix and Man in the High Castle from Amazon.  And even these films sucked, at least I would have avoided robots beat the crap out of each other yet again.

JPFmovies:  Do you have any predictions for the upcoming Raspberry Awards?

Tom V.: Too early to call.

JPFmovies:  What can we expect your next review to be?

Tom V.: I think it will be Brad Pit’s 2014 film Fury—which cost $68,000,000.00 and took in approximately $211,000,000.00, so these good movies can in fact be profitable. This film defied the odds of the Transformer garbage.

JPFmovies:  Any closing remarks you want to tell the audience.

Tom V.:  The only way you can change the mediocrity of Hollywood is with your pocketbook.

JPFmovies:  Thank you for your time. And we look forward to your next review.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Power of Basics: Bonnie Reviews Shaolin Monks in The Wheel of Life

Even though at one point I walked out of this movie, it still deserves a rose. How many movies can you say THAT about?

The plot of The Wheel of Life is simple. The Shaolin monks are invited to demonstrate their amazingly beautiful art for the Emperor. He then invites them to help defend the country as it is invaded. They oblige, but when the Emperor asks them to stay on after the war is over, they refuse, insisting that they must get back to training at the monastery. Vindictively, the Emperor arranges to smuggle a gas-filled statue into the temple, the gas knocks out the monks, and the Emperor sneaks in and murders all but five of them, and their teacher, as they sleep. But the five young monks who survive continue to train with their teacher, develop strong spirits, and continue the work of the temple.

JPFMovies doesn’t usually structure his reviews in the format of an old-fashioned theme. In fact my usage of the word “theme” in the last sentence is so archaic that I wonder how many of you out there even know what I am talking about. It’s what the generation born around the turn of the century – the turn of the 20th century, I mean – called essays that they wrote for school. To use the term “theme” this way makes me feel like I am about 90! However, this movie calls for a theme. Those old-fashioned themes took their nomenclature from the fact that they were structured around a theme. It was what we might nowadays classify as modern, pre-deconstructionist literary analysis. It was even pre-structuralist in some ways. An old-fashioned theme essay, though, is what The Wheel of Life calls out for in spades (well, not in spades – in swords? In staffs? In nuchakus?).

This movie, in fact, has a theme, and it’s pounded into us from start to finish. Most moviegoers, though, will miss that theme – they can’t help it because the martial art presented in The Wheel of Life is so jaw-droppingly awesome. The theme is an old-fashioned, traditional martial arts lesson (yet another reason why my old-fashioned, traditional approach is called for here): basics. More specifically, the power of basics. Fundamentals. The few simple, core techniques that are at the center of this wheel as it spins so brilliantly. It is rare to see basics presented so elegantly and without extraneous adornment – but that is what makes their presentation here so powerful.

Without further ado, in a nutshell, here is the theme of The Wheel of Life: even the most basic movements, even the most basic actions, can be surprisingly powerful. What basics are presented to us as powerful in The Wheel of Life?

o   To begin with, breathing. What could be more basic? Yet wise people from all religions and spiritual backgrounds recognize concentrating on the breath as a powerful and easily accessible path to enlightenment. If you watched The Wheel of Life and were too caught up in the exquisite movements and miraculous feats of these martial artists to notice their breathwork, go back and check out what happens before those movements and feats begin. You’ll find that the more difficult the action, the more meditation and breathwork occurs first. Pay attention to this.

o   Next, the martial arts movements themselves. Watch the following scene from the monks’ demonstration before the Emperor.

You can see that the martial techniques used are fairly simple and basic – kicks, punches, blocks, stance work. You could see these same techniques (except for the breathtaking gymnastics and smattering of yoga that accompanies them) demonstrated in thousands of beginning martial arts classes all over the world. But these are not beginners. What makes them different? These basic movements that all beginners learn are executed here with such fluidity, grace and power that a layperson would not even recognize them as the same movements. What makes them advanced? The addition of exciting complex elements? No. What makes them advanced is the masterful juxtaposition of relaxation and focus, yin and yang, push and pull that is at the foundation of all martial arts. That, and the most basic – yet ironically the most advanced – technique of all – total and utter commitment. Utter commitment to relaxation when it is time to relax. Total and absolute throwing one’s whole body into the movement when it is time to move. Watch an older monk teach this utter commitment to a young student in the clip below. See the difference? Same movements. Different body commitments.

If you are interested in martial arts, take note as well of the use of dynamic tension (slow speed, seeming to resist an invisible force) in some of the movements. I haven’t watched as many martial arts films as the rest of you and certainly not as many as JPFMovies, but I’ve never seen dynamic tension in a martial arts movie before.

o   The theme of basics is carried through theatrically as well. Do we need an expensive movie set and weeks of filming to make a movie? No, it turns out all that is needed is the London Apollo, a willing audience, a few simple adornments for the set, and an amazing group of martial artists. Do we need a complex plot? Not really. Do we need a lot of characters? No. We essentially have three main characters in this movie: the head of the temple, the monks collectively acting as a unit, and the evil Emperor. Do we even need a script? Not really, only a little short narration here and there. No need for dialogue when we have the most basic method of communication in existence at our disposal: body language!

But there is another reason for the simplicity of the set and film method, in addition to the joy of pounding into our heads the beauty and power of basics. That reason is what got me to walk out at one point. The latter third of the movie is dedicated to a series of spirit challenges – challenges so amazing that they had to be filmed in precisely this way, or moviegoers would likely think they were just special effects. I refuse to choose a clip of any of the spirit challenges. But I want you to see the meditation that precedes them (see below). Why won’t I show the spirit challenges? Frankly, they are intense (I couldn’t watch the whole section myself, as noted at the beginning of this review), and I don’t want to be responsible for some idiot going out and trying some of this stuff…these challenges go a few steps beyond simple board breaking.

I didn’t research the making of this movie. JPFMovies says this review is long enough already! Let me just say that this movie is as simple as Red Cliff is lavish – and yet both movies are exquisite. They define the range.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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