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Review of the day for the week of June 16, 1997.

As some of you may know, I'm leaving the net. But don't worry. My reviews and page will still remain, for all who wish to see and for all that still wish to criticize. But we'll worry about that later (June 30 to be exact). For now, ON WITH THE SHOW!!!.

Monday:
Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Posse
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If there was ever a groundbreaking film for the 1990's, this had to be it. This is as influential to the films about life for blacks in LA, as Mean Streets was for Italian lives in New York. John Singleton directs this story about a group of individuals, growing up, living, dying and fighting in the streets of South Central.

Among the various members, there is: Tre Styles (recent Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr.), a teen attempting to break out of the poor, crime-ridden neighborhood of his youth; Doughboy (Ice Cube), Gooding's friend, who takes on the job of leading the hood's more hostile youth into various forms of violence; and Ricky (Morris Chestnut), Ice Cube's brother, whose chance to get out of the hood may be through an athletic scholarship at USC. The boys are guided somewhat by Gooding's father (Laurence Fishburne), who attempts to teach them morals and show them advantages other than shooting and killing different boys in the hood.

Singleton directs this (as he does with most of his films) with a purpose, relentlessly showing the actions and consequences that go with drive-by killings, drug use and various other forms of life in South Central. It benefits from an excellent script and directing by Singleton, who captures the look, feel and language of South Central realistically and with a certain compassion. It also features a stunning cast of now very well-known actors, including three powerhouse performances by Gooding, Cube and Fishburne. These three play characters that are a far cry from the stereotypical views of black men in past films.

Gooding, though 23 at the time, captures the growing pains and various mood changes of a 17 year old quite intelligently. Cube captures the more hostile feelings teens have for adults and society, also adding to the character some street smarts and a code of honor among brothers, friends and family. Fishburne offers a pleasing change-of-pace performance as a black father, who is definitely NOT out of his child's life and wants to see his son grow up with a bright future, as many parents (whether they're black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc.) want to see for their children. A picture like this, that shows black actors in intelligent, well thought-out roles (and without so much preachiness for this kind of story) comes only once in a blue moon. Especially in the Liberal-Conservative 90's. I'm proud to say this will be (once the millennium comes to an end) on my top twenty list as one of the greatest stories ever told in the 20th century.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Tuesday:
Menace II Society (1993)

Menace II Society
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A slightly bleaker look at the territory covered in the more optimistic Boyz N the Hood, it follows two particular black males who rob, steal, cheat, kill, drink and physically and verbally abuse everybody in sight. Caine (Tyrin Turner), whose life has been mostly filled with drugs and violence, can't see any hopes in his future. So, he spends most of his time dealing drugs, car-jacking people and taking part in drive-by shootings. However, Turner's the Good Samaritan, next to his friend, the unrepentant killer O-Dog (Larenz Tate). The only sympathetic person in his life is the single mother Ronnie (Jada Pinkett), who refuses to let Turner go down a bloody path, the way her jailed boyfriend ended up going.

The solid directorial debut of the Hughes Brothers (Allen and Albert) paints a dark portrait of LA, full of people not willing to leave their violent lifestyles as the characters in Boyz N the Hood wanted to. Though it's hard to root for anyone in here, Turner does turn in a performance that has certain tender elements. He doesn't get sympathy for his violent actions, but his character does not expect it. He has no specific hopes or dreams, save for the fact that he wants to live to see his next birthday. Pinkett offers excellent support, as a black female character who can be intelligent, compassionate, as well as both masculine and feminine, all in the same scene. But it's Tate's brilliant performance as probably the most vehement movie killer since Hannibal Lecter. This violent, tragic, brutally realistic film does not let up one moment, from the shocking opening sequence in the grocery store to the tragic final scene, where Turner finally does something noble and sacrifices his life for that of Pinkett's young son.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Wednesday:
Cape Fear (1991)

Cape Fear
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Martin Scorsese takes a crack at the horror genre, with this remake of the 1962 thriller classic. Robert De Niro adds another memorable character to his resume as ex-convict Max Cady, a man who wants revenge against his defense lawyer (Nick Nolte) for withholding evidence that would have gotten De Niro off in a sexual assault case. The thing is De Niro's revenge plan is a lot more carefully laid out than most killers. He attacks Nolte through his friends and family, preferably his brooding wife (Jessica Lange) and his teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis, in a dynamically seductive performance).

