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Dolemite is My Name (2019)

I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes movies on scrappy genre indies, following a band of creatives come together, build camaraderie, and serve as the underdogs we root for as they put on their fun show, so Dolemite is My Name is right up my alley. It’s a biopic on Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), who by the 1970s rebranded himself in his 40s when he began performing as an outrageous, rhyming pimp character named Dolemite. He recorded crude comedy albums, sold them out of the back of his trunk, and reached a new level of fame, but he sought a blaxploitation movie to get him to even further heights. This movie is akin to The Disaster Artist where we watch a lot of artists pull off a bad movie with little money, as well as 2004’s Baadasssss!, where Mario Van Peebles recreated the making of his father’s 1971 blaxploitation hit, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Chances are, if you enjoyed either of those two movies, or the hilarious blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite, you will be smiling aplenty with this new Netflix movie (given a short theatrical run and soon to be widely available via streaming). The movie belongs to Murphy, who hasn’t had a part in three years, and he comes roaring to life as Moore, a man who won’t let anything stand in the way of his dreams. Murphy is fully captivating in every scene as he turns the Dolemite persona on and off, sharing moments of personal insight and fear, like when he’s nervous over his physique with an upcoming sex scene for his movie. He’s a determined hustler and it’s hard not to fall for his grinning charm. The Dolemite movie has a special appeal because it was intended as a comedy, so the shoestring, scrappy nature of it works nicely with the good intentions of simply making a big, silly, kung-fu-filled action comedy with what audiences want. I’ll confess I never found any of Moore’s standup to be funny as the audiences at the time. However, the filmmakers have already answered this, as Moore and pals go see The Front Page, a movie dubbed by critics as a laugh-out-loud comedy, and the men sit stone-faced and confused throughout the pithy, erudite comedy that seems to be amusing the largely white, WASP-y crowd. Humor is subjective, but not only that it’s the kind of entertainment with the shortest shelf life. It’s naturally going to expire quickly. Comedy routines we found hilarious decades ago might not still be funny today, and that’s okay. Dolemite came out at the right time and influenced other artists and filmmakers. A behind-the-scenes film is destined to be a movie with a definite ceiling. Moore is an interesting success story but there’s only so much to be gleaned from this underdog tale. Thanks to writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (Ed Wood, The People vs. O.J. Simpson) and the energy of Murphy, Dolemite is My Name is a fun two hours with a bunch of cut-ups.

Nate’s Grade: B

Blade (1998)

You know when you’re watching a flick and you see former porn actress Traci Lords sucking someone’s fluids… well you’re in for a treat. Enter Blade, the latest installment into the vampire chronicles of celluloid. But this one is such an energetic rush that even author Anne Rice hawked up on crank couldn’t churn this one out.

I will confess right now that I am most partial to vampire movies. It’s a guilty pleasure I’m not embarrassed of. What other genres out there could you expect to find titles from Abbot and Costello meet Dracula to Blackula? Not in any period piece I’ll tell you that. So I’m strangely drawn to vampire flicks, and this one quenches your thirst.

Wesley Snipes surmises the role of Blade, the half-human, half-vampire, all ass-kicker with great enthusiasm. Most of his lines are either snarled or more snarled, but what are you gonna’ do when you work the midnight shift? The story is pretty hokey but provides just enough moments for some intense action sequences. And that’s what keeps this movie together. The glue of this foundation are the adrenaline pumping action sequences with Snipes just flying around and turning anxiously aggressive vampires into annoying CGI particles. At times the movie can drag because you’re waiting for another action sequence in between the spillings of blood and gore.

The biggest problem in Blade is the wimpy villain. I have nothing against Stephen Dorff but he’s the most non-frightening and ineffectual villain since Colonel Clink tried halting Hogan’s Heroes. He comes off as a skinny kid trying to push around the big guys. I never bought anything from him. I can’t see how he’s an adversary to Snipes’ brooding and stoic hero. Wesley could push the kid down with one arm and twist it around his back ’til he cried “mercy.”

The best comic book transition to movie since 1989’s Batman. Thank God New Line didn’t try and hound a franchise out of this like they did to ruin Spawn and Lost in Space, of course the hellaciously bad writing might have to do with their failures as well. But Blade gets the most from every drop of blood and every electronic beat on the techno enriched soundtrack. A hip and entertaining vampire action flick.

Nate’s Grade: B

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