Straight Outta Compton
“Straight Outta Compton,” a film directed with extraordinary grace, style and energy by F. Gary Gray, is a stunning work of historical cinematic art. It is magnificent, overwhelming, engrossing and enormously relevant to this very day.
The film centers on NWA as it emerged from the streets of Compton in 1986 to redefine hip-hop music and the culture of this country. Centering on Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube, you watch in awe as musicians transform their experiences on the streets of L.A. into sellout musical venues around the country. Profanity becomes a poetic art form, and it was a joy watching the audience continually dance in their seats. I must admit, I was tapping my foot even though I was the only Caucasian in the entire crowd — particularly since I was the only Caucasian in the entire crowd.
You are going to understand the significance of this film and the movement created by NWA with a combination of both sympathy and pleasure. These teenagers in Compton continually endured brutal treatment from the local police department, and this assault continued with written threats from the FBI to stop singing the songs focusing on police misconduct. It is hard to believe that the police in Detroit not only shut down their concert around 1990, but proceeded to arrest all of the band members based solely on the content of their music.
Several of the performances are worthy of Oscar consideration, and that begins with O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and Jason Mitchell’s embodiment of Eazy-E. Their performances allowed you to reconnect with recent history, and it was easy to excuse their flamboyant parties filled with unlimited booze and semi-naked women.
It is also worth noting that Paul Giamatti delivers an impressive performance as Jerry Heller, the businessman who first brought NWA to a national audience. Sure, he played fast and loose with their assets, but he resembled a birth mother who deserved praise despite her unfortunate promiscuity.
As you watch the disgusting mistreatment of young black men in Los Angeles by the police department (which led to the tragic beating of Rodney King in 1991) you are reminded of the problem that still permeates our national soul.
This movie is a reminder that all Americans should stand together in the face of unconscionable discrimination and not spend time ridiculing the music that points a finger in the face of this cancerous scourge.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Though it is more form than substance, Director Guy Ritchie’s average films still prove to be better than most. Broken down to its basics, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” resembles a Bond movie starring Roger Moore after the great Sean Connery left and before Daniel Craig embraced the role.
Here, we have a cold war espionage thriller taking place in 1963. The CIA’s top agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) teams with Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a Russian counterpart, to try to hunt down a nuclear weapon being developed by a terrorist organization. Say what you want about the suspense, both the European scenery and our boys’ flashy attire makes you almost overlook the forced dialogue.
Cavill actually does a good job playing the equivalent of James Bond Jr. and he almost makes you want to forget his next role where he again appears as Superman opposite Ben Affleck’s Batman. To the extent that it matters, everything about that next film looks absolutely wretched.
As for Hammer, he uses a Russian accent to good effect. He is a lean, mean fighting machine, though I must qualify any praise with the admission that I was one of the few critics who really liked his role opposite Johnny Depp in the critically savaged “The Lone Ranger” (2013). Regardless, if you doubt his talents, then take another look at his role playing the Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network” (2010).
To its credit, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” expands on the use of female actresses in action/adventure films in much the same fashion as this year’s “Mad Max” and “Mission Impossible.” Simply stated, the only way this film survives as an interesting movie is due to the contributions of Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki. Vikander picks up where she left off with “Ex Machina” and “Testament of Youth,” here playing an East German mechanic whose kidnapped father is being used to develop the atomic bomb. Both prissy and pissy, look for the scene where she is dancing alone behind Kuryakin in a bedroom after knocking down too much whiskey.
In Debicki’s case, she plays Victoria, the brains behind the rogues being hunted. Looking like a demonic version of Grace Kelly in the legendary “To Catch a Thief” (1955), there is not a kind bone in her body. She uses ex-Nazi scientists to her advantage, and she kills without sentiment or emotion.
Ritchie is a talented director as previously shown in such films as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998), “Snatch” (2000) and the recent Sherlock Holmes movies (2009, 2011) with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Quite frankly, if he is going to do a “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” sequel, I can only encourage him to let the male leads have more to do than just look good, or entitle the next film “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.”•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.