Film Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Release Date: May 13th, 1991 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Redge Green, Dedrick D. Gobert, Regina King, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Whitman Mayo

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Why is it that there is a gun shop on almost every corner in this community?” – Furious Styles, “Why?” – The Old Man, “I’ll tell you why. For the same reason that there is a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves.” – Furious Styles

Boyz N The Hood was a movie that had a pretty big impact on me in my middle school years. I was going into 7th grade when it came out but by the time it hit video, I rented it a lot.

What lured me into it was the edge the film had with Ice Cube in it, a rapper I listened to almost daily back then. But beyond that, I was pulled into John Singleton’s unique knack for storytelling. While this is well acted, a lot of the story and emotion comes through in more of a visual way.

Unlike many of the “gangsta” films that came out after and were inspired by this and Marion Van Peebles’ New Jack City, this one is truly a masterpiece on just about every level. And, once seeing this, it is easy to understand how this film gave birth to a new genre in the early ’90s.

To start, the acting by just about everyone in this picture is superb. The main cast delivers their performances with passion and gusto.

I love how in your face Ice Cube can be but there is a subtle gentleness under the surface that really comes out in his final scene, which is still maybe the best he’s ever been onscreen.

Cuba Gooding Jr. gave a somewhat understated performance that worked really well for his character and when the point comes in the movie for him to show real emotion, it has an impact that might have been lacking without his cool and chill demeanor leading up to it.

I also like Morris Chestnut, who is mostly just a regular guy here. He’s got issues but he’s a guy with a bright future, which makes his fate in the film extremely tough to process no matter how many times you’ve seen this play out.

The real scene stealer is Laurence Fishburne and while that shouldn’t be surprising, this was pretty early in his career and even though he’d been in many films before this, it is his role here that put his career path on a strong upward trajectory.

It’s also worth pointing out how beautiful and perfect Stanley Clarke’s score is. The music conveys real emotion and it grounds the drama in a way that the mostly hip-hop soundtrack can’t on its own. There is a great balance between hip-hop, soul and the score itself. However, in contrast to what became typical of this style of film after Boyz N the Hood, this doesn’t use a ton of rap music. It’s there where it needs to be but this wasn’t a movie that was trying to sell soundtrack tie-ins like everything that copied it. And it’s not that that’s a bad thing and I didn’t even notice it back in the day but seeing this film now, it was kind of refreshing knowing that the filmmaker relied heavily on his composer to assist with the tone and the movement of the plot. Side note: Stanley Clarke’s first score was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which got him an Emmy nomination.

This is a heavy and emotional film; it works because it feels genuine and real. It has aged tremendously well and is kind of timeless, even if it is set in a specific era that comes with its own stylistic and cultural tropes.

Singleton, with Boyz N the Hood, crafted a perfect motion picture that deserves to be called a masterpiece and is still above all the films that came along and tried to emulate it. Not bad for a first time director.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Menace II SocietySouth CentralColors, Baby Boy, Higher Learning and Poetic Justice.

Film Review: Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Also known as: Prom Night 2 (shortened title), The Haunting of Hamilton High (Germany)
Release Date: May 11th, 1987 (Cannes)
Directed by: Bruce Pittman
Written by: Ron Oliver
Music by: Paul Zaza
Cast: Michael Ironside, Wendy Lyon, Justin Louis, Lisa Schrage, Richard Monette

Simcom Limited, Allarcom Limited, British Columbia Television, Norstar Releasing, Alliance Atlantis, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 97 Minutes

Review:

“It’s not who you come with, it’s who takes you home.” – Mary Lou Maloney

Surprisingly, I had never seen this movie before. But thanks to it being featured on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I finally got to check it out. I also had no idea that this wasn’t an actual sequel to the first film and was it’s own thing that only took the Prom Night title after it was filmed. I guess that was to market it better.

Originally titled The Haunting of Hamilton High, this cheap Canadian horror film stands out well on its own and maybe would’ve had more of a cult following had it stuck to that original title. And even though its premise borrows quite heavily from Carrie, it’s different enough to not just be a simple ripoff of that film.

Also, like Carrie, the girl with the magical powers that ruins the prom is an innocent victim. However, she is played up here as evil because I guess sluts are bad. But before she died, she was simply horny and cheating on her boyfriend. Now her boyfriend burns her alive but it was an accident. But the adult version of him, played by Michael Ironside, is pretty much a target when Mary Lou comes back from the dead 30 years later.

