Straight Outta Compton Movie Review

Chronicling approximately a decade of time following the three most notable members of gangsta rap supergroup N.W.A. and named after their landmark debut album, Straight Outta Compton is a musical biopic that often approaches the large proportions these artists deserve. This is not “Behind the Music” nor the chintzy examples of this genre that we sometimes find on VH-1 or Lifetime. F. Gary Gray’s movie is a timely tale about timeless music that was thought to be a total fad when Dr. Dre first spun his iconic beats for fellow group members Eazy-E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren.

It begins in 1986 with the group’s formation in the drug infested Los Angeles suburb of Compton. Talented DJ Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) recruits local drug dealer Eric “Eazy E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) to help fund the group. O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube (played by Cube’s real life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is the fiery rapper and lyricist along their side. MC Ren and DJ Yella… well, they’re also in N.W.A. I don’t say this to minimize their contributions. The film just really doesn’t spend any time exploring them. This is understandable because Compton has a lot on its plate and packs a lot in during its two and a half hour run time.

The period of time covered here does explore two managers who both helped make the group’s and Dre’s solo masterworks occur and employed nefarious tactics that wreaked havoc. For N.W.A., it’s Jerry Heller (played with gusto by Paul Giamatti) and later on it’s notorious Death Row cofounder Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). For those familiar with the story, we get the expected high and lowlights beyond the corporate intrigue – the young men adjusting to fame, Cube’s controversial exit, Eazy’s eventual health issues, and the group’s dealings with police brutality both before and after they achieved fame. Of course, some of those instances lead to their most notable tracks.

What helps Compton achieve more than most of its contemporaries is likely due to director F. Gary Gray, who early in his career directed videos for Cube and Dre and helmed 1995’s weed classic Friday, which starred and was cowritten by Cube. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Young are also producers and this all leads to an air of authenticity that permeates the production. It elevates this material to superior heights, even if we’ve seen these tales (whether based in truth or not) before.

Mitchell stands out as Eazy and he is given the most emotional story arch to work with. Jackson, as you’d expect, has probably had plenty of practice mimicking his old man and does a commendable job and Hawkins is a suitable Dre. And of course, there’s the music. A sound that was dangerous to so many ears and still is. It was also brilliant and Dre’s incredible contributions to the sound of the last 30 years is given its proper due.

Straight Outta Compton sometimes does feel like its trying to pack in so much recent history that it feels fragmented. The N.W.A. tale and Death Row saga could easily be separate pics (brief glimpses of Snoop and 2Pac make you wish for that 2 1/2 hours of devotion). For what we’ve been presented, though, Compton is on the higher (not a Chronic reference) end of these tales with beats by Dre that keep its propulsive rhythm humming.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Straight Outta Compton

Last weekend the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton became a cultural phenomenon, grossing an astonishing $60 million out of the gate. This rocketed past even the most lofty expectations. The film’s A Cinemascore grade prove audiences were very pleased. Its 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating show critics are behind it too.

This brings up a question that I wouldn’t have thought to ask even a week ago: could Straight Outta Compton get some Oscar love? The short answer: it’s possible but unlikely. Compton will need the help of at least two or three hotly anticipated autumn releases not to meet their awards potential. That often happens, but one other summer release (and a much different one) is currently the front runner for this season’s potential Picture nominees: Pixar’s Inside Out.

Still – Oscar voters could certainly show a cool factor and express themselves by bringing Compton into the mix. Its only real shot is probably a stand alone Best Picture nod. Director F. Gary Gray and the actors shouldn’t be a factor. For now, this blogger will say it’s a long shot, but we shall see how the next four and a half months plays out.

Straight Outta Compton Box Office Prediction

Telling the story of one of hip hop music’s most iconic groups, Straight Outta Compton hits theaters next Friday and could be poised for a stealthy debut. Centering on the story of N.W.A. and its members Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E, MC Ren and DJ Yella, Compton is directed by F. Gary Gray, who made music videos for Dre and Cube back in the day prior to becoming an accomplished maker of Friday and The Italian Job, among others. A cast of relative unknowns formulate the cast with the exception of Paul Giamatti as band manager Jerry Heller. Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays his pop.

Fans of the hip hop genre should flock to this. Shot on a meager $25 million budget, it stands to top that (probably easily) in its first weekend. Dre and Cube served as executive producers and Dre has a highly awaited album coming out tomorrow that’s inspired by the film. Reviews have been strong with a current rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

While Compton is unlikely to reach the heights of Eminem’s 8 Mile ($51 million debut) in 2002 when that artist was at the top of his drawing power, I think believe Compton should rule its weekend. I believe it could approach and maybe surpass $40 million for its premiere, I’ll go just a tad under.

