DVD Review: Straight Outta Compton

Straight-Outta-Compton
Straight Outta Compton tells the story of the rise and fall of N.W.A., and the unleashing of an eventual musical and sociocultural revolution.

DISCLAIMER: This was to be my movie review months ago. I will admit to procrastinating on this. There have been other movies I’ve been too lazy about writing a review on in the past. However I couldn’t avoid writing a movie review on this. Not after its screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. So here it is, finally!

The summer of 2015 was filled with anticipated blockbusters but every now and then, there’s a ‘sleeper hit’ that comes from nowhere to win the movie crowds. This summer’s such hit was Straight Outta Compton. You can easily see why it was a hit.

I don’t have to go into details about the plot since most of you have already seen it. Besides I’ve already elaborate how the album Straight Outta Compton¬†created a revolution in rap, in R&B music, in music as a whole and in pop culture. Click here for the elaboration. Sure, the gangsta rap that N.W.A. seem to have invented may have become the new modern day version of blues but it was a lot more. Much more!

Now focusing to the movie, the film was trying to state a lot of points. The obvious as I’ve elaborated on is how N.W.A. was a game-changer not just in music but in pop culture as well. The film shows how they made it happen. However I think the film was trying to put out its own points for the whole N.W.A. story. I believe the biggest point the film is trying to push is that Eazy-E was the heart and soul of the group. Sure, Dre and Ice Cube have had the hugest post-breakup success of all the members but it was Eazy-E who helped get it off the ground and was the biggest benefactor in making N.W.A. N.W.A. Even after he breaks free from Heller, he’s seen as the one who was going to bring N.W.A. back and any hopes of N.W.A. coming back ended when he died. Ironically this film came out 20 years after Eazy’s death. You’re led to think that way right at the end of the film.

Another top point I feel the film is trying to promote is that the biggest adversary to N.W.A. was the music business. Sure they had a lot of adversaries in their time from family pressures to their run-ins with the law to getting records out when major record companies were afraid to touch them to pushy watchdog groups of parents trying to protect their children to the police forces. They overcame them all despite the tense moments they encountered with them but I believe the film is showing that the powers that be in the music industry as well as their own ambitions were the adversaries they could not overcome.

The first sign you get about this is during the interview where they get heat for their lyrics but one reporter asks Ice Cube what he spent his last cheque on. His response, ‘Raiders gear,” is already sending a message about the type of problems they will encounter with the music business in the time to come. Problems that would eventually lead to their own split and their own personal creative pursuits. It also ends on the same note at the end as Dr. Dre leaves Suge Knight to start his own label. I think the point they were getting across is that any music act is better off being their own boss and that ending was not just sending the message but also the turning point where Dr. Dre came into his own. That’s it. I think the music industry had to be one of the biggest focal points in the movie if not the biggest.

Also an afterthought. I know I elaborated a lot about how N.W.A. and Straight Outta Compton changed music and pop culture. The thing is it happened not just with the success of the album but also of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube going their own directions. Their own personal paths started on an abrupt note but it produced so much like Dre’s own raps and the various acts he shelled out and even Cube’s solo rap career and film career starting with Friday which would eventually pave the way for other rappers to secure acting roles. However I saw N.W.A. as a group of five friends. A friendship that was strong before Straight Outta Compton but fell apart once they hit the big time. It left me wondering if that tidal wave of pop culture I elaborated on would still happen had N.W.A. stuck together. It probably would have but not as big as Cube and Dre going separate directions. It leaves you with the dilemma which would have been better. One thing was certain. Any change of them getting back together ended with Eazy-E’s death.

F. Gary Gray does a great job in directing. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the director who directed Friday would direct this. Gray has directed other movies since like The Italian Job and Law Abiding Citizen but I believe this is his best ever. Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff deliver a great script that very close to fact while including their own point of view on the story and keeps one intrigued from start to finish. O’Shea Jackson Jr. does a very good job as Ice Cube but I wouldn’t consider it too much of an effort to play your own father. The other actors playing the rappers like Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell were also good. None of the actors playing rappers really stood out which is probably a good thing because the film’s acting is an ensemble effort that doesn’t appear to compete against each other and delivers well as a group. Paul Giamatti was also good as Jerry Heller but I’ve seen him play conniving controlling svengali-like characters before and he doesn’t really deliver anything new in his role as Heller.

I myself wasn’t too surprised Straight Outta Compton would be a huge hit in the summer. However I was surprised to see how underhyped it was among the superhero movies set to be released. The one thing is that it delivered as a movie and rally stood out. I think that’s what paved its way to being a summer winner.

