Total Recall

Nine Movies That Bring the Funk

With Get On Up hitting theaters, we run down some of the grooviest flicks of all time.

by | July 31, 2014 | Comments

Make It Funky

The Godfather of Soul gets his cinematic due this weekend 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: It’s time for Total Recall!

Black Dynamite

83%

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.”

Coffy

86%

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.”

The Harder They Come

89%

Part crime drama, part message movie, and 100 percent reggae’s utterly funky coming-out party in the U.S., The Harder They Come utilizes its classic soundtrack as the backdrop for a hard-hitting (and fairly loosely adapted) portrayal of the life and underworld exploits of real-life Jamaican criminal Ivanhoe Martin, a.k.a. Rhyging. An enormous box office sensation in Jamaica and a midnight movie classic in the States, Harder remains noteworthy on cinematic as well as musical grounds; it is, as Melissa Anderson wrote for the Village Voice, “The definitive postcolonial cult-movie musical.”

Love and Basketball

84%

Like Steely Dan said in 1980’s “Hey Nineteen,” hard times have befallen the soul survivors; following the blaxploitation explosion, the cinema got a heck of a lot less funky, and these days, it’s quite a bit harder to find a film/soundtrack combination that delights the eyes while encouraging one to get one’s swerve on. A notable exception: 2000’s Love and Basketball, starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan as a young couple negotiating the pitfalls of life and love, on and off the basketball court — all accompanied by a blend of new and classic cuts from the likes of Rufus and Chaka Khan, Al Green, Angie Stone, and Guy. Wrote Stephanie Zacharek for Sight and Sound, “It’s a fine example of a conventionally made picture which follows all the rules yet still emerges as fresh and original.”

Purple Rain

70%

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.”

Shaft

88%

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.”

Soul Power

84%

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.”

Superfly

93%

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.”

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out Get On Up.

Finally, here’s the Hardest Working Man in Show Business in Ski Party (1965), which proves that James Brown can make anything funky — even an alpine rescue:

