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Looking To DVD Releases – A Review Of “Blood And Bone” (Michael Jai White Kicks Ass. What else?)

So… instead of constantly anticipating the next studio produced and/or distributed “black film” to open at a theatre near you (and often being disappointed), why not start sifting through the myriad of straight-to-dvd “black film” releases, with the chance that you might find a few gems here and there (or just fairly decent films) that may have gone unnoticed, for one reason or another.

The phrase “straight-to-dvd” is akin to the scarlet letter for any film that wears it, and that’s unfair. I think we can all agree that not every film rejected for theatrical distribution is unworthy. Likewise, certainly not every film released in theatres deserves the luxury.

There are a wealth of films by and about black people produced and distributed annually, and the vast majority never see a single theatre screen (except maybe at film festivals). So, why not look there, the DVD market, for content, instead of waiting for the 3 or 4 “black films” (in a good year) that Hollywood backs annually, only to be disappointed more often than not? Yes, many of them may indeed fail to meet expectations, but, there just might be a few that we’ve completely, and unfairly overlooked.

Like Blood And Bone, perhaps?

Well… I wouldn’t call it one of the gems, but, frankly, it really wasn’t bad. It’s not worse than any Steven Seagal movie, made when he was in his prime, and many of those made it to theatres, and drew large enough audiences.

The title alone should clue you in as to the kind of ride you’re in for – Blood And Bone… oh, and it stars Black Dynamite himself, Michael Jai White, the muscle-bound, martial arts pro. What more do you need to know?

Dude kicks ass, and more ass, and more ass, and never smiles, nor blinks! He’s the ultimate bad-ass, and fun to watch! Although some times comically so.

If I had to compare Michael Jai White to a successful white actor whose career path he could mimic, it’d be that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Initially, Jean Claude Van Damme came to mind; he had a short-lived lucrative Hollywood run in the 90s, and seemed to quickly vanish. Indeed, both are well-trained in the martial arts; however, White’s acting skills are superior, and, despite being shorter, he’s almost as massive as Arnold was in his prime, as an action movie star – if not as big.

I never watched an Arnold Schwarzenegger film for its award-winning acting, nor did I want to see the Austrian Oak get all sentimental in a love scene, in some rom-com. I went to an Arnold movie because I wanted to see him kick butt and blow things up, as simplistic as that sounds – but that’s the truth! I think that was the truth for just about all of us who went to see his movies. Sure, we were hoping for an interesting, coherent story, and there usually was; after all he did work with some of the top directors in the industry during his career – James Cameron (three times), John McTiernan, and Ivan Reitman to name a few.

I could see Michael Jai White having a mirror filmography, comprised mostly of well-made action films, in which he gets to throw some bone-crushing hits, littered with catchy one-liners like “I’ll Be Back,” or “Remember when I said I’d kill you last… I lied!” He can save the tenderness for Denzel Washington… oh, wait a minute, I forgot, Denzel doesn’t do love scenes. How about Will Smith then… uh, well, actually he doesn’t really like to do romance either. NEVERMIND! Still, Michael Jai White is just not that guy, and, quite frankly, he doesn’t have to be.

One of Arnold’s famous quotes about the movies he made during his career was: “I have a love interest in every one of my films – a gun.” That says it all, doesn’t it? That’s Michael Jai White all the way – except he could say, “I have a love interest in every one of my films – my fists.

Blood And Bone is loud and violent. Of course, there is a story there; in short, an ex-convict named Isaiah Bone (played by White) falls into a mob controlled street fighting ring in the back alleys of Los Angeles, in order to keep a promise to a dead friend. It co-stars Nona Gaye (looking, sounding and acting uncannily like a younger Angela Bassett) as the supposed love interest, but not really, Brit Eamonn Walker as a sword-wielding villainous kingpin, and a cadre of other players. It’s predictable and cliche-filled, but, entertaining. It knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t try to be anything more, or less. It’s one setup after another, with each usually ending with a fight sequence, involving white, leading up to the inevitable final showdown that you can see coming a mile away. But, oddly enough, you still anticipate it.

And being that the fights are obviously the film’s main attraction, director Ben Ramsey ensures that the sequences are mostly well-choreographed, and captured. The camera always seemed to be at the right place and time that would guarantee maximum visual impact, making those scenes feel real and weighty; in other words, I felt like these guys were really hitting each other, with each blow or kick that landed – somewhat like the Paul Greengrass-directed last 2 Bourne movies, notably the 3rd in the series. Although, sometimes they were also comical, even when unintentional.