So with magic and the undead involved, this isn’t a straight up slasher like its predecessor in name only. This is one of those supernatural slashers, where the evil presence possesses other people and also uses a sort of telekinetic power. Or she just attacks as an invisible ghost, it’s hard to say which one it is for sure when she murders the pregnant teen by hanging her. But later on, she does telekinetically explode neon signs, which impale a girl.

While this is not a great movie, it doesn’t need to be. It does its job, it entertains and it leaves horny teenagers in its wake. What more do you want with an ’80s horror picture? Sure, it could have gored it up a bit more but it’s not completely lacking in that regard.

Also, Michael Ironside is a fucking bawse!

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Carrie and all its sequels/reboots, as well as the other Prom Night movies even if they are unrelated.

Film Review: Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)

Also known as: Howling III (original title), Wolfmen (Germany)
Release Date: May 15th, 1987 (Cannes)
Directed by: Philippe Mora
Written by: Gary Brandner, Philippe Mora
Based on: The Howling III: Echoes by Gary Brandner
Music by: Allan Zavod
Cast: Barry Otto, Imogen Annesley, Leigh Biolos, Ralph Cotterill

Bancannia Holdings Pty. Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 98 Minutes

Review:

“You know this movie’s about pop culture? In the 60s, Andy Warhol showed us how Pop could be high art. That everything is high art. That’s what this is all about. For example, in your first scene you’ll be gang raped by four monsters.” – Jack Citron

I remember seeing one of the later Howling sequels when I was a kid. I think it was part IV or V. I also remember it being absolute shit. While part II is also crap, it is very endearing, has Christopher Lee in it, Sybil Danning’s breasts and also boasts great music from Babel.

So I have never seen this one but I’ve been intrigued by it for years, because it features werewolves that are marsupials. I don’t know why that would intrigue me but it sounded so batshit crazy that it might work in some way.

It doesn’t work. In fact, this is a movie that hurt my head and I felt like I was in physical and mental pain trying to get to the end.

The werewolves here are Australian and unlike our American (or European) werewolves, they are descended from extinct marsupial thylacines a.k.a. Tasmanian tigers. So they have stomach pouches for their babies, as well as tiger striped asses. Seriously, I’m not making this up.

Anyway, a werewolf girl escapes into normal Sydney society, falls in love, gets preggers and then a strobelight at a party makes here wolf out. The dumb guy that loves her, follows her back into the Outback to have a werewolf family in the wilderness. A government agency gets involved, experiments on werewolves and shit hits the fan.

There is one really cool and really bizarre scene where a ballerina doing a spin starts wolfing out and then eats a male ballerina on stage in front of people. Also, the werewolf nuns are equal parts freaky and stupid.

Howling III is far from a decent movie. It’s really damn bad with bad camerawork, shrill sound and lowest common denominator practical effects.

This made me not want to watch the other sequels but I still probably will because I torture myself just to review all of the terrible cinematic shit on God’s green Earth.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Howling sequels.

Film Review: Society (1989)

Also known as: The Shunting (original script title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Woody Keith, Rick Fry
Music by: Mark Ryder, Phil Davies
Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson

Wild Street Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Is it really that boring being rich? I guess you’re just naturally fucked up.” – Sergeant Burt

Do you like feeling disgusted? Do you like being uncomfortable? Do you sometimes wish that you could replace your butthole with your face? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you’ll probably really dig Brian Yuzna’s Society.

In the same vein as Yuzna’s other body horror films, this one really pushes some boundaries but it does so with the element of sex thrown in. For many, this will be a challenging film to sit through. For fans of Yuzna’s other pictures, this is just a quaint Saturday afternoon with a bucket of popcorn in your lap.

The film is made as a sort of critique on high society, specifically the super rich and their super rich culture, detached from the reality that 99 percent of the people on Earth live. It follows a high school kid from a super rich family with super rich friends and all the baggage that comes with that stuff. Add in that this also comes with a hearty helping of ’80s Hollywood teen yuppie shenanigans and the setup to this picture isn’t too dissimilar from the standard ’80s teen comedy.

However, as the film rolls on, really weird things happen. I don’t want to spoil any plot details but this ends with a pretty insane finale that features the most bizarre orgy you will probably ever see. In fact, if you’ve seen an orgy more bizarre than this, no one needs to know about it.