A Hollywood thriller that's full of more shocking moments than usual, with A-plus performances by De Niro, Nolte (playing a character that's much more flawed then in the original picture), Lange, Lewis and Joe Don Baker as a sleazy detective attempting to intimidate De Niro. Big mistake! De Niro has played psychos before, but usually ones that have hair-trigger tempers and go off their nut once too often. His performance as Cady is cool, calm, calculating and chillingly cold-blooded. The problems with the film occur during the last half hour which, although visually spectacular, turns into another gory slasher film climax. But don't let it get you down. Most of the film is out of sight.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Thursday:
Dead Presidents (1995)

Dead Presidents
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The acclaimed Hughes Brothers' (Menace II Society) second feature is much more ambitious than their first film, in both story and storytelling techniques. Larenz Tate, highly memorable as O-Dog in M2S, plays a young black man who during the late 60's and early 70's, takes a journey from the South Bronx to the jungles of Vietnam and back again. When he returns from Nam, he finds his opportunities at home very slim. To earn money to support him and his poor family, he gathers his old army and street buddies, so they can pull off a major bank heist. But things go horribly wrong.

This story has been done countless times in crime dramas, but the razor-sharp editing, good performances by Tate and Keith David as his mentor, and some fast-paced action keep the story moving. The problems with the story tend to be the unrealistic actions of various characters within unrealistic situations. I suppose they're supposed to be surreal, but you never can tell.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Friday:
Poetic Justice (1993)

Poetic Justice
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John Singleton's second feature, and Janet Jackson's film debut, is a worthy effort if not a successful one. Jackson stars as hairdresser-poet Justice, who has retreated into her own world after her boyfriend was killed by gang members. Her friend Iesha (Regina King) attempts to get Jackson out of her deep blue funk, by asking her to join her mailman boyfriend (Joe Torry) and Torry's cohort (the late Tupac Shakur) on a road trip to Oakland, California. Shakur has problems of his own, which include his young daughter living with a crack-addicted mother. Shakur and Jackson, despite their initial anger and hostility towards one another, find that they have common interests. Jackson starts to come out of her shell and shows some compassion towards the troubled Shakur. Shakur does the same, though with a lot more difficulty.

It's not a great film and the romantic plot is cliched, but how many black actors do you see doing romantic films nowadays? Shakur and Jackson give some very mesmerizing performances, each playing a character that is much different from their music personas. Jackson in particular does so well, that from time to time, you don't think it's her. The supporting players King and Torry could have been a little more well-developed, but these are minor quibbles. Singleton adds some nice touches with the funny film-within-a-film opening, and an amusing sidetrip to a family reunion with whom Jackson and Co. have crashed. Singleton could have done much worse with the material, but instead opens a genre, usually dominated by white filmakers, to a whole new audience.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Saturday:
Who's the Man (1993)

Who's the Man
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MTV VJ's Dr. Dre and Ed Lover attempt to do a modern day Laurel and Hardy act, but end up being as ingloriously stupid and racist as Amos 'N Andy. They play two bumbling cops, who try to solve the murder of their best friend. During the case, they meet a group of strange people (made up of various MTV favorites as Denis Leary, Cheryl "Salt" James, Ice-T, Cypress Hill and Kriss Kross).

Most of the humor is dumb. Real dumb! It also goes to extreme lengths to reinforce racist stereotypes like bug-eyed black people, lame white people, marble-mouthed Asians, etc. The laughs come and go, while the plot and characters are almost non-existent. Man, what a decade we live in when we think nasty airheads like the characters in this film are "cool".

My Rating = Two Stars

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Sunday:
Posse (1993)

Posse
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Mario Van Peebles attempts to update the Western to the politically correct times, introducing black cowboys to the genre. Van Peebles stars as a Clint Eastwood type gunslinger, who with a band of deserters from the Spanish-American war, settles The West. It's not easy, what with a racist sheriff and a vengeful Colonel (Billy Zane, in the most over-the-top performance of his career) in hot pursuit.

Filmed with flashy cinematography, "name" actors and clever cameos, this film still doesn't overcome the silly storyline and laughably cliched dialogue. The best acting in the film doesn't come from director-star Van Peebles, but his father, acclaimed director-actor Melvin in a delightful cameo as a kind of updating of the Gabby Hayes role in Westerns. This isn't a perfect Western, but if you're in the mood for some generally cheerful silliness, it's the perfect film for you.

My Rating = Two Stars

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