MENACE II SOCIETY is generally considered the best and most hardcore of the ’90s “hood movies.” BOYZ N THE HOOD (released almost 2 years earlier) was already controversial and blamed for violence near theaters despite its unmistakable Increase the Peace preachiness. Now here comes this lower budget movie with more violence, more anti-social behavior, more expectation of the audience to know right from wrong, and no Huxtable sweaters, football or Stanley Clarke fusion to help the medicine go down. The “nice kid” in this one is a drug dealer who, when he gets a call from a girl telling him she’s pregnant with his baby, says “Look, I ain’t got time for this. Peace.”
It’s narrated by that kid from Watts, Caine (Tyrin Turner, PANTHER), telling the story of his summer after graduating from high school. It starts with him and his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate, WAIST DEEP) going into a mini-mart for 40s and getting into an argument with the Asian couple who run it (June Kyoto Lu [who was in CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER!] and Toshi Toda [LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA]). Caine and O-Dog are being jerks, opening the bottles before paying for them, even though they’re under 21 and oughta be grateful that these people are gonna sell it to them in the first place. Caine is kinda laughing it off but then fuckin O-Dog decides to shoot and kill the couple. He takes the security tape and spends the summer showing it to all his buddies like it’s a funny Jackass video or something.
This shows you the relationship between these two. Caine knows it’s stupid to be showing it to people, and he complains about it every time, but he never makes him stop. (read the rest of this shit…)
Of course I had to re-watch BOYZ N THE HOOD as part of the N.W.A celebration. Not only is it named after an Eazy-E song, but it’s the actorial debut of Ice Cube, and still, in my opinion, one of his best performances. (No offense, GHOSTS OF MARS.)
The lead, though, is future DTV master (and Oscar winner, but who cares?) Cuba Gooding Jr. as Tre Styles, a teen in South Central L.A. circa 1991. He lives with his dad Furious (Larry Fishburne, DEATH WISH II), a firebrand mortgage broker who works hard to instill discipline and responsibility in his son, and whose fierce attention to politics gets him called “Malcolm Farrakhan.” In one scene he drives Tre and his friend out to Compton to give them a big speech about gentrification and the importance of black-owned businesses. They’re impressed, but mostly just scared to be in that neighborhood. They’re happy to get back in the car and drive straight outta Compton.
Tre’s friends don’t have fathers, and most of them spend more time sitting on the porch drinking 40s than he does. One of them, Dooky, is always sucking on a pacifier. Apparently that’s because the actor, Dedrick D. Gobert, did that to stop smoking, but it definitely comes across as a symbol of men who never get around to grow into adults, or never get a chance to. These guys live something closer to the lifestyle described in the Eazy-E song than Tre does, but with less shooting and drug money and no hitting women as far as we see. (read the rest of this shit…)
Do you guys know about these “Usual Suspects”? They’re this group of criminals who get rounded up one day for a line up for some crime none of them had anything to do with, and it pisses them off so much that they decide to pool their resources for a job that will get them some diamonds and humiliate the police by exposing their corruption. As a bonus it will also allow them to terrorize an uptight Paul Bartel and blow up his car. But when they go to fence the jewels they realize they’ve been pulled into this whole other thing with an infamous boogie man super-criminal who now says they owe him and have to do a job for him or their loved ones will be assaulted and killed. Or at least that’s what this lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite, INCEPTION) tells them. Or at least that’s the story that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey, MOON, The Equalizer) tells Customs Agent Kujan (Chazz Palminteri, BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON) when he wants to know what led up to the burning ship full of dead bodies discovered last night.
Yeah, actually this movie is pretty complicated, and that’s just the basics there. There’s also the whole thing about a Hungarian burn victim survivor of the boat fire and the FBI agent (Giancarlo Esposito, DO THE RIGHT THING, The Equalizer) bringing in a translator and sketch artist before surgery to try to get him to tell what he knows about the mysterious Keyser Soze and trying to get the information to Agent Kujan in time and etc. (read the rest of this shit…)
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is a movie that will smother your mother and make your sister think it loves her. Or at least it will give them more of an idea of what N.W.A was all about. Unless they already know alot about N.W.A, which come to think of it I do expect of your mother and your sister. They’re pretty cool.