Tag Cloud

Tumblr asian-american Esquire sag awards new star wars movies cancelled TV series all-time transformers olympics dexter RT History USA Network Crackle Prime Video breaking bad festivals Tomatazos Holiday classics fresh Starz zero dark thirty National Geographic sports deadpool witnail obituary Awards Country Syfy psycho San Diego Comic-Con popular Calendar President Mary Tyler Moore series IFC Films Thanksgiving Disney+ Disney Plus news dramedy aliens comic book movies Year in Review quibi cooking Oscars Apple Pride Month Universal Pictures PlayStation Trailer sequels finale Travel Channel Endgame Television Academy Elton John CBS All Access scary movies docudrama AMC E3 monster movies leaderboard sequel rotten movies we love The Arrangement BET Awards TV movies Broadway historical drama halloween mockumentary Video Games Lifetime Christmas movies south america CMT justice league films 90s tv talk Shondaland remakes Women's History Month 45 Reality 73rd Emmy Awards godzilla women El Rey Epix concert Grammys Academy Awards worst latino feel good natural history TCA Awards Paramount Network Song of Ice and Fire Musicals Television Critics Association TCA Winter 2020 dreamworks FX on Hulu dc Fox News unscripted marvel comics TBS batman japan Holidays archives hidden camera 2020 miniseries politics joker NBA Cartoon Network kaiju Drama biopic BBC America golden globe awards spinoff live action Sci-Fi Showtime Premiere Dates canceled TV shows james bond hist 72 Emmy Awards YouTube Amazon Studios Watching Series comiccon cancelled TV shows Tubi AMC Plus game show Mudbound Pixar X-Men Apple TV+ action-comedy social media travel 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards canceled harry potter TruTV Spring TV HBO Max FXX Lifetime king arthur Exclusive Video a nightmare on elm street Schedule 79th Golden Globes Awards See It Skip It zombie Warner Bros. Best and Worst jurassic park boxoffice universal monsters CBS child's play ABC Family Stephen King 2016 true crime ID Black Mirror FOX game of thrones Christmas serial killer cinemax rt labs Nat Geo 20th Century Fox foreign BAFTA medical drama WGN Pop TV MTV Chernobyl chucky saw Crunchyroll VH1 adventure Bravo The Walt Disney Company Paramount Ovation Brie Larson Animation gangster TV renewals ABC christmas movies Superheroes Comic-Con@Home 2021 ratings Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt zombies TV Land period drama heist movie Black History Month Acorn TV APB comic book movie children's TV satire Comedy First Look Set visit Paramount Plus Disney streaming service mcc technology The CW 93rd Oscars teaser Extras YouTube Red First Reviews A&E Hear Us Out Marathons ViacomCBS disaster cars Classic Film Biopics mob Creative Arts Emmys YA CNN Rock critics romantic comedy Election new york stand-up comedy crime thriller fast and furious Hulu vs. sopranos slasher new zealand singing competition free movies superhero stoner spain reboot Mary poppins Mystery legend criterion spy thriller 007 boxing Amazon Prime Heroines IFC posters Star Wars Captain marvel DGA festival Red Carpet Netflix Emmy Nominations WarnerMedia Sony Pictures 1990s documentaries Marvel LGBT Sundance TV thriller Star Trek mutant hollywood Trivia 4/20 hispanic independent VICE Emmys DirecTV king kong docuseries revenge Sneak Peek sitcom Photos Rocketman reviews halloween tv Apple TV Plus BBC police drama talk show cartoon ESPN indiana jones Mary Poppins Returns supernatural renewed TV shows Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Film Festival Adult Swim Funimation Kids & Family romance Reality Competition Box Office Columbia Pictures Disney Channel Nickelodeon prank werewolf Spike TLC Tags: Comedy critic resources Cannes discovery screenings Ellie Kemper dceu comic books spanish cancelled television blockbuster VOD crossover movies BBC One Fargo suspense Food Network genre The Academy black comedy Film BET LGBTQ New York Comic Con robots DC Comics HBO superman Vudu NYCC debate Summer adenture comics ITV USA Pet Sematary venice Certified Fresh Turner Classic Movies Musical know your critic Neflix royal family 2018 documentary GLAAD what to watch nature toy story TV SundanceTV casting Lionsgate award winner scene in color Western cancelled television lord of the rings theme song American Society of Cinematographers dragons rt archives Pirates Opinion 21st Century Fox target australia Winter TV Wes Anderson Freeform RT21 die hard NBC international TCA Masterpiece Hallmark war versus Infographic psychological thriller Shudder cults stop motion TCM ghosts SXSW dark spider-verse Horror pirates of the caribbean nbcuniversal Arrowverse Interview scorecard streaming movies Turner MCU Hallmark Christmas movies rotten Valentine's Day Instagram Live political drama YouTube Premium Action Anna Paquin Amazon book adaptation space anime cops Legendary 2019 facebook PaleyFest doctor who HBO Go Dark Horse Comics biography blockbusters FX rt labs critics edition toronto The Purge Superheroe binge TCA 2017 football E! CW Seed hispanic heritage month Image Comics SDCC japanese Polls and Games Universal science fiction Rom-Com marvel cinematic universe Ghostbusters 2021 Tarantino twilight nfl Marvel Television elevated horror book ABC Signature History Binge Guide diversity video cats Alien Martial Arts Fall TV dogs wonder woman laika 71st Emmy Awards basketball Pacific Islander art house Walt Disney Pictures Mindy Kaling richard e. Grant Fox Searchlight directors Baby Yoda Quiz Character Guide live event video on demand trophy Spectrum Originals Music based on movie streaming razzies A24 young adult TNT Peacock Tokyo Olympics Disney Plus Countdown emmy awards crime drama worst movies TV One telelvision GoT spider-man HFPA DC streaming service jamie lee curtis black Disney Toys french Sundance Now Discovery Channel spanish language vampires parents Cosplay mission: impossible OneApp strong female leads Logo MSNBC Lucasfilm high school Pop GIFs indie kong The Witch DC Universe aapi slashers Hollywood Foreign Press Association Awards Tour trailers anthology Sundance IMDb TV blaxploitation Amazon Prime Video 2015 Trophy Talk green book Nominations golden globes PBS Marvel Studios Britbox animated Super Bowl scary franchise movie kids 24 frames Comic Book comic screen actors guild italian Comics on TV Winners Podcast Netflix Christmas movies 2017 Teen adaptation Avengers TIFF Comedy Central best crime comedies composers Family Writers Guild of America The Walking Dead OWN rom-coms Fantasy Rocky 99% name the review