Sunday, January 17, 2016

Video review: "Straight Outta Compton"

“Straight Outta Compton” is getting a lot of buzz about landing an Oscar nomination for Best Picture -- we’ll know by the time you’re reading this -- which is an intriguing idea.

While it’s not among my top picks for best films of 2015, it was certainly a very good one, an exploration of the gritty early days of “gangsta rap.” And certainly the Academy has a regrettable history of ignoring African-American stories and filmmakers.

Director F. Gary Gray and screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman are essentially doing the “authorized biography” version of rap icons N.W.A., as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, the two enduring giants of the group, are producers on the film. Cube’s real-life son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., even plays his daddy (and does a standout job).

At first glance it might seem like a typical rise-and-fall story of musical success, with egos and nefarious hangers-on leading to strife and disbandment. The middle section of the movie is a bit bloated, with an overindulgence of scenes of hard partying and female flesh displayed.

But what makes “Compton” rise above is the meaty substance at the heart of the story. These were real South L.A. black kids, surrounded by drugs, violence and police brutality, and their songs were an angry shout to an uncaring world about the reality of their plight.

The cast is rounded out by Corey Hawkins as Dre, represented here as the artistic purist; Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, the hardest of the hardcore and doomed mogul; R. Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight, who muscles his way into a lucrative game; and Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, the white manager who put the group on the map, and made sure he got rich for it.

(Not surprisingly, the film has been freshly sued by Heller.)

You can buy the film as either the theatrical version or an unrated director’s cut that adds about 20 minutes to the runtime.

Bonus features include deleted scenes (including one song performance), feature length commentary track with Gray, and a half-dozen making-of featurettes on filming in Compton, the group’s formation and cultural impact, and more.



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