Tag Archives: Ice Cube

Straight Outta Compton

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

straight outta compton“Rap isn’t an art… These guys look like bangers.”

Yeah. There’s no way I review this film and avoid admitting that I was one of those pasty white kids that was a massive fan of NWA back in the day. I was around 15 years old when my mate’s uncle gave me a tape with NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” on one side and the debut album from Ice-T’s Bodycount on the other. Outside of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tape I inherited off my old man, it’s the first tape I ever listened to so much that I stretched it beyond use!  The first, and only NWA album with a full roster on it became one of my favourite all-time albums and it’s one of the few rap albums I still own and listen to today; a decent feat considering my propensity for very heavy metal.

I became a huge fan of most things “Gangster rap” and spent most of my teenage years listening to everything that guys like NWA and Ice Cube put out; catching up with their entire back catalogues and standing outside the local HMV for new releases, I was the biggest fan of rap music back in the day and I couldn’t have been happier the day I heard that there was an NWA biopic coming out.

Straight Outta Compton follows the lives of the teenagers that would one day become one of the most controversial groups in not just the history of rap music, but in the entire music industry. NWA was the brain child of a handful of teenagers that were clawing to make a few dollars, not always legally, and needed to find a way to get the lives they wanted and stand out from the crowd. The boys; known worldwide by their now legendary names of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella; get themselves a little studio time and press Eazy-E’s solo track “Boyz-n-the-hood”. A little recognition and a lot of work later, the teens release the one and only NWA album that’s worth owning, “Straight Outta Compton”.

Instantly pushed into superstardom, this is the story of how the rappers dealt with the money and the fame; it tells the story of friendships, splits, solo careers, bankruptcy and what happens when businessmen are allowed to take advantage of artists that, no matter which way you cut it, are just kids.  It’s a tale of how these five guys bucked the trend of safe and censored music and brought a straight-talking style to mainstream audiences just when the world needed them to. Love them or hate them, and plenty hated them, NWA shined a light on the plight of young African-American’s across the United States. With a focus on the awful way people like them were treated by the LAPD, the rappers took the police, and society as a whole, to task with their music and didn’t back down when they were threatened by law enforcement over the content of their music.  We get to see these boys grow up and make their way in the world, we get to share their highs and lows and we get to enjoy their music along the way.

Straight Outta Compton does a great job of telling its story.  Essentially a warts-and-all biopic that really does show what the teenagers went through. From Eazy-E’s drug dealing days to the riots that started on their behalf when they were arrested during one of their sold-out concerts.  However, while director F. Gary Gray and producers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have told a lot of the story and tried not to hold back, there are a couple of very large parts of their story that are missing, conspicuous by their absence. Mainly, while we seem to have gotten a look at all the shady dealings of founding member Eazy-E, a man sadly no longer around to defend himself, I would have liked to have seen the film tackle Dre’s 1991 assault on Dee Barnes, a woman the producer believed to have badly reported on a feud between group members so he, allegedly, grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly smashed her into a wall, with fellow band mates later going on record saying that “The bitch deserved it”.  I’d also liked to have seen original group member, “Arabian Prince” brought up, seeing as he was in the picture long before MC Ren was.  None of this takes away from the film though, which is a scathing look at 80’s and 90’s culture and how groups like NWA were born from it.

With big shoes to fill and massive reputations to uphold, every cast member did a stellar job of representing their characters on-screen. Clearly taking cues from their real counterparts, the actors have taken pride in their roles and learned the characteristics of the legends they are representing; with the always great to watch Paul Giamatti taking on the role of the sleazy Jerry Hellar, the man that made NWA famous but screwed them over at the same time, he slips easily into the role and makes you hate him in every scene he’s in.  Special mention has to go to O’Shea Jackson Jnr. The real life son of rapper Ice Cube has taken on the gargantuan task of bringing his old man’s massive persona to the big screen and has done an amazing job.  In my opinion, Jackson Jnr. is the star of the show, stealing every single scene from his cast mates as he lives and breathes his dad’s life for the almost two and a half hour run time.  Ice Cube’s sneering face, his attitude, his mannerisms are all oozing from the screen as Ice Cube Jnr. makes the role his own and if just one guy gets any kind of award based recognition for this movie, it needs to be O’Shea Jackson Jnr.

