Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Movie Review- Straight Outta Compton

O'Shea Jackson Jr. channels his father O'Shea 'Ice Cube' Jackson in, Straight Outta Compton

Introduction

As a young white boy growing up in the late 1980's, I found myself fortunate enough to have a wide range of musical taste. I listened to 50's and 60's pop/rock & roll (Well, more like subjected to it by my elders over and over again until I memorized nearly every damn song. I'm still trying to get, "My baby does the hanky panky" out of my head). When I was lucky enough to have some alone time (pre-masturbation years), I'd listen to the radio, or watch music videos on that still existing cable station that long ago forgot what music was. I guess that teens with poor judgment skills and celebrity house tours, pull in better ratings. I would continuously watch/listen to what was most popular at the time (Bobby Brown, Guns N' Roses, 2 Live Crew, Def Leppard, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, and the list goes on). Inevitably because of my lower budget surroundings, I was introduced to early gangster rap. Let's face it; White boys from those types of areas almost always become either gangsta wannabes or headbangers. I got headaches easily so, I veered more towards hip hop. Aside from being an easily impressionable poser, I really got into the music. Too Short, Eazy-E, N.W.A., The D.O.C., and a few others, became part of my daily brainwashing ritual. I eventually realized how stupid I was acting with my homeboy accent, gangsta limp, and swap meet gold painted Africa medallion having neck chain. But the music never left me. I just wish that I had understood the message as well back then as I do now. Early gangster rap had a message. In between all of the 'blunts, forties, and bitches', was an urban cautionary tale about drug abuse, police brutality, unprotected sex, racism, desperation, and overall destitution. N.W.A.'s first album, "Straight Outta Compton", covered all of those topics and more. The popularity of that album, brought to light the realities of urban street life to millions of oblivious Americans and, it did it with some style. They were the west coast's version of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and, their influence is still going strong a quarter of a century later.

Straight Outta Compton

A biopic about the rise and fall of N.W.A. was inevitable. What wasn't predictable though, was the fact that another film, about another band, would be done so well. Straight Outta Compton, is a good movie. It grabbed ahold of me from the first scene until the end credits were over. Director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off), has assembled a fine piece of American cinema with some beautiful cinematography. Instead of feeling like I was just going through the motions with this film, I was on a journey with these characters that I didn't want to stop. If this film were presented in its original three and a half hour cut, I'd probably still want more. The last biopic that I saw that was this good, was with 2004's Walk the Line, and honestly, I liked this better. No offense to the man in black but, this movie brings me back to my childhood (Less in the way of life and more in the music and characters. I lived in the semi-hood, where drive-bys and jaded cops were much less frequent). For the vast majority of the film, there is no grandstanding, it just tells the story. Is it a hundred percent accurate? Of course not, it's a movie. Some characters and events are omitted and, some things seem to rely on the audience's knowledge of its history. A lot of things do get skipped but, that's what Wikipedia is for. My only real complaint, is that the second half isn't as stable as the first. Once the band splits up, so does the story and, it tries to cover too much ground by tying up all the loose ends instead of slowing down and securing its characters. But somehow, it's still good regardless.

The story focuses entirely on Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E, while the other band members, MC Ren and DJ Yella, are treated like the Ringo Starr's of the group. The casting of this film is spot on with its comparable looking actors. Corey Hawkins (Non-Stop), O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Cube's real life son), and Jason Mitchell (Contraband), play Dre, Cube, and Eazy, to a T. But Mitchell is the surprising one. Along with reflecting Eazy-E's facade, he also brings to life a sympathetic side of the man that we never saw in the old videos and interviews. It's an award worthy performance that deserves recognition. Scenes where he and the others are dealing with some superiority complex having police officers, adds a level of tension that connects the audience even more to their characters. One of those scenes in particular, has Paul Giamatti's (Cinderella Man) N.W.A. manager, Jerry Heller, yelling at those cops for their brutality to his clients. It's a strong scene and Giamatti plays it so damn good. He's so good in the role that even when suspicions arise about his character, he makes you believe that he could still be innocent and makes you feel guilty for thinking otherwise. Most of the film's many costars have but a few lines to say and disappear as quickly as they come but, R. Marcos Taylor (Dead Man Down) as infamous Death Row Records kingpin, Suge Knight, stands out in not just size alone. He also intimidates with his dead stares and alpha male influence. Everyone does a great job even when some situations might be exaggerated. Example: The death of Eazy-E (If you didn't already know that that happens, then how did you find time to come out from under that rock you've been hiding to read this review?) is handled in a way that's a touch oversentimental and feels more like a regretful reenactment of those who didn't say goodbye to him properly in real life.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, of Straight Outta Compton

The Good- Don't flip gang signs from a school bus, Eazy's first recording session, never let your girlfriend stay in a hotel with N.W.A., the guys listen to Cube's "No Vaseline" and react accordingly, and Dre gets pissed off at a Death Row party.
The Bad- Gray, having directed Ice Cube in, Friday, should have probably skipped having a scene in this where Cube is writing the script for Friday, and instead having something that seemed less self masturbatory.
The Ugly- It's sad (and selfish) of me to think that if Eazy-E had slapped on a condom from time to time, we would have had at least one N.W.A. reunion album if not many more. Or was that Suge's fault?

Final Thoughts on Straight Outta Compton

I think that Straight Outta Compton will resonate more with those who were alive at the time of its setting but, it's one of those movies that's so good, you could enjoy it even without having any prior knowledge of its origins. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll say nigga (Sam Jackson gave me permission to say it)! I can't wait for a Director's Cut of this film. Niggas With Attitudes? More like, Niggas With Awardnominationsfortherestoftheyear! That's a word, I swear.
Rating- 8.5 out of 10
Running Time- 147 Minutes
Drama/Biography

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