For ’80s horror fans that love practical effects, this film is absolutely fucking impressive. Yuzna takes his horror effects experience from Re-Animator and From Beyond and then sexualizes it. But he doesn’t just sexualize it, he ups the ante in unfathomable ways, which have to be seen to be believed.

Now I’m not trying to over hype the insanity but I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of horror movies and there is nothing quite like this.

But with all that being said, there isn’t much more to this film than it’s incredibly disturbing payoff. It builds suspense fairly decently but the film feels dragged out in parts. Maybe it works better if you don’t have an idea of what’s coming. But if you’re aware of what the story leads to, which will be ruined by the trailer or anyone talking about this film, then you kind of just want the movie to hurry up and get to the craziness.

I do like Society and its special effects are superb but it’s not in the top tier of Yuzna’s work. While it may be more shocking, which I know is saying a lot, it just lacks the story and the likable characters of his other films.

Lastly, how the fuck did this come out at Cannes?!

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Brian Yuzna films: Re-Animator and its sequels, From BeyondReturn of the Living Dead IIIDagon, etc.

Film Review: You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Also known as: A Beautiful Day (Germany, France, Italy)
Release Date: May 27th, 2017 (Cannes)
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay
Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Why Not Productions, Page 114, Amazon Studios, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Where you spend your time? What do you do?” – Joe’s Mother

I heard a lot of exceptional things about this film and it sort of came and went without much fanfare, even though it premiered last year at Cannes. It’s an Amazon Studios film and they’ve been putting out a lot of great indie pictures, as of late.

While I enjoyed this, it didn’t blow me away like it seems to have for so many others.

To start, Joaquin Phoenix is damn good in this. He plays this character almost in monotone and it’s an understated performance but it works so well that it gives the character more depth and meaning than being overly emotional or rampaging against the vile scum in the film.

Phoenix is almost sweet even though he becomes a one man killing machine in his effort to save a very young girl from high profile sexual predators. The film is similar in a lot of ways to Taxi Driver but the main character is almost the antithesis of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Granted, both men are damaged but Phoenix’s Joe is a lot less outwardly emotional.

Young actress, Ekaterina Samsonov, was also pretty stellar and her performance was understated, as well. It makes me wonder if things naturally flowed this way or if it was the director’s choice to have her two leads perform in a more subtle style. Whatever the case, it works for both characters and the tone of the film, as it feels more organic and natural than what’s typical in these types of pictures.

I thought that the cinematography and mise-en-scène had an enchanting quality from shot to shot. There was a lot of detail to absorb but the stylistic choices really supported the narrative and the overall tone.

All the parts came together quite nicely but if I had to nitpick, I’d say that this did lack some excitement. It’s hard to see a picture like this and not expect some good action. There almost is none, really. This is more about the emotional journey of the characters within the story than being an uber violent revenge flick.

I’m all for artistic license but I really wanted to see Pheonix actually go ape shit on the evil bastards in the film. But I’m also a child of the ’80s and devoured ’80s action films like an old lady at a bon bon buffet.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other modern vigilante films: the Death Wish remake, the Taken films, Death Sentence.

Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Also known as: Black Klansman (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2018 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Nicholas Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte

Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, QC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Focus Features, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Darn tootin'” – David Duke

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. I have to get that out of the way because it’s probably going to sound like I’m overly critical of it, as I continue on in this review.

First and foremost, it was a solid, interesting story with actors that I thought handled the material well. In regards to Adam Driver, this was the first thing that I have seen him in where he wasn’t Kylo Ren or that stupid Logan Lucky movie that made me want to burn the theater down. I really got to see his legit acting chops on full display and I was impressed. He lived up to what other people have told me about him. Well, mostly girls that wanted me to watch Girls. No thanks.

One major thing about this film is that it is based on a true story, the biographical account of these events by the real Ron Stallworth, the main character in the film. The problem, which happens with many Spike Lee movies, is that the director takes some tremendous liberties and sort of uses the real story as a basis to weave his films the way he sees fit, whether honest, accurate or not.

One major moment in this film is the big jab at the end where Stallworth calls David Duke to reveal that he was a black man the entire time. This never happened and Duke wasn’t ever privy to Stallworth being black until it was revealed to him in an interview in 2006.