Straight Outta Compton is essential viewing for almost everyone. Long-time fans like me and a lot of our generation should get a kick out of watching the rise and fall of one of the most prominent musical talents to grace our tape decks back in the day. Younger fans will get a ton of fun hopefully learning what it was that we loved so much and everybody should sit and enjoy the story of how rap music became rap music.  The story of easily THE most influential rap group ever to grace vinyl was a long time coming and was definitely worth the wait. So sit, relax and enjoy an amazing film with one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear this year and get yourself a glimpse into the past, back when rap music was actually good, not paint-by-numbers awfulness.

Ride Along

Ride AlongRide Along is a pretty decent action-comedy with a great lead performance from Kevin Hart.

by Callum Petch

Last things first, this should not be a 12a.  Now, I’m not one of those prudes who believes that the absolute worst thing a young, impressionable child can be introduced is fictional sex and violence or accidentally muttering one of The Seven Words You Do Not Say Around Children.  I haven’t turned into an overzealous moral guardian on you overnight.  What I am a proponent of, however, is a rating system that is consistent in its ratings.  And, presumably through bribery or the dark arts, Ride Along has slid through the BBFC with a 12a rating it doesn’t deserve.  This is a 15 rated comedy in a 12a body.

Why?  Well, “sh*t” is tossed around more often than an angry gorilla at a zoo, despite the promise of only one use of strong language, I counted at least two or three usages of the word “f*ck”, “n*gger” is swapped between characters every now and again, there are a tonne of sex references and jokes about sex that would a) make a dork age DreamWorks Animation blush and b) will likely go right over the heads of most younger audience members anyway, and there are several moments of black comedy that would have fit more into 21 Jump Street than, say, a film that apparently deserves the same rating as Pitch PerfectAnchorman 2 was rated 15 and Ride Along is about that level.

Now, admittedly, the kind of humour that Ride Along traffics in will seem like the funniest thing in the world to 12 year olds and above and that’s fine.  What’s not fine is that I know that there will be parents out there who will see that 12a rating and decide that that means it’s OK to bring their 8 year-olds to the cinema with them because, “Hey, Glee is rated 12!  The Amazing Spider-Man is rated 12a!  This can’t be any worse than that, right?” only to regret their decision by, at the very latest, the 10 minute mark.  Again, I’m not one of those people who constantly screams “WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?” but I am somebody who likes the BBFC to be consistent in the ratings they give out because there will be people who will ignore what the content of the movie looks like and will just look at the rating before deciding that “it MUST be fine for my kids to go and see it with me because Thor: The Dark World was also a 12a!”  So, to reiterate, this film should not be a 12a.  It should be a 15.

Now, you may be wondering why I made such a big thing out of that and, no, “being rigidly loyal to my principles” is not it this time.  It’s mainly because there’s not too much to say about Ride Along.  It’s a pretty good action-comedy.  Admittedly, we don’t get too many of those (and I can count the number of good to great comedies that were released last year on one hand) but that’s kinda all it is.  Pretty good.  Decent.  OK.  Disposable.  There are some really funny jokes that were shown in the trailer.  One or two other really funny jokes that weren’t shown in the trailer.  A lot of chucklesome jokes.  Some very bad jokes.  There’s a bit where Ice Cube drops the name of one of his most famous songs as a punch line and I audibly groaned out loud.  In short: it’s alright.  Not a bad way to spend 100 minutes, perhaps at whatever our equivalent of a matinee showing is, and you will have forgotten most of it 24 hours after you’ve exited the cinema.

Nevertheless, I have to go into more detail.  So, our story revolves around Kevin Hart and Ice Cube (their characters do have names but I’m writing this nearly 48 hours after having seen the film so forgive me for not remembering their characters’ names and choosing not to look them up for both comedic effect and an accurate representation of what your brain will remember about this film 48 hours removed from it).  Ice Cube is a tough, no-nonsense detective for the Atlanta PD who breaks the rules but, dammit, he gets results!  Kevin Hart is a videogame-loving high school security guard who dreams of becoming a police officer and is in a relationship with Ice Cube’s sister (played by Tika Sumpter, not actually Ice Cube’s sister).  Ice Cube’s sister wants Ice Cube to bless Kevin Hart’s marriage proposal to her, because she’s old school like that, and he agrees to if Kevin Hart can survive a day’s ride along with Ice Cube.