Straight Outta Compton opening weekend prediction: $39.3 million

For my The Man from U.N.C.L.E. prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/08/06/the-man-from-u-n-c-l-e-box-office-prediction/

Dre Day

For a hip hop fan like myself, I recognize that I’m lucky to have grown up in what I consider the golden age of the genre: the early to middle portion of the 1990s. It was a time of Wu Tang Clan and the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. It’s when Outkast and Jay Z and Nas started their careers. It’s also the unforgettable era of Death Row Records – with its notorious co-founder Suge Knight. It is, of course, the label that gave us Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound. Most notably, it’s other founder is Dr. Dre, the beat maker behind legendary rap group N.W.A. That rap quintet will be the subject of Straight Outta Compton, out August 14th. The pic is already generating positive buzz.

Speaking of positive buzz, the first release on the Death Row label was The Chronic, released in late 1992. It is a Dre solo album, though none of his works actually are. It featured a smorgasbord of guest stars that Dre allowed to shine – Snoop, Kurupt, Daz, Nate Dogg, Lady of Rage and more. It gave us classics like “Ain’t Nuthin But a G Thang”, “Dre Day”, “Let Me Ride” and more. The funk drenched gangsta rap epic is often called the finest rap album of all time. I don’t disagree.

Flash forward to 1999. Dre had left Death Row three years prior amid issues with Suge and formed new label Aftermath. The long wait between Dre albums had been made easier with his production work in between – on Snoop’s brilliant debut Doggystyle, Pac’s All Eyez on Me album and others. Chronic 2001 came in late 1999 with a difficult charge to keep – holding up compared to his first “solo” work. It did. Chronic 2001 was another masterpiece, complete with assists from Dre’s new protégés Eminem and Xzhibit, as well as Snoop. Singles like “Still DRE”, “Forgot About Dre”, and “What’s the Difference?” tore up the charts.

And then… The music stopped. Sort of. While rap’s most ingenious producer kept putting out hits from Eminem works to Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair” to 50 Cent’s anthem “In Da Club”, the music community kept waiting for Dre’s promised album Detox. And waiting. And waiting.

Detox was announced as his first final solo album. Official word of its eventual release was first discussed in 2001. Known as an extreme perfectionist, fans just assumed he was taking his time. A lot of time. Finally it late 2010, it seemed Dre’s long gestating project was finally coming to fruition. A first single featuring Snoop – “Kush” – was put out. A follow up track “I Need a Doctor” with Eminem quickly followed. And then radio silence again.

In recent years, Dre has been known more for his successful line of headphones that’s made him a billionaire. The hope of a new album with his name on it seemed unlikely at best. And then… some news broke over the weekend from the Doctor himself. He has made a brand spanking new album called Compton – The Soundtrack, inspired by the film out in two weeks. It features, among others, previous collaborators like Snoop, Ice Cube, and Eminem. And after 16 years of anticipation – Dre casually announced that it’ll be out Friday. As in THIS Friday, August 7th!! For hip hop lovers, it’s tough to properly describe how exciting this news is.

I’ll sort of try. The first two Chronic albums are essentially the rap version of the first two Godfather movies. They’re untouchable and pretty much perfect master works that hold up as well today as when they were released. For many who proclaimed hip hop a fad and “not real music”, Dre provided a prescription of stunning production that made their argument tougher to make. The Godfather comparison is not one I would make lightly, but the comparison is deserved.

And the news that we are at last getting another album from this certified genius was music to my ears. We shall learn Friday if it’s worth the wait. The Godfather comparisons continue. Sixteen years passed between the release of part II and the much lesser received Part III. It will be coincidentally be the same passage of time between Chronic 2001 and Compton. I am hopeful the Doc has some more wonderful work left in him. Frankly, he rarely disappoints. Therefore, I will be his willing patient on August 7. Friday, to be sure, will be Dre Day.

Todd’s 15 Most Anticipated 2015 Summer Movies: Nos. 10-6

This evening on the blog, part II of my Top 15 Most Anticipated 2015 Summer Movies!

If you missed part one covering numbers 15-11, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/04/09/todds-15-most-anticipated-2015-summer-movies-nos-15-11/

We move forward into the Top Ten with numbers 10-6 before my final installment tomorrow revealing the top five.

Let’s get to it!

10. Ted 2

Release Date: June 26

Seth MacFarlane’s Ted was the comedic hit of summer 2012 with its foul talking teddy bear. Mark Wahlberg is back, though Mila Kunis is out with Amanda Seyfried in. Comedy sequels are a risky proposition, but let’s hope MacFarlane can recapture the magic he made three years ago (and couldn’t duplicate with last summer’s mediocre A Million Ways to Die in the West).

9. Straight Outta Compton

Release Date: August 14

F. Gary Gray, the man responsible for several music videos featuring the film’s subjects as well as Friday and The Italian Job, directs the musical bio of NWA – the highly influential gangsta rap group that included Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E. Dre and Cube serve as producers.

8. Trainwreck

Release Date: July 17

Judd Apatow had a one two punch of comedy classics with 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin and 2007’s Knocked Up. His follow-ups, Funny People and This is 40, were just OK. Trainwreck is said to be a return to form based on word of mouth, with comedian Amy Schumer primed for a breakout starring role. Bill Hader and Lebron James (!) co-star.

