Posts Tagged ‘Hip Hop’

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.47.53Considering his previous filmography – and upcoming projects (with Fast 8 doubtless to propel him back into the blockbuster sphere)– F. Gary Gray could have easily botched the biopic of N.W.A, throwing in mindless car chases and shoot-outs, and focusing far less on the politics and brotherhood of the band’s evolution. However, having had a six-year break since his last film, Law Abiding Citizen, it seems he has matured, and Straight Outta Compton is an extremely confident, compelling and often moving drama. Taking in $60 million in its U.S opening, it may still be a blockbuster, technically, yet it’s crafted with finesse, eschewing melodrama and action.

There’s a very artful quality to the film, not seen for a while in a biopic since The Social Network’s stylish profile of Facebook’s beginnings. This is largely down to Matthew Libatique, director of photographer on previous “pretty” films such as Black Swan, The Fountain and Requiem For A Dream (yes, all Darren Aronofsky). He’s no stranger to music and hip-hop, specifically, either, having worked on Tupac’s Live At The House Of Blues and Xzibit: Restless Xposed. He brings an extremely crisp and beautifully-lit essence to the film, as well as the kinetic vibe that pulses through this story. Despite an Oscar-nominated script, it is the cinematography that shines out in production terms.

The story, for those unaware, is finely knitted together, tightly observing the humble start of N.W.A, to the global notoriety, and the division of projects and partnerships. There are very few moments where you feel bored, and the honesty portrayed in terms of the backstabbing and turf wars is extremely refreshing to a film with producers so closely linked to the film*. Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff have penned a very intimate portrait of the five members. Imaginably, the surviving members have had quite a say on what can and cannot go into this film, yet that does not show – we see the twisted, aggressive and soft sides to these urban icons.

Focus is not completely shared, and this is mostly Eazy-E’s, Dr. Dre’s and Ice Cube’s rags to riches tale. MC Ren and DJ Yella are often just present. Still, you feel their camaraderie from the get-go, and as casting goes, this is sublime. Notably, Ice Cube is played by his son O’Shea Jackson Jr (in his first acting performance), somewhat distracting in terms of how eerily similar he is to his father. Nevertheless, his acting ability exceeds that of Cube, and Jackson Jr brings that stern charisma to the role. Dre’s embodiment is made by Corey Hawkins, playing the part as a quiet yet influential figure in the band’s upstart. Hawkins has a maturity deep within him that shines through for the almost-paternal Dre character (fatherly and brotherly, he is the one who softly guides them through). Despite Dre and Cube being far bigger names now, the spotlight is nearly entirely soaked up by Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Bringing rage, innocence, comedy and tragedy to the late figure requires  an awful amount of tact – Mitchell is an excellent actor in this regard.

As an ensemble piece, very few plotlines branch out too clumsily. Famous faces are shoehorned in at times (Tupac, and Snoop Dogg, to a degree), although you never forget their place in regard to the star players. The occasional peppering of cultural signifiers, such as the Rodney King trial, also work hand-in-hand with the band’s growth, and the political undertones are always poignant.

For those less interested in rap, it’s hard not to admire the power of their words, or the rhythm of their music. Certainly, for  a regular viewer who has never listened to N.W.A before, it’ll be a delightful education, and for fans, it’s a beautiful tribute to that band. With its raw depiction, and magnetic performances, Straight Outta Compton is a 2015 cinematic gem.


*Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are producers; Get On Up, the James Brown biopic had Mick Jagger – who closely knew Brown – felt too tame, probably at the request of Jagger who didn’t want to damage Brown’s image.

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There is something very refreshing about the way many East Asian directors approach genre in film. While Western film makers often have a very rigid, stubborn idea of the one genre film, many Japanese and South Korean film makers seem to play around with the concept. I think back to Shinji Aoyama’s Eureka as an articulate example of this; a family drama-cum road movie- cum serial killer thriller. Bringing such disparate genres together, melding and splicing them, brings the chance of new tones and feelings that a staid singular genre film cannot reach. Of course it doesn’t always work out, but isn’t there a beauty in the risk of glorious failure?

Which brings us to Shion Sono’s latest oddball extravaganza, Tokyo Tribe. Sono has a reputation as a cult director of dizzying invention and offbeat ideas. So I’ll throw this one out there and you try and catch it: Gaspar Noe directs a remake of The Warriors as if it was a sci-fi hip hop musical. Voila. Based on a series of manga books, we are thrown into an alternate Tokyo where the city is ruled by street gangs. The head honcho of the city Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) decides he wants to eradicate all the other gangs, initiating an all-out street war. A comically bullish and horny thug, he enlists the help of the peroxide-haired psychopath Mera (Ryohei Suzuki) to carry out his ruthless plans.

Fighting the good fight are the plucky Musashino clan, a wholesome street gang who preach peace and love. They enlist all the other city gangs in order to unite against the Buppa Town posse and save the city. In all honesty, there are a dizzying array of characters and plot threads to tend to; Sono has a gung ho, all-or-nothing approach to film making. As this is a hip hop musical, each character communicates in a stream-of-consciousness rap, backed by heavy, relentless beats and hazy synths.

It has the feel of an extended music video, but it never becomes tiring. The film is splattered with odd, surreal touches; a beatboxing maid had the audience tittering and bewildered.A gangster’s son has created his own art gallery of sculptures using people he has captured off the street. An ancient granny provides ominous interlude warnings as the resident DJ and MC. It is relentless in its mind boggling invention and desire to thrill. The music is joyously brassy and obnoxious, with Sono leaving restraint at the door. Sono films with a marauding handheld camera reminiscent of Noe’s Enter the Void, the city streets gleaming in neon lights and rain spattering down constantly.

Unfortunately the film sags a little in the third act as the wave after wave of street battles commence. This was never a film to go for half measures, but the initially exciting fight scenes become a little tiresome after the 333rd karate kick. The film works much better when it is more focused on the music and the attitude of the gangs, the ridiculous ceremony and ego boosting of hip hop. The ending, however, is only a minor bum note in the outrageously entertaining, invigorating, absurd circus that is Tokyo Tribe. 

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