I’ve been thrilled about the idea of an N.W.A biopic for years. So far The Notorious B.I.G. is the only rapper to get one of these (the better-than-I-expected NOTORIOUS), though I remember when Steve James of HOOP DREAMS fame was supposed to be doing one on Grandmaster Flash starring Don Cheadle. A story from that era could be epic. And I would like to see an O.D.B. movie and possibly Public Enemy would work, but I don’t know if there’s much of an ending on that. N.W.A, to me, seems like the best choice for this treatment.
And their movie is pretty much what you’d expect. It captures some of the vitality and power of N.W.A and also has most of the weaknesses of biopics. I can’t honestly claim it all works as a movie, but it celebrates N.W.A without being totally embarrassing about it, so I couldn’t help but enjoy watching it. (read the rest of this shit…)
Long before he directed the new biopic STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, F. Gary Gray was already linked to members of N.W.A. He’d directed the video for the Ice Cube classic “It Was a Good Day” (1992), and later the action-movie-inspired “Natural Born Killaz” by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube (from the soundtrack to MURDER WAS THE CASE). When Gray started in features it was with Cube, who wrote, produced and starred in FRIDAY. And he also did the video for Dre’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin” from that soundtrack.
So in ’97, when he did his first action movie, he cast Dre in a small role as Black Sam, an underworld figure who provides guns for the protagonists, an all female crew of bank robbers.
Hear me out on this, but I do not consider N.W.A to be super respectful of women. Their songs talked endlessly about the bitches and/or hoes. FRIDAY also did some of that, in arguably a more playful way. The men are all doofuses, but Nia Long and Regina King aren’t, so you can’t take it completely seriously. But there’s a whole lot of humor about the women they do or don’t want to get laid by, and one hilariously has as her theme song “Hoochie Mama” by 2 Live Crew. “Big booty hoes – up wit it!”
Though both were filmed in 1992, FEAR OF A BLACK HAT came out a year after CB4. It had a harder mountain to climb because it was a more independent movie without major movie or TV stars, big names on the soundtrack or celebrity cameos. The most recognizable actor in it is Larry B. Scott from REVENGE OF THE NERDS and SNAKE EATER II: THE DRUG BUSTER.
It’s the directorial debut of Rusty Cundieff, who also wrote it and stars. He’d previously written HOUSE PARTY 2, and we know him as an actor in 3:15, HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE and SCHOOL DAZE. He went on to direct TALES FROM THE HOOD and alot of TV, including 25 episodes of Chappelle’s Show and one of that Clueless show we discussed a few weeks ago. I remember he was also a correspondent on Michael Moore’s show TV Nation, and I have just learned that his one credit as a TV writer is one 2009 episode of CSI: NY. That’s weird.
Ice Cold (Cundieff), Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence, CRIMSON TIDE, HALLOWEEN REMAKE II) and Tasty Taste (Scott) are the popular gangsta rap trio N.W.H. The “H” stands for “Hats,” because their trademark is wearing big silly hats. Unlike CB4, this one is fully documentary style, so throughout the movie they get to talk to the camera explaining their work, sometimes cutting to clips of videos and performances, or following them backstage, etc. The director and interviewer is Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons, VAMPIRE’S KISS), who puts up with alot from them but is smarter than them, like the Source writer in CB4.
(And before we go on, you’re right, this is not as N.W.A-specific as CB4. Obviously they get the name from them, and they have a song called “Fuck the Security Guards.” But really they’re a mish-mash of every notable rap group of the time, from Ice-T to fuckin PM Dawn.)