What happens next you can probably already figure out.  Ice Cube purposefully sets up a crappy day full of pranks at Kevin Hart’s expense in order to scare him away from the police academy and his sister.  There’s lots of physical comedy at Kevin Hart’s expense.  There’s the moment where the ruse is figured out.  The point where it starts getting too real.  The part where Kevin Hart and Ice Cube actually start bonding.  And there’s also the part where Ice Cube’s determined trail of an elusive arms dealer named Omar comes to a head at the worst possible time.  The plot for Ride Along almost literally could not be more by-the-numbers.  It’s like it was constructed by the film’s writers actually following an instruction book.  The mystery, in particular, entirely lacks mystery or plot turns.  Nobody has ever seen Omar before, Kevin Hart stumbles onto some clues, they find out where a deal is going down and then Laurence Fishburne turns up to chew some scenery.  That’s not particularly a spoiler, mind, his name comes up at the end of the cast list during the opening credits to allow anybody with a working brain to figure it out and for everyone else to figure it out after the 900th time somebody says that “nobody’s ever seen this guy before”.

But, eh.  Nobody’s really expecting Ride Along to set the world on fire with its plotting, and that’s fine.  We’re here for the jokes.  So, did I laugh?  Yeah, I did.  A fair bit.  As mentioned a bit further back, there are some very funny jokes, some very bad jokes, some chuckle-worthy jokes and then some jokes that inspired no reaction either way.  Although refreshingly free of gay-panic type jokes (as much as I loved 21 Jump Street, I really hope the sequel tones down the number of “ha!  Gay stuff, amirightlads?” jokes), the film makes up for that slack in regards to Kevin Hart’s obsession with videogames.  If you’re currently imagining a lot of jokes about Kevin Hart taking games too seriously, being overly cocky with real guns on a firing range, Ice Cube derisively shouting “This ain’t no damn videogame!” or variations of such in his direction a lot and for his love of videogames to come into play in a positive way in the finale… congratulations!  You too could have written anywhere between 25% – 35% of Ride Along’s screenplay!  Some of the jokes are pretty funny, to be fair, but it’s a button and a well that the film goes back to too often.

Much better are the times when Kevin Hart is bumbling his way through scenarios that Ice Cube has set-up for him.  In fact, I’m just going to get this out of the way now: Kevin Hart is the main reason to see this film.  He’s been America’s best-kept secret for a long while now (he’s pretty much conquered America with his stand-up over the past half-decade) and Ride Along seems to announce him to the rest of the world as a great comic talent in film in the making.  Sometimes he does go just a little bit too over-the-top (the bit from the trailer where he knocks himself out is not funnier in context), but his manic energy and total commitment to making any material thrown his way work is the film’s ace-in-the-hole.  There’s a section around the film’s midpoint (a.k.a. The Sequence Where It Starts Getting Real) that is made hilarious because Hart is flinging himself around the scene, exuding charisma and playing every line at the perfect pitch so that, when it does come time for him to start panicking, his ratcheting up to 11 hits that much harder.

Ice Cube doesn’t fare as well, his delivery is much less consistent and is prone to under or over-performing, but he does strike up a good chemistry with Hart that keeps the film trucking along.  If Hart’s thing is to comically overreact to everything, Ice Cube’s is to be comically angry at all times and, unlike Hart, he’s not able to either deliver the jokes well enough or to find enough spins on that trait to make it work.  There are points where he reaches the quality that he displayed in 21 Jump Street, but they’re fleeting.  Of the supporting cast, Laurence Fishbourne is the stand-out in that he’s the only one who makes a lasting impression but, man!  You know that one bit in Hannibal where he shouts “USE THE LADIES’ ROOM!” at another FBI agent entering the toilets?  Take out the serious tone of Hannibal and that’s pretty much how Laurence Fishbourne plays the villain role here.  It’s pretty funny, just putting that out there.

And… yeah, that’s pretty much all I have to say about Ride Along.  There’s really not a lot going on here.  It’s a pretty funny comedy where the best jokes have predominately been shown in the trailer but there are enough funny moments in the rest of the film to justify giving it a watch if you’re desperate for a decent comedy or if you’ve already seen everything else that’s great out.  You won’t remember any of it 72 hours after seeing it, but you will laugh.  I laughed.  I laughed a fair bit, and that’s what I wanted at the time I saw it so I’m willing to give it a pass.  Just don’t take your 8 year-old to see it.  Not unless you want to have them dropping “sh*t” around the house like it’s going out of style.

Callum Petch follows me with his good friend, the threat of poverty.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!