"Menace II Society," is forever linked two other films that masterpieces that came out before it, Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing," and John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood". Three films that came out in a 5-year span, each of them great, each about a young inner-city African-American youth, and each directed by a young African-American director, or in "Menace..."'s case, two. Twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes grew up in an L.A., and begin their film with images of the Watts Riot in the '60s. That's when I paused the movie and went on wikipedia for a second, and reflected that Paul Mooney is right when he says I have to know my history. Caine (Tyrin Turner) narrates his story, beginning with a trip to a convenient store to get a soda that ends with him being an accessory to a double-murder. Caine is a smart young kid, who doesn't have a chance in life. His father (Samuel L. Jackson) is a local drug kingpin, who often killed people. His mother (Khandi Alexander) was a heroin addict that he knocked up. By the time Caine is in high school, both his parents are long dead of their own lifestyle, and he's a smalltime drug dealer that lives with his grandparents, whose only apparent parenting method is to preach religion. Caine tunes it out. By the movies end, he has killed a few people, been shot on two separate occasions, detained by police for the original robbery cause of his fingerprints, but because his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate) stole the video camera footage, they can't hold him, (O-Dog shows that footage to everybody except the police), and gotten a girl pregnant from a one-night stand. He cares deeply for Ronnie (Jada Pinkett), the ex-wife of Purnell (Glenn Plummer), a pseudo-mentor/father figure to Caine, who's currently in prison. Of the three films, "Menace II Society," is the most tragic. In the other films, the protagonists are more observers of the world, and are looking and at times, finding ways to get out. Caine, can't see any way out of Watts. Had he had any other opportunity or option, possibly anything that could've shown him a way out.... The Hughes Brothers were given a video camera when they were 12, and began making movies soon after. This was their first, their best, and most important feature film. They got out, and they observe that others in their neighborhood, weren't so lucky.
Somehow I missed "Pretty in Pink," in the John Hughes catalog originally growing up, and I can see why I missed it. I am recommending it, but it isn't one of his most his best screenplays. (It also hurts that he didn't direct it.) It relies a little too heavily on the conflict of rich kids vs. poor kids for plot development, but on the same token, this movie has a surprising amount of good acting that makes up for a lot of it. The eternal teenage girl, Molly Ringwald plays Andie. She works at a local record store, which is currently her household's only income, and she spends her time trying to keep her father (Harry Dean Stanton) from drinking, and making her clothes, which she gets made fun of at school. (Frankly, the clothes do look a little old maid-ish.) Her friend Ducky (Jon Cryer) has been in love with her for years. It's unrequited, and he doesn't do himself any favors by hanging onto her like a leach, and being generally strange. Andie eventually starts to fall for Blane (Andrew McCarthy), one of those rich kids who make fun of her. Their only other activities seem to involve, parties, drugs, sex, and overall doucheness, with Blane's friend Steff (James Spader) being a combination of all of the above. It kinda strange that this movie has such strong actors, 'cause it's actually more of a typical story of rich kids vs. poor kids. I just saw "The Outsiders," a few weeks ago, and movie also had a similar theme, (and also good acting) and here, I kinda thing that compared to Hughes better teenage films like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," or "The Breakfast Club," there really isn't anything being said or told here, other than just a regular generic story about teenagers with a made-up conflict in the middle. His other films had a point of view, and and times, some real insight. Comparatively, this film is better than most of it's copies, but for John Hughes, it's a film or lesser importance.
1 1/2 STARS
I confess to not knowing a whole helluva lot about Wyatt Earp, based on some of the myths, legends and facts that have come across my way about him, his life seemd to be far more interesting than this. Lawrence Kasdan's epic biopic, "Wyatt Earp," spans his entire life, and I guess includes myths, legeneds and facts about him, but this movie is so overwrought, overlong, badly paced, and badly casted, that I just couldn't particularly care. It doesn't help that the movie came out shortly after "Tombstone," which is a better movie, that covers much of the same material. It begins with Wyatt and his brothers, living in Missouri, where he learns about the importance of family over everything else from his father (Gene Hackman). The movie then seems to forget that Wyatt had all those brothers for most of the film. Kevin Costner's portrayal as Wyatt Earp, might be his worst performance ever. For the first hour of the movie especially, he just seems to be wandering around, amazed that he's playing Wyatt Earp. Costner and Kasden had worked together previously on the western "Silverado." (Costner also played the dead body in Kasdan's "The Big Chill".) Their's an interesting performance by Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday, who becomes Earp partner-in-crime, and law enforcement, but it stills lacks the memorableness of Kilmer's earlier portrayal. Earp, lived until the 20th Century, and was probably the last of the Wild West heroes to die, and for that, and everything else that he saw, he was probably one of the last credible witnesses to the taming of the West. That seems to be mostly what he does in this film though, witness. He might often be involved in the actions, be even as he's killing, he never seems to be apart of the action, Costner almost seems to be outside of his own role here. Kasdan, is quite a filmmaker, beginning with the screenplay for "The Bodyguard," which for a decade and a half was considered the best script unfilmed script in Hollywood, he got hired to write "Raiders of the Lost Arc," and the two Star Wars sequels before directing his own films, which include some great work as, "Body Heat," "The Big Chill," and "The Accidental Tourist". He hasn't made a movie in a while however, and "Wyatt Earp," was just one of a long line of less-than-stellar films that came after, but the downfall was probably that this one was the most ambitious of those films.
