Film Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Release Date: August 11th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Music by: Joseph Trapanese, N.W.A.
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.

Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, Broken Chair Flickz, Universal Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“They want N.W.A, let’s give em N.W.A.” – Eazy-E

*Written in 2015.

I have been waiting for this film to come out since I first heard about its development a few years ago.

N.W.A. is a group that I listened to almost since their inception and they had a big influence over me as a kid. Sure, my parents didn’t like me listening to them when I was in middle school but I really didn’t care and record stores didn’t really police their sale of explicit products to minors in the early ’90s. Well, some stores did but I avoided those.

This film was pretty fantastic. In fact, I’m going to go on and say that this is my favorite film of the year thus far. It was, by far, F. Gary Gray’s finest work as a director. Being that he has been a long time collaborator with the men who were the subject of this film, made it feel real personal and he had legitimate insight into the relationships of these guys. Additionally, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube consulting heavily on this film, we got one of the most accurate music biopics ever made. Granted, I’m sure they filtered in their own bias.

This, above all else, was a film about friendship – even more so than the history of N.W.A., Ruthless Records and Death Row. It showed five close friends coming up together and challenging a corrupt and oppressive system. It showed how they fought for freedom of speech and how they became the voice of a generation that was fed up – transcending their neighborhood and their race: effecting millions of people all over the world. Even when friendship dissolved, in the end, the love was still there and through all the bullshit and really bad blood, they were still brothers.

The acting was on point. Ice Cube was played by his real life son and he looked and sounded exactly like his father. In fact, most of the time, you only see him as Ice Cube and get lost in the performance. Pretty damn impressive for a kid who has never acted. Jason Mitchell was perfect as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti was a great choice for Jerry Heller and Neil Brown Jr. truly felt like DJ Yella. Corey Hawkins was good as Dr. Dre but was the weakest of the main actors. Aldis Hodge was okay as MC Ren but I felt like Ren really got the shaft in this film, as he was just in it. He wasn’t shown as a character of significance and someone of Ren’s presence, which he has a hell of a presence, should have been featured more. This film makes MC Ren just seem like the odd man out of the group and maybe that is because he never found the individual success of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.

Arabian Prince was completely shafted. He wasn’t even mentioned in the film. But if you remember the cover of the “Straight Outta Compton” album from 1988, there were six men in the photo. He was the sixth man, lost to history and forgotten. And I guess his role was so minimal, they really didn’t need to include him in the movie.

I did like how they featured the D.O.C., Warren G, Snoop Dogg, 2pac and mentioned Bone Thugs. I like how they tied in the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots, showing how N.W.A.’s music was almost prophetic without the film beating you over the head with it. The scene featuring the unity between the Bloods and Crips against the police was beautifully shot and executed.

Moving on, there are a few things I have to nitpick about with the film. For one, in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a black White Sox cap. Well, the White Sox didn’t wear the black uniforms until 1991 or so. In another scene, which takes place in 1993, Eazy-E is using a cordless phone model that didn’t come out until around 2000. I know, because I owned that same phone. Also, 2pac was recording “All Eyez On Me” in the studio with Dr. Dre while Eazy-E was still alive in the film. Eazy died in early 1995 while “All Eyez On Me” was recorded late in 1995 and released in early 1996. There were a few other weird discrepancies but I’ll stop being an asshole.

Besides, the film’s narrative was strong. The movie told a great story and that is the most important thing.

While I do feel that the film shows both the good and bad of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, I feel like this is through the eyes of Dre and Cube, which it is. I wish Eazy would’ve lived and would’ve been able to consult and flesh out his side of the story in the same way that Dre and Cube were able to do with the director. But to be fair, despite Eazy’s faults, he is still shown as a loveable yet tragic character and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube honored him for who he was.

The only big plot point that I felt was missing, was showcasing how heated the beef got between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. For those that experienced it, it was a big deal at the time and from a fan’s perspective, the beef felt irreconcilable. Dre and Eazy both expressed regret about it in the film but it wasn’t shown or discussed in any sort of detail.

