Friday, June 30, 2017

If not Tupac, then NWA ... and also Tupac

I have made two "attempts" to see All Eyez on Me, the new biopic of Tupac Shakur.

I put "attempts" in quotation marks because neither really left the intention stage. About ten days ago I considered it for my second viewing after my critics screening of Transformers: The Last Knight, despite having initially lined up Rough Night for that spot (as discussed here). I was a little scared by its 2+ hour running time after the 2+ hours of Transformers, but the real thing that put the kibosh on it was getting a flat tire that day, meaning I couldn't ride my bike to the theater in time for the screening after Transformers ended. (But was in walking distance of the local arthouse theater, so saw Wilson instead.)

Then this past Wednesday, I considered an outing to my favorite old-school theater, the art deco Sun Theatre in Yarraville, and that would have been on the docket. But I was just too tired.

However, I "made up for it," of sorts, by finally seeing Straight Outta Compton on Thursday night.

It's probably a dangerous false equivalency to equate movies about Tupac Shakur and movies about NWA, as I am probably misunderstanding the finer details of the world of gangsta rap. Perhaps watching the Biggie biopic Notorious would be a more accurate equivalency, though then that would really be taking sides in the battle of East Coast vs. West Coast.

Then again, is it such a false equivalency? Both Tupac and NWA were represented by Suge Knight, and Tupac actually appears (very briefly) as a character in Straight Outta Compton (hence the subject of this post). So, I'm going with the legitimate equivalency.

Straight Outta Compton was a movie with a daunting running time of its own, clocking in at 146 minutes, which was one of the reasons I didn't watch it two years ago when it first came out. My wife had already seen it, as well, so it made the perfect movie for when she was out for drinks on Thursday night. Early start, plus I needn't save it for her.

Well, it was probably a good trade as I have not heard good things about All Eyez (38 Metascore) and I ended up really liking Straight Outta Compton. Just short of loving it, actually.

Had the second half been as strong as the first half, "love" might have been a legitimate word. But when are they ever? And I got all the detracting talking points about this movie, that the second half follows a familiar template for the "band breaking up" movie, and also that there are a lot of problematic attitudes toward women in this movie. (The problematic aspects embedded into the song lyrics were probably inescapable; the topless women being passed around like objects might have been avoided.)

But the movie really felt real to me in a lot of ways, and not just because Ice Cube's son is a dead ringer for him. I really enjoyed the performance of Jason Mitchell as Eazy E, and some of the moments of police corruption really boiled my blood.

One thing that surprised me about it, or reminded me of something I had forgotten, was that Ice Cube was really once a gangster of sorts. There's a scene of him destroying the office of a record executive trying to screw him out of money that flies in the face of the family friendly cinematic superstar we have today. Ice Cube has softened over the years; I won't call it selling out, though some would. Since I'm favorably disposed toward the guy, I'll just say he's mellowed. But yeah, he was once a borderline criminal.

It's refreshing to see some truly subversive geniuses who shaped a truly groundbreaking movement get a well made biopic like this one. F. Gary Gray is the director they deserve -- humorously enough, making a movie that references his own breakthrough film, Friday, both textually and subtextually. (O'Shea Jackson Jr. actually says "Bye Felicia" in this movie.)

I also loved seeing some others turn up in guest appearances, namely Keith Stanfield (of Get Out) as Snoop Dogg. Nice impersonation, Keith.

So I guess my eyez, all of them, will eventually see the Tupac biopic on video.

And maybe I'll watch Notorious, which I still haven't seen, as a double feature.

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