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: Neon Maniacs (1986)

Also known as: Evil Dead Warriors (Philippines)
Release Date: March, 1986 (Paris Festival of Fantastic Films)
Directed by: Joseph Mangine
Written by: Mark Patrick Carducci
Music by: Kendall Schmidt
Cast: Leilani Sarelle, Alan Hayes, Andrew Divoff, P.R. Paul, Victor Brandt, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson

Anchor Bay Entertainment, Castle Hill Productions Inc., Bedford Entertainment Inc., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Now let me get this straight. You’re telling me that these, these things are inside the Golden Gate Bridge, one. Two, that they only come out at night. And three, that they’re responsible for the death of fifteen or more kids and three of my police officers? [breaks down laughing]” – Lt. Devin

I never actually knew of this film’s existence but based off of the poster, I’m pretty sure I would have rented this as a kid in the ’80s had I seen the video box somewhere. The only reason I found this is because it was suggested to me by Amazon and it was free for Prime members. Also, that same week, someone else mentioned the film.

Well, it does something kind of cool, which is that it has these monsters that have their own unique looks. They’re either a type of zombie or a breed of demon, it’s hard to really tell, but each one has its own gimmick. Almost like they were trying to turn them into a toy line.

There’s a samurai demon, a berserker demon and a bunch of other weird random ass demons.

But the fun stops there.

The film is dull as hell. The first big encounter with the demon creatures was decent but it certainly isn’t as good as what had become the slasher standard of the time.

Ultimately, this is poorly shot, poorly directed, poorly acted, has terrible sound, awful lighting and I’ve seen better cinematography in an episode of America’s Funniest People from 1989.

This was a tough film to sit through and I’m a guy that watches a large portion of dreadful motion pictures.

That poster is way too cool for this movie.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: The Dead Pit, The Kindred, Slime City and The Brain.

Film Review: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Release Date: October 23rd, 1987
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Jameson Parker, Alice Cooper, Peter Jason, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson

Alive Films, Carolco Pictures, Larry Franco Productions, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

prince_of_darknessReview:

This film came out in the middle of John Carpenter’s heyday. It was also the middle part of the loose trilogy he refers to as the Apocalypse Trilogy, which includes The Thing, this film and In The Mouth of Madness. All films are separate films but they follow a similar tone and a very stark “end of the world” vibe.

Prince of Darkness is an unsettling film and visually, one of the most striking in Carpenter’s pretty illustrious catalog. Other than The Thing, I find this film to be the most terrifying in his portfolio.

You never really know what is going on in this film but in a nutshell, the devil is coming back to Earth and the students trying to work on a strange science project, are being used as the vessel’s to bring forth his return. There is a mysterious cylinder of churning green liquid that works as the catalyst to propel the evil forward, there are zombie like hobos who have trapped the students inside the evil church with the green liquid, there are demon bugs, possessed characters and some pretty disturbing visuals. This film has made me fearful of someone spitting water in my face.

This is some of John Carpenter’s best work and one of my favorite horror films from the 80s. One can’t watch this movie for the first time and not feel uncomfortable. Even to this day, as many times as I have watched it, there are certain things in this film that still hit certain triggers that I had when seeing it for the first time when I was eleven or twelve.

I love this movie for what it is and how well it was executed. It has one of Carpenter’s best film scores and is one of the most original and intriguing movies he has made. The only thing really to fear though, is knowing that some schmuck will remake this someday.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Release Date: August 15th, 1984
Directed by: W.D. Richter
Written by: Earl Mac Rauch
Music by: Michael Boddicker
Cast: Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Lewis Smith, Rosalind Cash, Robert Ito, Pepe Serna, Ronald Lacey, Matt Clark, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Jonathan Banks, Dan Hedaya, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson

Sherwood Productions, 20th Century Fox, MGM Home Entertainment, 102 Minutes

adventures_of_buckaroo_banzaiReview:

There was a time when I absolutely loved this motion picture. That time was when I was six years-old and had discovered Buckaroo Banzai at the video store. It was cool, hip, full of aliens and weird sci-fi shit and it was full of 1980s cliches and tropes. And although I am pretty much a sucker for nostalgia, the movie just doesn’t bring me back to that awesome place like other films from the era do. It hasn’t aged well and even though it has some charm, it’s kind of just stupid and mostly boring.

Watching this now, at 38 years-old, was fairly disappointing. I expected to feel pleased and to really enjoy this picture like I do when I revisit Spielberg or Dante films. Hell, I recently watched The Wraith and Maximum Overdrive and still loved them despite their flaws. Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is just incredibly dated and the stuff that made it cool were done much better in other films. In fact, it isn’t a fresh set of ideas, it is an amalgamation of many things and frankly, it’s a mess because of it.

I can see now, why this film wasn’t a success even though the studio thought it was going to be a huge hit. The film, in its end credits, even mentions the name of the sequel that never came to be. It was supposed to kick off a franchise but that didn’t happen.

It is not for lack of talent though. This film stars Peter Weller and he’s backed up by Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Ellen Barkin, Clancy Brown, Pepe Serna, Jonathan Banks, Vincent Schiavelli, Ronald Lacey and a slew of others. This was also before most of those names hit it big. The casting director must have had an amazing eye for talent. Had this been released a few years later, with the same cast, Disney may have eventually bought the franchise in an effort to produce a third trilogy and endless spinoffs.

I’m not going to say that Buckaroo Banzai isn’t a fun movie, it is. It has some charm, it is fairly witty but it isn’t a classic and certainly isn’t a must see, unless you are trying to view the entire filmography of one of its many stars.

In my mind, this was a much better movie than what I watched. Memory is tricky like that. Besides, I don’t think I’ve watched this since it was on TV late at night in my teen years.

Rating: 6.5/10