If I had one complaint, it’ll be that brother Bone is never ever in any real danger during each fight. He annihilates just about every cretin that crosses his path, wasting them with relative ease in most instances, except, of course, towards the end, when he appears to have met his match – at least initially – but quickly dispatches him once he seems to decide that he wants to. Without any real challenges for brother Bone, it does dampen down the thrill a bit. He is the hero, and, as is the trend, the hero usually wins in the end, especially in a movie like this. Sure, he might face some resistance here and there, but we know he’s going to find a way to win. However, there’s a thrill in watching our hero face some seemingly insurmountable adversity, only to eventually overcome it. It’s what’s at the core of most movies we watch, and I guess we’ve been programmed to expect that. Brother Bone is rarely challenged, and thus, is never really forced to dig. He’s cool… but maybe a little too much so… almost robotic actually. And that could turn some away.

This was director Ben Ramsey’s 2nd feature film; he’s African American, by the way; he previously directed Love And A bullet, which starred Treach from rap group Naughty By Nature (didn’t see it). He also executive produced Dennis Dortch’s A Good Day To Be Black And Sexy (I love seeing connections like this). Michael Jai White is listed as a co-producer of Blood And Bone, and by all accounts, this was an all black affair.

Also worth noting, Gina Carano, the female mixed martial artist who graces ESPN The Magazine’s recent body issue, has a bit part as a street fighter who shows some romantic interest in Bone. She will star in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming spy-thriller, Haywire - another connection I like.

Shot with Panavision cameras on 35mm film, with multiple locations, this isn’t some low-budget/no-budget feature. The production values are high, and there are a few recognizable names in it who likely didn’t work for free. While this may not cost as much as your average studio picture, it’s certainly still in the low 7-figure range. We’re talking maybe a $1 or $2 million – about the same budget as Black Dynamite. Or even Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. However, unlike those 2 films, a flick like Blood And Bone suffers from a lack of a theatrical release, and thus reduced overall exposure, as do the majority of these straight-to-DVD releases. Yet, they seem to make money somehow, otherwise they wouldn’t get made as frequently as they currently are, right?

Sony is listed as its domestic DVD distributor for Blood And Bone, but it was apparently independently produced nor financed. What’s more, despite the so-called claim by high-level industry execs that “black films don’t sell overseas,” Blood And Bone, according to its IMDB page, was released also on DVD in 12 other countries – Greece, France, Germany, Sweden, South Africa, the UAE, Turkey and Australia, to name a few. I wonder how it was received in those territories.

Regardless… I rented Blood And Bone via iTunes. With a Netflix membership, you can find it there as well. Based on all I’ve said above, you certainly won’t see anything revolutionary here; but it won’t be a waste of your time nor money. So, check it out, especially those of you who are itching to see more uber-masculine black men kick all kinds of ass… and take names… on screen. He doesn’t really get the woman though. Sorry. Maybe next time… :)

Off I go to find my next DVD pick. Wish me luck!

Here’s are the intro scene for Blood And Bone:

2 comments to Looking To DVD Releases – A Review Of “Blood And Bone” (Michael Jai White Kicks Ass. What else?)

  • Jason

    I posted a reply on one of the earlier entries of this review and for some reason I don’t see it there anymore.

    Suffice to say, this movie was far better than any Steven Seagal film. There’s an art to filming action that I see is very much overlooked in the West by critics that isn’t overlooked in the East. This is one of the reasons I think this review really sells this movie short.

    The fight scenes in this movie are shot, edited and choreographed better than pretty much all recent Hollywood movies I can think of. The shaky cam boom in Hollywood is disgusting as it’s pretty much the go to style for any hack director who can’t think of a way to design and compose shots and whole scenes as it’s a cheat to do and a cover for a real lack of a cinematic eye. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those movies and it seems Ramsey isn’t that kind of a director. The action was legitimately really good which makes this going direct to video all the more unfortunate.

    As far as the rest of the movie goes, I thought it delivered. The story and White’s performance seem to be channeling a Western flavor to it (almost like a “Man With No Name”) and it was great. The supporting cast was up to par as well with Eamonn Walker being fantastic as the villain (as well as being one of my top most underused and underrated actors working in the business today) and Dante Basco doing well as White’s foil.

    A really solid movie that’s much a cut above the mainstream Hollywood action movies out there and had no business going direct to video.

  • JasonJee

    I enjoyed this movie not the least of that because of the lovely curvaceous Nona Gaye. Good indie find.