Another issue I have with the film is that it works perfectly as its own tale but once you get to the end, it immediately switches to real world footage of the 2017 Charlottesville incident. I understand the parallels, everyone does, this film does a great job of painting the picture that Spike Lee needs to get his message across but the switch to modern real world footage is jarring. I know that it is supposed to be jarring but it isn’t jarring because of the incident itself, which is still very fresh in the public’s mind, but because it cheapens the film from an artistic standpoint. It’s heavy handed and forcibly shoehorned into the film in a way that cheapens the effect of Spike’s own picture, basically saying, “Hey, if you don’t get the message after this 135 minute beautiful film I did, than here’s a hammer to the face just to make sure you got it.” Spike Lee is talented enough to make films that speak for themselves and can lead his audience where he needs to without the hammer to the face. And this also looks like he has a lack of confidence in his own storytelling abilities; he shouldn’t. This worked without the exclamation point.

Additionally, this movie was released almost on the one year anniversary of the incident, which means it was already being made and Lee decided to tie it into Charlottesville after the fact or that it was made as a response to it and rushed out, which gets into some of the technical problems the film had.

Most of the film flowed well but there are some key points where I noticed clunky editing and transitions as well as bad audio management. Sometimes it felt as if something got cut from the film, it jumped to the scene after and the transitions were already done so they didn’t really bother to smooth out and polish the later cuts from the film.

Another thing that bothered me was Lee’s apparent lack of environmental awareness. I’ll give two examples.

One, when Stallworth is following the Klansman on a dark country road at night, the Klansman is able to see that a black man is behind him. I’ve driven on dark country roads. You can’t see the face of the person behind you, all you can see is their headlights. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t made into a somewhat important plot point that had an effect on three different scenes.

Two, when Stallworth is watching the Klan meeting towards the end of the movie, he’s watching from a second story window overlooking the meeting room. He is in direct view of David Duke, who is on the stage giving a speech. Every time they show the back wall with the windows you can see the silhouette of Stallworth’s head with it’s large afro. There’s no way that Duke wouldn’t see this while pontificating out to the crowd and while probably paying attention to his surroundings, as he has had threats and is under police protection.

I’m not sure if Spike Lee just doesn’t care about these details, as just telling the story is most important, or if he just didn’t think these scenes through. Again, maybe the film was rushed to try and get it out on the anniversary of Charlottesville.

Another thing that I disliked and it isn’t just in this film, it’s in a lot of films, is that it portrays the vast majority of KKK members (and general bigots) as buffoons. I’m certainly not defending those scumbags but I think in doing that, it dumbs them down in a situation where you need to show how much of a threat they actually are to all people and society as a whole. Are many of them dumb rednecks? Most likely, but playing some of them up for comedic value just makes them bumbling idiots and doesn’t really display them as beacons of pure evil. Granted, I thought Topher Grace did a good job in the role of David Duke and the local president of the KKK also played the role straight but they were the only two.

However, why the hell did Spike Lee cast Nicholas Turturro as a KKK member? Turturro is Italian as fuck and I am also part Italian and I’m pretty sure the Klan didn’t like us either. I guess Spike always needs a Turturro in a movie but this wasn’t the right spot for him and he stuck out like a sore thumb talking and jiving like a Little Italy gelato shop owner.

But enough griping.

I really enjoyed John David Washington as the star of this film. He hasn’t done much but he proved that he is an actor more deserving of bigger roles. Also, Laura Harrier was fantastic and the only other thing I’ve seen her in is Spider-Man: Homecoming. This role was a big jump for her but she knocked it out of the park and hopefully, gets more prominent roles after this film. I also might be crushing hard on her after this.

Back to Adam Driver, he was the focal point of the most challenging scenes in the film and he really steals the picture when he’s present. A lot of the material had to have been difficult but he nails it and carries the bulk of the film on his back.

Spike Lee crafted a pretty good movie, the running time was a bit long but he tends to do that. Initially, it wasn’t as preachy as I thought it would be. Well, at least until the blunt instrument to the face in the last few minutes, but the film made its point very well without him needing to spell it out in all caps like an angry twelve year-old girl tweeting about a breakup.

But, in the end, this was refreshing in a summer full of blockbuster duds.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Spike Lee movies: Do the Right ThingMalcolm X and Bamboozled.