Film Review: Juice (1992)

Also known as: Angel Town 2 (Europe video title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1992
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Ernest R. Dickerson, Gerard Brown
Music by: Hank Shocklee and The Bomb Squad
Cast: Omar Epps, Tupac Shakur, Jermaine Hopkins, Khalil Kain, Cindy Herron, Vincent Laresca, Samuel L. Jackson, George O. Gore II, Fab 5 Freddy, Doctor Dre, Ed Lover, Donald Faison, Oran “Juice” Jones, Special Ed, EPMD (Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith)

Island World, Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You gotta snap some collars and let them motherfuckers know you here to take them out anytime you feel like it! You gotta get the ground beneath your feet, partner, get the wind behind your back and go out in a blaze if you got to! Otherwise you ain’t shit! You might as well be dead your damn self!” – Bishop

Any film that opens with a Rakim song is going to get me pumped up. Juice opens up with the best Rakim song, so I was hooked right away.

Truth be told, this was a favorite film of mine during my middle school years. It came out at the very beginning of the black film movement that happened in the ’90s. This, along with New Jack CityBoyz N The Hood and Menace II Society made a huge cultural impact and for good reason.

Watching it now, I do notice some of the weaknesses of the film, which weren’t as apparent in my younger days.

A big part of the narrative towards the end of the movie has to do with how the gun crazy Bishop (Shakur) is pinning his killings and crimes on his ex-best friend Q (Epps). While Bishop gets his just desserts and Q survives, it’s left unknown what the outcome really was. Was Q in trouble? Would he still be punished for these crimes? Or would his other friend Steel, who survived an attempt on his life, be able to save his friend. While Steel mentions that Bishop is setting up Q to a nurse that is their friend, you don’t know if he survives his trip to the ER. I guess it is to be assumed that it worked out okay but after Bishop’s death, the film ends abruptly.

Another issue I have with the narrative, is that it doesn’t really develop Bishop’s power trip enough. Sure, having a gun is power but it is pretty one-dimensional in how it is handled. Also, the group of friends, who skip school and steal records, still feel like decent kids. The plot shifting to them all of a sudden deciding to rob a corner store just happens out of nowhere.

Still, shaky narrative aside, the film is an adrenaline rush, especially over the course of the last act.

It is well acted by all important parties in the film. Epps and Shakur are pretty exceptional and both men were incredibly young in this. In fact, this was what brought Tupac into the mainstream for most people. He was given an opportunity, ran with it and did great.

The film is very stylistic and represents early ’90s east coast hip-hop well. There are also cameos from several known rappers and hip-hop personalities besides Tupac: Queen Latifah, Treach, Special Ed, EPMD and from Yo! MTV Raps, Ed Lover, Doctor Dre and Fab 5 Freddy. You also get to see Samuel Jackson in an early role, just before he broke out as a star in 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

I also love that they focused a lot on Q’s quest to make it as a respected DJ in the super competitive New York City landscape. The movie does a good job of showcasing what DJ battles were like at the time, when DJs still mixed manually and didn’t have computers and gadgets to make their lives infinitely easier.

Juice is gritty and has a strong feeling of realism to it. Plus, it has a lot of energy and a great soundtrack.

Film Review: She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Also known as: Nola Darling (alternate international title)
Release Date: May, 1986 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Music by: Bill Lee
Cast: Tracy Camilla Johns, Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee, Raye Dowell, Fab 5 Freddy

40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Island Pictures, 84 Minutes, 88 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“It’s really about control, my body, my mind. Who was going to own it? Them? Or me? I’m not a one-man woman. Bottom line.” – Nola Darling

Everyone has to start somewhere and She’s Gotta Have It was where Spike Lee, one of the top directors of the last few decades, got his. It is also where his character Mars Blackmon originated from. You may remember Blackmon from all those Michael Jordan Nike commericals from the ’80s and ’90s. I think Lee still resurrects the character to this day, actually.

I wanted to revisit this film, as I haven’t actually seen it in at least fifteen years but I was always fond of it. Plus, Spike Lee has recently rebooted it for a television series on Netflix. Therefore, I wanted to re-familiarize myself with these characters before jumping into Lee’s new take on this story.

A lot of critics have referred to this as a romantic comedy with a feminist perspective but I think it’s more or less a romantic comedy with a realistic view. It isn’t just about Nola Darling (Johns) and what she wants, it is also about the men and what they want. You see, it is a story told from multiple perspectives.

You have Nola and you have the three men in her life, all of whom want her and her alone. Each man fills a specific need for Nola but ultimately, what this all comes down to is what does Nola really want and is it any of these three men on their own? It’s a film that explores sex in a way that popular romantic comedies at the time could not. And while most romantic comedies are Hollywood schlock, Spike Lee wrote something truly unique and exceptional here. It really isn’t a standard “romcom”, it’s a motion picture about relationships and people that is populated with amusing, charismatic characters.

I wouldn’t call this a well acted film but each of the main characters feels authentic. And each character is likable in their own way. Well, except for Greer (Terrell), who was such a fraudulent and self-absorbed jerk that you kind of wanted to wish him away. Props to John Canada Terrell though, who gave Greer life and did a great job making him a total narcissistic asshat. Really, you just wanted to see this competition for Nola’s heart come down to Jamie (Hicks) and Mars (Lee). Although, Jamie is a bit of an overprotective meddler that gets a bit rapey there towards the end. Really, I was pulling for Mars.

