Straight Outta Compton flashes back to the late 1980s and how hip-hop’s first big stars — Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Easy E, DJ Yella and MC Ren — became its first big stars in a group called NWA. Director F. Gary Gray — who directed Ice Cube’s Friday — and his writers paint a fascinating story of these brilliant young men in a long (at 2:30) fascinating movie.
The flaw is it not being exactly accurate. However, in this case, close is good enough.
The stars — except for Paul Giamatti, who plays the group’s manager Jerry Heller — are newcomers. Three performances stand out. Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. stars as his dad. With a snarl reminiscent of his father and a flat, matter-of-fact delivery, Jackson does a great job imitating his talented father. Corey Hawkins is exceptional as the deep, introspective and very original Dr. Dre.
Ultra charismatic Jason Mitchell gives the movie’s best performance. He’s Easy-E ,whose business arrangement with Heller made the young men wealthy and influential beyond their wildest dreams.
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Mitchell is the film’s center, and he’s as electric as the music.
Truthfully, I didn’t expect to like Straight Outta Compton. Rap and hip-hop aren’t and never have been my thing. I do, however, admire the art form. The iambic pentameter of the lyrics and the boom of the bass drum that anchors most of the songs are hypnotic.
Shakespeare would have loved it.
Straight Outta Compton is about youth and the need to rebel and make your statement on your terms. Rebellion is not a bad thing. It causes change. For my generation musically and — somewhat socially — it was The Beatles, Stones and the acid rock that came out of the Bay Area. My complaint with hip-hop is the violent, gangsta, macho, don’t-you-dare-diss-me attitude and disrespect of any authority that goes along with the music.
Disagreement means violence or — worse — bullets. And the attitude that the masses discovered in the 1980s has not abated. It has grown.
Straight Outta Compton explains where much of that comes from and why and how it evolved, and makes it understandable. Dare I say even OK? It’s also a wonderful exploration of the talent and music that inspired a generation of kids of all ethnicities.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is another 1960s TV show turned into a movie that — if successful at the box office — is going to undoubtedly become a series of movies. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Rivals at first, the two are assigned to stop an organization building an atomic bomb. They have to work with the daughter of the bomb’s designer. She’s played by Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander.
Hugh Grant completes the main cast as Waverly, the head of U.N.C.L.E.
Sounds like a been-there-done-that yawner. No. Make that a double-yawner. Except in this case, there is a positive. It’s Guy Ritchie. Most know him best for doing the two Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr. Those movies aren’t that good.
His best and most impressive work is years earlier with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
The retro concept of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a great idea but is poorly executed. Ritchie — who co-wrote — never quite gets you there. It could have been any time period.
A minor flaw.
Ritchie’s movie-making style fits his four stars perfectly. Cavill ( Man of Steel) and Hammer ( The Lone Ranger) are handsome hunks whose only believability as actors comes when cast as cartoonish characters. The same goes for Grant.
Vikander — however — is a serious actress with serious skills. She’s wasted but has fun.
Ritchie’s sense of humor also fits the theme. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is packed with laughs. It’s entertaining, yes. And while easy to recommend, Ritchie’s movie also doesn’t do is go anywhere interesting, or anywhere these movies haven’t gone before.