7. Ant-Man

Release Date: July 17

The last time Marvel Studios had a feature thought to be outside the box and risky, it was last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy and it turned out to be the season’s biggest hit. This studio knows what they’re doing and here we have Paul Rudd playing the title character with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly in supporting roles.

6. Aloha

Release Date: May 29

For the past decade, Cameron Crowe’s filmography has been unimpressive with Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo. Let us not forget, though, that this is the man that brought us Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous. Crowe’s latest is a romantic comedy with a truly impressive cast – Bradley Cooper (hot off American Sniper), Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, and Danny McBride.

And that’ll do it for now, folks! Top five coming at you tomorrow…

Top 90 Hip Hop Songs of the 1990s: Nos. 10-1

Well we started from the bottom, but now we’re here – at the top ten of my personal favorite hip hop singles of the 1990s decade! It’s been a lot of fun recounting the fabulous hits of the decade that saw hip hop move from what some thought was a fad to a phenomenon that is here to stay. If you missed any of my previous eight posts covering numbers 90-11, you can find ’em here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/23/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-90-81/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/24/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-80-71/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/25/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-70-61/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/26/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-60-51/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/27/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-50-41/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/28/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-40-31/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/30/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-30-21/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/10/31/top-90-hip-hop-songs-of-the-1990s-nos-20-11/

And now – the Top Ten!!

10. “My Name Is” by Eminem (1999)

Slim Shady burst onto the hip hop scene with his first amazing single with production work from Dr. Dre. He would dominate the following decade, but this is where it all started.

9. “Jump Around” by House of Pain (1992)

With production by DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill, Everlast and company had a smash hit with this party starter.

8. “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature (1991)

We still may not know what it really stands for, but Naughty by Nature gave us their true classic with their first single off their self-titled debut album.

7. “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube (1993)

Mr. Cube had a classic with this lyrically brilliant cut about a typical day in the life of a rapper.

6. “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)

The debut single from his iconic Ready to Die debut album, “Juicy” announced the presence of a rap god that we lost too soon.

5. “California Love” by 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman (1996)

Much like Biggie, we also lost the unforgettable 2Pac soon. “California Love” was the smash hit first single off All Eyez on Me with production from Dre and a terrific Road Warrior inspired music video.

4. “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J (1991)

He’d been here for years with some in the rap community doubting him, but LL Cool J gave us this hard hitting and magnificent cut that serves as his signature track.

3. “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys (1991)

The highest charting single from this innovative Houston rap group, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” is flat out brilliant.

2. “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need To Get By (Razor Sharp Mix)” by Method Man featuring Mary J. Blige (1995)

A remix of a track off his Tical album, Wu-Tang member Method Man teamed with Mary J. Blige and producer RZA to come up with an unforgettable take on the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell 1968 hit.

1. “‘Nuthin but a ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (1992)

The 1990s decade was in many ways dominated by Death Row and Dr. Dre. This first single off The Chronic (the album of the 1990s in hip hop) with Dre and Snoop trading rhymes earns its rightful place atop the best singles.

And there you have it, friends! My work is done here. Hopefully, at the least, this list gave you some iTunes fodder or reminded you just how great certain tracks were back in the day. Until next time…

 

Top 90 Hip Hop Songs of the 1990s: Nos. 30-21

We’re into the Top 30 of my personal top 90 hip hop singles of the 90s decades! If you’ve missed any of the entries covering numbers 90-31, you can peruse them by clicking the Music tab on the blog or simply scrolling through.

Let’s bring it:

30. “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1995)

One of Biggie’s signature tunes from his Ready to Die debut album, this gave the brilliant rapper his most prominent nickname.

29. “Bring the Pain” by Method Man (1994)

One of the stars of Wu-Tang Clan, this was Meth’s first single from his acclaimed Tical album.

28. “Insane in the Brain” by Cypress Hill (1993)

Cops come and try to snatch Cypress Hill’s crops (likely marijuana) in the group’s best known hit.

27. “Fu-Gee-La” by Fugees (1996)

The lead single from Wyclef, Lauryn, and Pras’s landmark album The Score.

26. “The Choice Is Yours” by Black Sheep (1991)

Engine engine… number 9… Black Sheep had an amazingly catchy smash with this release.

25. “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground (1990)

Digital Underground released their signature tune that memorably described lead rapper Shock G’s proclivity to do things at Burger King that didn’t involve typical menu ordering.

24. “Triumph” by Wu-Tang Clan (1997)

The RZA led hip hop super group showcased the talents of all its rappers on the first single off their Wu-Tang Forever album.

23. “Rosa Parks” by Outkast (1998)

The lead single off Aquemini offered one of the most commercial and catchy tracks from Andre 3000 and Big Boi.

22. “Can’t Truss It” by Public Enemy (1991)

Many PE fanatics might rank other songs higher, but this has always remained my personal favorite track from the iconic group.

21. “Deep Cover” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (1992)

The world got its first taste of the Dre/Snoop combo in this title song from a 1992 Laurence Fishburne crime thriller. Rap would never be the same.

And that’ll do it for now! We’ll enter the top 20 tomorrow…