VIFF 2014 Review – The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir

The Other One is a documentary of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who often gets overlooked forJerry Garcia.
The Other One is a documentary of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who often gets overlooked for Jerry Garcia.

When you think of the Grateful Dead, who’s the first person that comes to mind? Jerry Garcia, right? Even though Jerry is the most famous member, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir is also a key part of the band. The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a documentary focusing on Weir both as a member of the Grateful Dead and his own personal life.

Bobby weir was born in San Francisco in 1947 and was adopted by a well-to-do family. He had an adopted brother and a sister born to his adoptive parents. However Booby grew up a very restless boy. He was expelled from schools within a matter of months. However he developed a passion for the guitar at a young age. There’s even mention of how excited he was when he got a guitar for Christmas. At a young age, he caught the attention of a band playing in the back alley of a Palo Alto spot. They were the Grateful Dead. They took a liking to Booby and the rest is history.

The funny thing about Bobby is that he was a bit of an oddity with the Dead. The other members of the Dead describe themselves as ‘uglies’ and Booby as a ‘cutie’ and they describe the Grateful Dead in its early days as ‘Bobby and the four uglies.’ It seemed like a good break to be welcomed into a band at such a young age but his parents were firm on his education and reminded the other dead members of that.

Over time the San Francisco music scene of the 60’s would rise and eventually become a permanent fixture on pop culture and even definers of the counterculture of that period. The Grateful Dead themselves would become synonymous with the psychedelia of that time. But even before that happens, the documentary pays attention to the band’s first few years trying to make a name for themselves. It reminds you they had to struggle with small gigs just like many other bands before them. Then they signed onto a big label. Then they went from playing in bars to playing in concert halls. Then came the Deadheads: a group of people that stayed loyal to the band year after year, decade after decade. A loyalty not seen before in rock ‘n roll.

Even despite playing music and hitting the big time, the documentary shows of the friendship Weir had with the band. It was of a family nature to the point that Weir almost ignored his own family. The family relation with the other bands did take challenges of their own. The first sign was in the 1980’s when they made a comeback which included a chart-topping album for the first time with 1987’s ‘In The Dark’ and the single ‘Touch Of Grey.’ There was the focus of Jerry Garcia’s cult-of-personality: something Jerry didn’t really welcome in his life. There were even times Bob took personal vacations. Then there was the time Jerry was going through rehab and Bobby acted as a support for him up until his dying day.

It doesn’t stop there. It also focuses on how Weir decided to finally settle down after decades of womanizing with Natascha Munter. The two wed when he was 52 and they have two daughters. Even then the trip wasn’t over. Weir tried to learn of his birth parents. He learned of his mother after she died that she had gave birth to 12 children. He was able to meet up with his birth father and the two have been close ever since.

This documentary is definitely one for people who like biographies of musicians or biography shows in particular.¬† No question Deadheads young and old will want to see this. In fact I remember seeing a wide range of people in the audience watching this documentary. It’s possible some of the seniors in the audience may have been amongst the first generation of Deadheads. If you only care about musicians and their star power, this is not for you. Also if you’re a Deadhead simply because of Jerry Garcia, this will remind you that you’re not a true Deadhead. It’s not just a biography but gives you a feel of the music Bob helped create and continues to play whenever he performs with surviving members of the Dead. The mix of biography with live performances of his music really adds into the feel of it.

The documentary doesn’t really offer anything original as far as documentary film making goes. What it does is showcase a musician’s life that is a life less ordinary. The stories of how he was adopted and how he got into a lot of trouble as a kid will surely raise eyebrows and even a giggle or two. However seeing how he was able to settle down in his older years and even meet up with his adoptive father in recent years shows this is no ordinary life. The intimacy of the biography doesn’t stop with his personal life. It also shows how Bob treated the other Dead members like family even more than he treated his own. In fact hearing from Jerry’s daughter how Bob was like a brother to Jerry up until his last days shows how much the other members meant to him.

The are some flaws with the documentary. Most noticeably, it focuses almost exclusively on his music with the Grateful Dead and hardly ever focuses on his music with his other bands like Kingfish, RatDog, Booby and the Midnites and Furthur. Also the documentary made him look like he was a swinger all his life before Natascha. There’s no mention of his seven-year relationship with Frankie Hart back in the 70’s.

The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a very good documentary to watch even if you’re not a fan of the Grateful Dead. It was time well spent for me. It reminds you there are a lot of great rock ‘n roll musicians that contributed a lot to the genre but don’t get the star status as many others.