Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton (2015) has been on my to-watch list since its premiere this summer.  Sadly, I was never able to see it in theaters, but I was lucky enough to just get it sent to me thanks to Netflix.  Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the review, I think it would be good to give you some background on my relationship to the film.  I was born and lived in California for a good part of my life, so I had heard of NWA, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Tu Pac, and Snoop Dogg.  However, it wasn’t until I was 13 and living in Washington state that I actually started listening to their music.  By that time (1997), Ice Cube wasn’t making music, Dre was producing, Tu Pac was dead (but still making albums?), and Snoop Dogg was doing his thing.  I was more familiar with a lot of the cultural events surrounding the film’s era, that of the Rodney King riots in 1993.  I was actually living in Ventura county at that time and remember seeing the events unfold on the television.

What impressed me with this film is that it morphed from being a film about a group of friends in Compton trying to make it big to adults looking to settle into careers, and find out what matters in life.  There was a lot of people who buzzed about this being a “black” film, which always bothered me.  We don’t label movies that feature white individuals as “white” movies, so why should this apply to minorities?  Sure, I’ve never lived in Compton and never had to navigate drugs and gangs, but that’s not the only focus of this film.  For me, the film shifts the focus from this subculture and instead shows us how each one of the individuals reacts to becoming adults and professionals as well as reacting to volatile current events.  That’s where I feel the universal access lies.  I can relate to those life situations and am therefore able to sympathize and relate to the conflicts and the characters.  Obviously that’s not to say that I’m boiling down all of the conflicts regarding the music industry, but that’s my job as a viewer is to try and find the theme of the film and dialogue with it.  The actors and directors should be telling their stories in such a way that I’m able to access this universal theme without watering down their stories. It’s not an easy job, but movies that can transcend entertainment and reach universal access to their viewers are art in my books.  After all, isn’t art supposed to be the artists interpretation of life around s/he?

Having viewed the film, I’m very disappointed it wasn’t nominated as a Best Picture.  To think that events in the early 1990’s are echoes of what we are STILL dealing with today is exactly what art-as-film should be doing.  By ignoring this dialogue with our contemporary culture I feel that the Academy is ignoring an important analysis of our society.  Shame on them.

I highly recommend this film.  Before you view it, just know that the film was produced by several individuals who are the subjects of the film, so there’s some editing to make them look better than I’m sure they actually were in real life.  However, I didn’t get the feeling that they were telling a story that was fake.  I do think the message the film leaves us with is so pertinent to our discussion of race relations.  It also makes a good cultural piece along with Beyonce’s “Formation”.  If I were teaching a cultural literacy course, I would teach these to as part of a unit.  I would probably also add Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing as well.

Hobbies: A Development

One of my goals for this has been to really develop and evolve the hobbies that I’m interested in.  Right now my list of hobbies includes reading, watching movies, listening to music, and cooking.  So far reading has taken off as the hobby that is the most developed.  That’s mostly thanks to me being and English teacher but also thanks to being part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge to read at least 52 books in a year.  I’ve also started a similar program with my students, so I feel very confident that this hobby is well on its way.

Movies.  I’ve become very selective with what I watch.  My time is valuable and I know what I like.  Plus theaters are starting to charge an arm and a leg these days.  (A BIG shout out to Cinemark in Woodridge, IL for having a 1/2 Tuesday special.  They’ve become my theater of choice).  But what about movies I watch at home?  Good question.  I’ve recently begun to re-watch movies that I own just to see if my tastes have changed so much that I still enjoy the film or not or whether it’s time to send the film elsewhere.  I also have a Netflix queue that is longer than the day is long.  So, that’s where the next set of blogs is going to come from.  I’ve decided that I’m going to add my voice to the conversation regarding films.  I’m already a few films behind, but that’s the nice thing about hobbies.  I get to go at my own pace.  So be on the lookout for film reviews from here on out.  Let’s hope that this becomes a habit.  I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the films I review. I’m open a good respectful discussion.

August: Osage County

Several years ago I took a modern American drama course.  One of the first Journeyplays we read was Eugen O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey into Night.  It broke me.  It’s the story of one family’s intricate relationships complicated by one of the character’s addictions.  What touched me the most was the complex relationship the character’s had with one another-the guilt, the anger, the frustration, the love.  All of the layered emotions in each relationship felt very authentic.  Too authentic.  It was hard not to project the relationships I have with my family onto the characters.

Since then I haven’t been able to find another work that has touched me quite the same way.  Until I watched, August: Osage County (2013).  I didn’t know anything about the film, other than it garnered some award season buzz, but didn’t haul much in, if I remember correctly.  As for the story, I just knew there was a death in the family and family drama ensued.  Little did I know that it was based on a play and one that had all the trappings of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

The film tells back story without sacrificing momentum.  Each of the characters is fleshed out using sharp dialogue and superb acting.  I expected nothing less from the main stars, Meryl Streep and Margot Martindale, but I was delightfully impressed with Julia Roberts.  I’m not a big fan of hers, but this role brought out a side of her I’ve never seen.  Instead of being pretentious and overreaching, I felt that she was committed to the role and sincere in her delivery.

Just like Long Day’s, this film’s portrayal of a family doing what families do, and being what families are spoke Augustto me in a way that few films do.  I couldn’t help identifying characters in my own family and extended family in the film’s cast.  While the ending is vague, it’s not the completion of the journey, it’s the journey itself.  I like endings that give proper denouement to the plot, but this time I didn’t care.  I feel like the journey to the conclusion of the film was reward enough.

The characters and the plot are equally layered.  And as the film progresses, each of these layers are introduced and developed.  Like a good dessert each time a new layer is a new sensation and mixes rather than over powers the previous layers.  By the time we get halfway into the film, I was hooked.  I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next.

Out of five stars I give it…five stars.  I recommend this to anyone who enjoys family dramas that get at the heart at what it means to be a part of a family.  Also, since it’s based on a play, I will be reading and reviewing the play in the future.  I look forward to it.  But don’t take my word for it.