“Straight Outta Compton”

The first hour of this team-written film is terrific: creativity flows down to the initial and unusual studio credits, the cast names caught on background walls, and the joy of the beat. The themes are timely:power in the form of police abuse,power in the form of art to heal. The subject matter of business-manager-sleaze and peer intimidation hits hard. The deadly sins of greed and lust for fame are held forth and can be tapped for post-viewing discussion. There is lots to celebrate and there is much to talk about,yet “Straight Outta Compton”‘s last hour and a half is repetitive and calls to be edited. It smacks of melodrama and the same exploitation it tries to portray. It takes NWA (Niggas With Attitude) too long to learn that friendship matters most.

Too many screenplay writers may be the cause for the choppy sequencing,but too many stories and characters may be the cause,too. Three out of five hip hop artists are highlighted,yet the three-stories-in-one need to be tightened. This being said,the actors are terrific and F. Gary Gray directs the large cast well. Dr. Dre Young(Corey Hawkins) is the talented “beat setter”. Dr.Dre coaches Eazy-E Wright(Jason Mitchell) in the passion needed to be felt,and Ice Cube played by Ice Cube’s real son,O’Shea Jackson,Jr. is the “word man” with the lyrics to turn pain into the power of recognition. One frightening scene has him on a school bus writing in his speckled notebook and clowning with gang signs out the window. When a car pulls in front of the bus and a real gang member enters with a gun to lecture and to brag that he kills Crimps for breakfast, we fear for our observant wordsmith.We know there are body bags in the Compton dump. We also know that the LAPD have a six-ton tank with a battery ram. Ruthlessness reigns on both sides.

Humor and “put down” dissing is fast and fun. The “boogie bands” and “dusty ass garage” slings hone in on “playing the dozens”. “The California Raisins Label” for Priority Records draws an ironic laugh. When the FBI are called in to quench what they take as a reasonably stated threat against law enforcement,we hear our rappers respond with “people lose their minds when they hear a little truth.” “F The Police” is censored from being played in Detroit. Middle fingers are held up and so are badges. Riots play out. First Amendment Rights and three-inch-gold-chain culture mingle.

The pool orgies and Cognac guzzling have too much screen time. But butt and breast oogling is balanced with a woman journalist asking one star, ” What does a guy do when he starts making money like this?” Somehow the answer of “Raider’s gear” leaves a lot to be desired. Then there are the managers. Jerry Heller played snake-like by Paul Giamatti lies about contracts and criticizes ego,excess and expectations all the while contributing to all three. In-fighting among the group and new companies started prove equally disastrous. Red devil-suited Suge Wright ( R. Marcos Taylor )spreads the greed and ugliness to new Satanic heights. With the Rodney King verdict as backdrop,”Treat people poorly and they will rise up” is applied to the “Death Row Label” Suge,too.

See this film for the music,and for the 1980-1990 history of oppression and fear, and for the rise of marginalized voices soaring, and as a critique of values that elevate the “top dog” to billboard heights.

“Dope”

What former inner-city English teacher wouldn’t love a film that begins with three disparate definitions for one word and then showcases a brilliant adolescent ? Yet, celebrating not fitting into the stereotyped role gets complex when Malcolm ( Shameik Moore) finds himself caught with one-hundred thousand dollars worth of drugs. This coming-of-age film is clever,funny and full of hip-hop music, which is integral to the message of making the right choices responsibly. “My fault-my weight to carry” are Malcolm’s words. The fact is that students in the inner-city have too much weight to carry given the crazy circumstances they can encounter so innocently.

The three definitions for “dope” outline the journey of our protagonist: an illegal substance,a stupid person,and excellent. Malcolm and his two buddies are like the three Musketeers,Mickey-Mouse-style. They are “geeky”,BMX bike-riding students,who get their shoes stolen and start up a punk band called “Oreo”. These three,one a lesbian, love the 90’s and hip-hop music in general. The fact that Sean Combs and Forest Whitaker are the co- producers and that Pharrell Williams scored the music may have nothing to do with this,but one of the best scenes is on a city bus with every rider bobbing his and her head to the beat of their music. The use of abrupt slow-motion is delightful and speaks to the power of beat and lyrics joined and joining.

“Dope” was written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa. I loved the metaphor of “the slippery slope” and how it was used both comedically and as a thematic metaphor. So many of life’s ironies were touched upon: “the pray away the gay”, the male dominance “pissing contests”,the use of technology for good and for evil. I enjoyed the Tolkienesque “Return To The Kings” t-shirt and the drug lord’s son, who could not rap, and the laughing Hispanic maid.The drug use always was portrayed as humiliating,  be it in vomit or public urination.One scene at a Starbucks-like facility drew one of my favorite lines. After the drug dealer and respected CEO’s daughter was arrested, the  black patron who called the police was interviewed. “How am I supposed to eat my pound cake ( we don’t eat scones,you know) and drink my vanilla chai latte with that hoe peeing in the bushes right next to me.” Stereotypes again turned on their respective heads.

A chain of events like tutoring a love interest,being tempted with playing sexualized “Mother May I”, and shakily aiming a gun at a gang member’s face,all lead to a more normal Six Flag outing and a college admission letter.Shameik Moore, at twenty,was amazing in his flat-topped brilliance. The fact that he so resembled a former student by the name of Darryl R. made this film all the more delightful in its truth-seeking. The cliche “Don’t sell yourself short” applies here. See this movie.