1 1/2 STARS
"Soul Men," became known for marking the final filmed performance of the great comedian Bernie Mac, as well as the last acting performance of Rock'n'Roll Hall of Famer, Isaac Hayes. Mac's career was just beginning to shine, one of "The Kings of Comedy," his movie career includes strong performances in films as varied as the "Oceans Eleven" films, to "Bad Santa," and even a few leading performances, including "Mr. 3000," and "Guess Who," as well as his own TV series, "The Bernie Mac Show," which earned him 2 Emmy nominations for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, the only African-American to be nominated in the category in nearly a quarter-century. (To all those who would've guess since Bill Cosby, [Me included], nope, '88, Tim Reid for "Frank's Place," is the last one before Mac). Mac plays Floyd Henderson, who along with Lloyd Hines (Samuel L. Jackson) were "The Real Deal," the back-up singer for Markus Hooks (John Legend) until Hooks went solo. Shortly after a brief career as a duo, they broke up. Now, nearing middle age, Hooks unexpectedly dies. They didn't particularly like them but at the funeral concert, they're invited to perform. Floyd, who's been forced into retirement from his successful car businesses from his kids, and his hip, has to convince Lloyd, who's become a convict, to reunite and drive cross country for the show, playing a few set-up gigs along the way. Hijinks ensue, they always do. Some are funny, some are tragic, and much of it involves 30-year arguments and grudges that are just now getting hashed out. There's nothing particularly new in the film, it's actually basically a remake of "The Blues Brothers," and that's not inherently a bad thing. The performances are strong, but the movie is hardly ever as funny as it thinks it is, and that's a problem. The music is good, but it's not really good enough to salvage the project, even when they get a new lead singer (Sharon Leal), who is also a link to their past. Instead of a blooper real at the end, there's a montage of some stand-up and interview footage Mac did during the movie for the extras between takes. I never think of Bernie Mac as having come up unhappy, the way I would think of comics like Richard Pryor or Bill Hicks for instance. Mac seems to be happy, and having a good time, very grateful of where his career and life had taken him. The shame is that he really could've done so much more.
2 1/2 STARS
"Our Very Own," earned Allison Janney an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Supporting actress, and she is good as the wife of an alcoholic jobless husband (Keith Carradine), who's quickly spending the family out of their house, but the movie doesn't focus too much on them. Instead, it's lead is their teenage son Clancy (Jason Ritter). It's 1978, Shelbyville, Tennessee, and you might have guessed Shelbyville, but it still looks like 1955 there. He's one of a bunch of friends, who have little to do in Shelbyville other than get into minor trouble, (At one point, they toiletpaper, one of the friend's own house), and occasionally explore sex. Their's one kid who's a constant dick and calls the groups a bunch of names for affeminate, includeing that 6-letter F-word, I'd rather not say, but frankly, even his character is too underwritten for me to care about what happens to him. The group begins working on a musical tribute to Sandra Locke, the famous hometown girl, who rumor has it... is going to return home for the annual horse show. Whether or not she arrives, I won't reveal, but on whole, there's a few interesting potential stories here in this slice-of-life, but the movie just keeps drifting between them, and it never really focuses on anything long enough. I can see why Allison Janney got a nomination, other than being one of the best actress alive, her and Carradine's scenes, are the most interesting and dramatic, that's probably because their the best actors around, and they know how to steal a movie, especially from a bunch of kids. Also, for some strange reason, Mary Badham, who played Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird," is in this film, it's the only one she's done in 40 years. Good to see her again I guess, but why now, and why this film?