The extreme teaching movie DANGEROUS MINDS is exactly as corny as I remembered it, but not entirely without merit. It’s directed by John M. Smith (THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT) and written by Ronald Bass (RAIN MAN, THE JOY LUCK CLUB, HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK), but it seems like maybe a more significant detail is that it’s produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (their next-to-last credit together). As with most of their movies it looks real pretty, starting with an opening montage in grainy, high contrast black and white like a French New wave film. Look at these stills, they’re beautiful in my opinion:
Too bad they didn’t shoot the whole movie that way, that would’ve made it pretty different from STAND AND DELIVER and LEAN ON ME and shit. I bet it would’ve made about 1/28th as much money and been way better reviewed.
CB4 is the comedic story of a fictional West Coast gangsta rap trio out of not-real Locash, CA. They exist in the same world as N.W.A (Ice Cube and Eazy E both appear as themselves in documentary style interview segments) but also they’re kind of supposed to be N.W.A. They dress like them, they have a similar “world’s most dangerous group” image, their videos are shot-for-shot imitations of N.W.A videos, and their hit song “Straight Outta Locash” is done over the music from “Straight Outta Compton,” but nobody accuses them of being a rip-off. Their song is not as good, in my opinion. They copy Cube’s line “Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube” not just once, but before each verse. Watering it down.
One of the more brazen boasts is “I fucked your sister, I fucked your cat / I would’ve fucked your mom but the bitch is too fat,” which is absurd enough, sure, but it’s not as deviously clever as Eazy’s actual line, “Straight outta Compton / is a brother that’ll smother your mother / and make your sister think I love her.”
One difference from N.W.A: they don’t have an exploitative white manager from outside the world of hip hop. They have Trustus (Willard E. Pugh, THE COLOR PURPLE, ROBOCOP 2).
Another one: these guys aren’t exaggerated characters based on their real lifestyles. They’re straight up phonies dressing up like gangstas as a gimmick after their corny Native Tongues copycat act didn’t catch on. And they, uh, pretend they were in prison, which they weren’t , and that gets them into some awkward situations. Hmm. (read the rest of this shit…)
Looking back at these movies from the summer of 1995 is really interesting to me, but it doesn’t seem like a very good summer for movies. I mean, DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE was really good. That was at the very beginning.
Now all the sudden it’s August and this G-rated Australian talking animal movie comes out. There were signs that it might be interesting for that sort of thing: It had a nice storybook look to it, and a new idea of digitally animating mouth movements and expressions on animals instead of just feeding them peanut butter.
But you guys, BABE is more than just better than expected, and ended up being a phenomenon. Even though it’s seen as a kid’s movie, it’s one of such precise, economical storytelling, such unique vision and such sweet sincerity that it ended up with 7 well deserved Oscar noms (short for nominations): Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (James Cromwell supporting a bunch of farm animals!), Best Art Direction, Best Editing and Best Visual Effects (which it won – take that, only other nominee APOLLO 13).
And that was not just Oscar silliness, or the world getting swept up in some crazy 1995 shit. I just watched it again and 20 years later BABE is still a perfect movie.
George Miller’s THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is from a John Updike novel, adapted by Michael Cristofer (THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES). It’s a comedy about women in small towns, not the #1 topic I want in a George Miller movie. And yet it’s very much a George Miller movie. The town of Eastwick could be the New England sister-city to the location-less town in BABE. Looks old fashioned and storybook-like, people act nice and family-oriented, but many of them are uptight and judgmental of non-conformists. The title trio don’t intend to get involved in witchcraft, and when they do that’s not even what turns them into pariahs. It’s actually just them being accused of being hoes.
Our heroines are women left single in three different ways: Alex (Cher) is a widow, Jane (Susan Sarandon) just finalized her divorce, and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) was simply abandoned with her pack of daughters. They’re all kind of sad about their situations but they have each other, they hang out together and vent and have fun. When they’re real old I’m sure they’ll have cheesecake together and then open a hotel in Miami called The Golden Palace. (read the rest of this shit…)