Also, the film jumps over the whole NWA & The Posse era.

I feel that it is also important to point out how funny this film is. It isn’t a comedy but there are so many great comedic moments throughout the picture. Yes, it is a serious film that has very dark moments for each character but their is a light-hardheartedness about this film that really showcases the soul of these men.

In closing, Straight Outta Compton is a spectacular film whether or not you even care about hip-hop. For those that do care about this group, it gives you an intimate look into their lives and shows how everything went down, as accurately as can be portrayed on film. And being that I am a person that lived through all of this and remember it from the perspective of a fan, it is impossible to not fall victim to nostalgia. But in that nostalgia, one walks away feeling more intimately connected to something that has been a part of your life for a long time. This was a film just as much about those of us who rode along with N.W.A. from 1988-1992, as it was about the band itself.

F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube truly have a piece of work to be proud of. Don’t take your family though, unless you want Little Jimmy yelling “Fuck the Police” as he walks out of the theater. Then again, I was once Little Jimmy and I turned out just fine.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any top tier music biopic, really. This is just as good as the best of them.

Film Review: Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matt Spicer
Written by: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer
Music by: Jonathan Sadoff, Nick Thorburn
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff

Star Thrower Entertainment, 141 Entertainment, Mighty Engine, Neon, 97 Minutes

Review:

“…and also, no Batman talk!” – Ingrid, “What am I supposed to talk about? I don’t know these people!” – Dan, “Talk about something cool, like food or clothes or Joan Didion!” – Ingrid

I wanted to see this in the theater around mid-2017, when it came out. But it was only in my town for a cup of coffee and I was traveling for work at the time.

The film follows a young woman, Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), who obsesses over social media and stalks the girls she follows, trying to emulate them and essentially become them. The opening scene sees the final moments of her “relationship” with one of the people she follows. We then see her move on to Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a girl who lives in California. Ingrid takes the inheritance from her mother’s death and moves to Cali, in an effort to become friends with Taylor and to emulate her cool, social media projected lifestyle.

The film’s cast is rounded out by O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays a lovable character who is an aspiring screenwriter and has an obsession with Batman, Wyatt Russell as Taylor’s disenchanted and withdrawn “artist” husband, Billy Magnussen as Taylor’s incredibly douchey brother and Pom Klementieff in a fairly small but important role, as she drives the initial wedge between Ingrid and Taylor.

I liked this film for a lot of reasons but mostly because of how good Aubrey Plaza was in it. She is able to convey loneliness and an obsessive need for belonging in such a sad and tragic way that you almost excuse her behavior and just want to help her. She’s not dissimilar from a lot of people out there who obsess over this new breed of celebrities: social media “influencers”.

Really, Ingrid just wants a friend and wants to feel like she is someone but completely misses out on the fact that social media is mainly just manufactured bullshit that people use to project their ideal persona. None of it is really genuine or real and the film doesn’t just examine Ingrid’s side of the equation, it also examines Taylor’s and who she really is. This is kind of a necessary movie for this day and age.

In the end, Ingrid actually has what she needs in the character of O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s Dan. He loves her, cares for her and treats her better than anyone else in the film and ultimately, even when she burns him, he doesn’t leave her side and is a good support system.

I do have a problem with the film though and that is in how it wraps up. The first 90 percent of the picture was really good. I just felt that maybe the writers didn’t know how to conclude the story after using this well-crafted tale to make their points. Ingrid’s actions just feel too predictable at the end and the final moment brings things full circle to a point where you know that Ingrid didn’t really learn the lessons she should have and she’s now attained the superficial and artificial online life she craved.

Despite an unsatisfying ending, the rest of the story was well paced and pieced together nicely. The film is accented by nice cinematography and really effective lighting. Plaza and Jackson were the real highlight of this movie and had spectacular chemistry.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other films where Aubrey Plaza is the focal point.