Tag Archives: Rae Dawn Chong

Soul Man (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be black.

Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) has been accepted into Harvard Law School, but just before he’s ready to attend his father (James B. Sikking) states that he won’t help to pay for it forcing Mark to try and find other avenues of funding. He eventually decides to take some tanning pills, which makes his skin darker and then apply for a scholarship only available to African American students. After getting the money he continues with the charade, but encounters many problems along the way that he wasn’t expecting.

This is one comedy that hasn’t aged well at all. At the time of its release it wasn’t considered too great to begin with and I avoided it, but now almost 30 years later the blackface plot line has made it a bad stain on the careers of those involved particularly the producer, writer and director who were all white and apparently thought they were ‘woke’ and making something ‘socially relevant’, but really weren’t. However, even if you get past the politically incorrect scenario this is still a really bad movie either way.

The basic premise is the biggest problem as Howell never ever effectively looks black, Egyptian maybe, but more like some white guy wearing a tacky wig and who stayed under the sun lamp too long. The fact that anyone could believe that he was really black for even a second is patently absurd as his skin is more of a dark beige color and his other facial features never change, which makes the scene where his own parents don’t even recognize him all the more stupid.

The idea of having him intentionally overdose on tanning pills just brings up even more questions. For instance if he takes more than the recommended dosage wouldn’t that cause some dangerous side effect and how exactly is he able to turn white again at the end as overdosing on the pills would’ve most likely have caused some sort of long term health risk to either his system or skin.

The fact that he’s able to get the scholarship right away is pretty ridiculous too. Don’t applicants have to go through some sort of background check before they get accepted or do they simply get handed the money the minute they walk in and ask for it like it seems here and wouldn’t this background check then expose that he was really white?

This also has to be the dumbest guy ever to get accepted into Harvard. I’m not saying the character has to necessarily conform to the nerd stereotype, but the guy comes off like a world class slacker from the beginning who proceeds to say and do one clueless thing after another until you wonder if he’d ever be accepted into junior college let alone an Ivy League one.

James Earl Jones’ performance, where he channels the black version of Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase, is one of the film’s few bright spots. I also enjoyed Rae Dawn Chong who plays Howell’s potential love interest and who comes off as far more real and multi-dimensional than any of the other characters in the film to the point that she should’ve been made the star while scrapping Howell and his silly shenanigans completely.

Not only does the film fail to offer any true meaningful insight into race relations, but it manages to stereotype white people in the process particularly the two white male students who are constantly getting caught making racist jokes about black people. Is the viewer actually supposed to believe that this is all these two guys ever talk about as it certainly is made to seem that way, which is just one more example as to why this has to be one of the clumsiest, most unfunny and most poorly thought out satires ever made.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steve Miner

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Quest for Fire (1981)

quest for fire

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cavemen search of fire.

After their tribe is attacked by another one and their only source of fire put out three male members from the group (Everett McGill, Ron Pearlman, Nicholas Kadi) set out to find fire from somewhere else and bring it back to the others.  Their quest is not easy as they are forced to travel through harsh terrain, escape from man eating tigers, and fight off a tribe of cannibals. They also meet up with Ika (Rae Dawn Chong) who comes from a more advanced tribe where the members live in huts instead of caves and who also harbors the secret to starting a fire, which she just might share with the others.

Filmed on-location in Canada, Scotland, and Kenya this film brings to life the true nature of prehistoric times in vivid detail and better than any other movie that has dealt with the same subject. The male actors were fitted with masks that gave them ape-like features and except for one brief moment there is no discernable line of dialogue and communication is spoken through grunts and groans as well as words not connected to modern day language. Some DVD issues do have subtitles, but to me this is taking the viewer out of the experience as the whole idea is to allow one a true sense of how things where like back then and therefore forcing one to try to understand things through the primitives means of communication during that period is the only way to do it and I’m thankful that the theatrical version and the streaming version that I saw did not offer them.

While I applaud the filmmaker’s commitment to keeping things close to the true form as possible and not willing to compromise it simply to make it more accessible to a mainstream audience I still found it to be confusing at spots and even at times boring. The opening battle between the two tribes seemed almost unintentionally funny and the loud, booming music played over most of the movie is a bit off-putting as there was clearly no music at the time of the setting, so silence or natural sounds would’ve kept it truer to the authentic tone.

There is also a scene where the men come upon the remains of some meat left from another tribe. The men are hungry and begin eating the remains only to realize that what they are chewing on is human flesh, which sickens them and they spit it out, but I wasn’t so sure that genuine Neanderthals such as the ones portrayed here would be so ‘civilized’ and instead more concerned with simply satisfying their hunger needs.

Rae Dawn Chong’s presence is a major plus and the movie gets more interesting when her character appears. She remains fully nude at all times while covered in body paint, but isn’t as erotic as you might think. The scene where she gets raped by the men late at night is brutal, but authentic to the animalistic level that I would assume sex would be approached with during that time period. The way her character ends up bonding and even forming a romantic attachment to the one of them as the film progresses is genuinely touching.

The film has a lot of lulls and may be just too unique for some. I found myself intrigued at certain parts and bored at others, but the scene where the men watch in amazement when Chong creates a fire for the first time is a surprisingly exhilarating moment where the viewer feels the same emotion that people back then must’ve felt, which to be able to convey such a feeling to a modern audience is an achievement in itself and a sign of astute filmmaking at its finest.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube