Maybe I mentioned that I’ve been on a documentary kick. I mean I’ve been watching the works of documentationists left and right. Not just BIGGIE AND TUPAC, but all the Maysles brothers direct cinema shit, Pumping Iron, Hoop Dreams, you name it. If it’s a documentary, and I’ve seen it, then I’ve seen it lately. But as great as some of these movies are, only some of them are greater than 2000’s Outlaw Award Winning picture AMERICAN PIMP by the Hughes Brothers. This is the definitive pimpumentary, I don’t care what you say about PIMPS UP, HOES DOWN it’s no AMERICAN PIMP.
The Hughes brothers are identical twin brothers who look the same. Because they are identical twins. Other than that, they seem very down to earth. They got alot of attention very fast with the huge success of their first picture, MENACE II SOCIETY which basically started the whole “young black director makes first low budget movie about life in the hood” thing back in the ’90s. They followed that up with the underrated heist/Vietnam movie DEAD PRESIDENTS, which got bad reviews and which they disavow on every subsequent dvd release.
So let me set the record straight on that one. I admire these young twins for realizing, and admitting, that it’s a bad idea for a couple of youngsters to try to make an epic movie about a war from before their time. However I think they did a pretty fuckin good job. At the very least it must be admired for the following reasons:
- Focusing an entire movie on the black vietnam experience. Not just the reasons they went there and what happened but how it affected their community afterwards. In a bad way, in my opinion.
- A top notch Badass performance by Keith David as a one-legged gangster. At one point he even uses his artificial leg to whoop a man’s ass. One last great performance before settling into a hugely successful career selling out by doing voiceovers for commercials and cartoon shows.
- Also a great dramatic performance by Chris Tucker. Before he became a big box office star, before he knew Jackie Chan, and preceding his great dramatic cameo in JACKIE BROWN. Here he is playing a heroin addicted vietnam vet. I think he’s funny because he’s a good actor, when he says some bullshit line his face convinces you that he means it. Because of acting. Here he’s funny too but he gets to make you sad. It’s his equivalent to Richard Pryor in BLUE COLLAR.
Well despite those three facts the Hughes twins always talk about DEAD PRESIDENTS like it’s a piece of crap. And they refused to do commentary tracks until FROM HELL because they felt they were too young and stupid to do them. The one they did for FROM HELL starts out with one of them saying how they really didn’t want to do it, because they would seem like “egotistical assholes.” I mean they are very humble.
And I’m afraid this movie finally gives them a reason to be. It’s real nice to look at – amazing sets, period costumes, what not. It’s based on a comic book based on the true story of Jack the Ripper, a dude who horribly mutilated prostitutes. Which I guess is why the Hughes Brothers did it, prostitutes. American Pimp. Get the connection? Anyway even though London is a real place it kind of looks like Gotham in the Batman movie, or Dicktracyland (I don’t know what it’s called, the city from the movie DICK TRACY). Real stylized lookin, bright red skies, etc. Not bad.
And Johnny Depp’s not bad, nice to see him back to playing an actual role after they made him into a guitar playin romance novel cover boy in that formulaic piece of Miramax crap CHOCOLATE. So you got nice lookin sets, Johnny Depp, period costumes – basically what you got is Sleepy Hollow without the laughs, and with vaginas being cut out instead of heads. Which in my opinion is not as fun.
It is a sad comment on our society when even our children’s comic books are about serial killings. What’s next, Jeffrey Dahmer cereal? The Green River Killer playset?
No, I’m just fuckin with you. I know FROM HELL is really a “graphic novel”, which is the same thing as a comic book, only called something else to make it sound not as bad. Anyway it’s for adults. I asked around about it in some of those trenchcoat ‘n ponytail circles. At first they thought I was snoopin around, bein culturally insensitive and what not. But I earned their trust by telling them my theory on the politics of Episode 2. So they gave me the lowdown, later backed up by the supplementary material on the dvd. Damn it, I could’ve avoided more than one conversation about whether Spiderman or Yoda “owns the summer” if I woulda just checked the dvd extras beforehand.
Apparently the comic book is really nothing like the movie. It uses the same conspiracy theory as the movie to explain who did the murders and why. But instead of following the investigation it follows Jack the Ripper himself, with a heavy background on the freemasons, the royal family, the occult reasons for his mutilations, etc. You see the Queen freak out when she realizes her hitman turned out to be a fuckin maniac sicko. And I guess there is this whole deal about the occult meaning of London architecture, and with the media’s obsession with grisly murders, and there is sort of a surreal time travel/magic aspect to his killings, and etc.
Also they say that it used a fairly well known theory among “ripperologists” who study jack the ripper, but adds realism missing in other fictional accounts by graphically depicting the prostitution and the murders, showing you the ugly shit that goes hand in hand with prostitution and serial mutilation. Not the glamorous side you get in other comic books like Superman or Richie Rich. I guess the last murder takes up a whole issue and is shown in graphic, overly researched detail.
Well for the movie they said why don’t we take this character of “Jack the Ripper”, but make it about the guy who is investigating him instead of about him, and make the guy investigating be a psychic, and an opium addict, and take out all the gore and sex, and make it a mystery so you don’t find out that William Gull the royal family’s personal physician played by Ian Holm from Alien and Lord of the Rings is Jack the Ripper until the very end.
So basically you just have another generic Jack the Ripper story that looks nice but doesn’t have anything particularly new to add to justify its existence. Except for this one really cool shot that is like time lapse but with a moving camera.
The dude who Wrote the final script knew better. For four years the Hughes brothers had a different script, and they hired this dude to rewrite it. He said he would do it but ONLY if he could change it back to the comical book version, where it centers on Jack the Ripper. They said no. And he said, okay.
And I knew I was in trouble before the first shot of the fuckin movie, because it opens with a quote. But not a real quote, a quote from Jack the Ripper, something he’ll say later in the movie. So you end up wondering what, he said that in Interview magazine or something? Shit.
Sorry Hughes brothers, but you were workin on this one too long. I admire you for not taking every project you can, for example you said no to CON AIR and that is something you can be proud of for the rest of your twin lives. But sometimes when you sit on something for four years you lose sight of what it was you were tryin to do in the first place, and you make a movie based on a nothing script like this.
Nice try but let’s do a better one next time thanks.
seriously though good job on dead presidents.
p.s. how do you tell you guys apart, I don’t get it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.