The point is, it doesn’t matter who Nola chooses, if she even chooses anyone at all. It is a story about her journey and seeking out what it is she needs. Any of these men had the freedom to walk away at any time and Nola was usually brutally honest, even if it didn’t deter the men. At one point, Nola even hosts Thanksgiving dinner with the three men as her guests. It’s a great scene where a lot of the emotional baggage of the characters comes to the forefront and certain stands are taken.

She’s Gotta Have It is a simple movie but it is also complex because people, at their core, are complex creatures. Most people don’t know what they want. Nola is someone that has the courage to try and figure that out. While most would be quick to condone her actions, she has certain qualities that people should aspire to possess. She’s not afraid of her desires and pursuing them in an honest and unapologetic way. Really, that’s kind of badass.

I like this film and it holds up quite well. It’s timeless in a way and maybe that’s just because of how it was shot and the great music. Spike Lee wrote a beautiful script, his father provided soulful tunes and the actors played their parts to perfection. It is a short and sweet film and even if it doesn’t come with a storybook happy ending, it leaves you with a satisfying one.

TV Review: Luke Cage (2016- )

Original Run: September 30th, 2016 – current
Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Cast: Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Alfre Woodard, Mustafa Shakir, Gabrielle Dennis, Ron Cephas Jones, Fab 5 Freddy (cameo), Method Man (cameo)

ABC Studios, Marvel, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 44-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

Luke Cage was the third of the four Marvel series being produced for Netflix. He is to be a member of the Defenders, who will get a minseries as a team, once all four heroes are introduced in their own series. We’ve already seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones (where Cage actually debuted) and we have Iron Fist coming up after this.

While Luke Cage is a superhero and actually a member of the Avengers in the comics. He is not an Avenger in the show, at least not at the moment. Also, the vibe of his show is much different from the ones before it. This is more of a modern blaxploitation series in its style and story.

Cage gains the power of being indestructible. It is a slow reveal as to how this happened and what it all means but he uses this ability to protect his neighborhood from the criminals that seek to exploit and destroy it. There are actually a few big villains in the show and each gets a good amount of time to be fleshed out and come to life. None of them, however, are as interesting as Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.

In fact, the chemistry between Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Ali is pretty uncanny. They played off of each other very well and their was a real weight to the tension between the two. Unfortunately, Ali is only in about the first half of the season and then the gears shift to the villain Diamondback.

The shifting gears is one of the issues I have with the show. In a way, the first season feels like two condensed seasons of a show compressed down into one. The tension and drama between Cage and Cottonmouth is essentially wiped away, just as it is reaching a really satisfying high. Then the stuff with Diamondback just isn’t as interesting, even if he and Cage have some cool fights.

I also have to mention the awesome work of Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi, who are both established as villains but they are big baddies to be explored more in the future. They have ties to everything that happens in the first season but are really just there to be a part of a much larger arc that has really just begun.

One thing that is amazing about the show is the score. It is produced by Adrian Younge alongside Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Also, the hip-hop tracks that are worked into the show are all pretty much fantastic choices that give the show a gritty New York vibe in the right sort of way. Also, every episode is named after a Gang Starr song. One of the musical highlights is definitely the live performance by Jidenna as he does his song “Long Live the Chief”. Also, look for a stupendous cameo from Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan towards the end of the first season.

Another cool thing about Luke Cage is it spends significant time trying to flesh out Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, who is the link to all these Defenders related Marvel shows. Dawson and Colter have a good bond and camaraderie that I hope to see explored more in the future.

Luke Cage is pretty good. I don’t enjoy it as much as Jessica Jones and Daredevil, thus far. However, it has promise and looks to be heading in the right direction with what it established in its first season.

Documentary Review: TV Party (2005)

Release Date: February 1st, 2005
Directed by: Danny Vinik
Music by: various artists featured in the film

Brink Films, 91 Minutes

tv_partyReview:

I love Amazon Video with my Prime account because I have access to a bunch of documentaries I probably wouldn’t even know about otherwise. I stumbled across this one and was glad I did, as I have known about the old New York City public access show Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party for a long time but have never been able to see more than just a few clips.

For those who don’t know, TV host, fashion expert and writer Glenn O’Brien with Blondie’s Chris Stein formed TV Party as an outlet for the young people of New York City’s urban scene. It featured punk, hip-hop and a multitude of other music styles, as well as art, comedy and pretty much whatever else they wanted to throw at the public.

Others who contributed to the show were Fab 5 Freddy, Debbie Harry from Blondie, Walter Steding and Amos Poe. Guests ranged from Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Byrne, Mick Jones, James Chance and others from the music and art scene.

The TV Party documentary shows how the show came to be, how it was orchestrated once on the air and how it ultimately came to its end. It gives us a glimpse into an incredible cultural era in the biggest city in America.

The documentary is well-produced, well-executed and covers more than I thought it could in its 90 minute running time.

The interviews with O’Brien, Fab 5 Freddy, Debbie Harry, Walter Steding and others were eye-opening and engaging. It made me appreciate what this all was even more so than I did already, even not having seen a full episode.

TV Party was a special show while it lasted and it opened the door for a lot of people and helped shape pop culture after it. It most likely had a big influence on what MTV became and it helped give careers to many of the people involved.