Monday, March 28, 2016

Increase the Peace

Boyz n the Hood
Director: John Singleton
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Angela Basset, Nia Long, Regina King
Released: July 12, 1991

Oscar nominations:

Best Director - John Singleton (lost to Jonathan Demme for Silence of the Lambs)
Best Original Screenplay - John Singleton (lost to Callie Khouri for Thelma and Louise)

Spoiler alert....there are characters who get killed in this movie that heavily features gangs!

I first saw this movie in 2009, months before I started this blog so it had just missed the cut off date for me to review it after seeing it the first time, but I figured now would be the perfect time since I consider it a culturally relevant film from 1991. At 24, John Singleton was the youngest director ever to get a nomination for Best Director. That's really young and this was not only the first movie he directed (well, duh, he was only 23 when he directed it!), but it was the first thing he directed, period. I had always just assumed he did music video work, but IMDd lists nothing previous to Boyz n the Hood. 

I was curious to see other young directors (as in under 30) who have also been nominated for directing Oscars. Alright, so after doing some research on Wiki, I'm back with some cool facts! Nobody in their twenties has ever WON a Best Director Oscar. The youngest winner was 32 years old, some guy named Norman Taurog for some movie called Skippy. This was back in 1931, so back then he probably would have been considered old, haha! In more recent times, the youngest winner would probably be Sam Mendes who was 34 when he won for American Beauty in 2000. (He is the third youngest Best Director winner). That's still a whole decade older than John Singleton who has held the record for the youngest Best Director nominee (and remember, there are more nominees than winners overall!) for the past 24 years. Before him, the youngest Best Director nominee was Orson Welles who was 26 when he was nominated for Citizen Kane in 1941 (hmmm...I always pictured him as an old man!) Since him, there's been a handful of 29 (M. Night Shyamlan! Ha! Remember when he was nominated for one for The Sixth Sense?) and 30 year olds (Spike Jonez for Being John Malkovich and Jason Reitman for Juno).  Okay, sorry, I just like statistical facts like those. It is very impressive that John Singleton was nominated when he was that young.

Another interesting fact about his nomination (and this one shocked me a little) is that he is the first black director to be nominated! I was thinking, Wait a minute....Do The Right Thing came out two years BEFORE this movie...did they forget about Spike Lee? And then I had to double check and found out he wasn't...oops.... Then I was thinking, what about Sidney Poitier? He was surely nominated for Best Director, right? No....he did win for Best Actor (that must be what I was thinking of), but has never been nominated for any directing work. I mean, maybe I shouldn't be that surprised....this is the same organization that was called out for being racist at this year's Oscar ceremony! So John Singleton holds two pretty distinct Oscar firsts.

The movie starts in 1984 when our main character, Tre Styles, is ten years old. He lives with his mother (Angela Bassett) in South Central L.A. who is going to school for her masters. Tre is a bright kid but, because of the aggressiveness he sees in the older kids around his neighborhood, he gets into a lot of fights because that's how he's learned how to act when he wants to intimate someone or if he doesn't agree with someone. His mother told him if he gets into one more fight, then he will be sent to live with his father who lives in a rough neighborhood. I felt like he would have gone to live with his father regardless since his mother was so busy with going to school and completing her work. His father (Laurence Fishburne - yes, his parents are Ike and Tina Turner!) Furious Styles (yes, that is his name; no, he's not a superhero) is a strict parent, but tells Tre he is lucky because most of the boys in his neighborhood don't have a father to teach them responsibility like Tre does.

Tre becomes fast friends with three other boys his age in the neighborhood: Doughboy (whose real name is Darren, but they call his Doughboy because he's fat, I guess); Ricky, who's Doughboy's half brother (they have the same mother, but different fathers, neither which is in their lives); and Chris. There's a scene where the four boys are walking along a train track and one of them asks the others if they wanna see a dead body. Sound familiar? Okay, that cannot be coincidental! That is so Stand By Me! There's even a fat kid in the mix! The dead kid they see is even in a similar position as the dead kid in Stand By Me; kinda hidden in the brush. Only the dead kid (well, he's more of a dead teen, but it's all semantics) in this movie was shot by a rival gang member while I think the dead kid in Stand By Me was hit by a train, right? I don't remember...and I've seen that movie many times. That's really sad. It's sad that I don't remember is what I mean, but it is also sad that a kid died from getting hit by a train. Anyway, I'm getting way off track...haha, I made a pun. Anyway, very cool John Singleton is a Stand By Me fan.

In one scene, two police officers come over to the Styles house after a burglar has fled after Furious shot at him. There's a white cop and a black cop and you think the white cop is going to be a racist jerk, but he just asks for the statement and when he goes back to the car, it's the black cop who is racist, pretty much telling Furious that he wasted their time since nothing was taken and that it's too bad he didn't shoot the perpetrator so there would be one less n-word to worry about. When the cop says hello to Tre, Furious tells him to go back in the house and the cop asks him if something is wrong and Furious replies, "Yeah, there is. It's just too bad you don't know what it is." This cop will come back later and he will not have learned his lesson.

The movie jumps forward seven years to "present" day 1991 where Tre is now 17 (and now played by Cuba Gooding Jr. BTW, does anyone know how to pronounce his name? I'm not sure if it's Cue-ba or Koo-ba because I've heard it said both ways. I've always pronounced it the same was as the country). Out of his three childhood friends, he's become closest to Ricky (now played by Morris Chestnut). There's a reason for this. Doughboy and Chris were caught shoplifting and were sent to juvie. They were there for seven years which seems a little extreme for minors unless they were caught with guns, but we're really never told the whole story. After the time jump, the first scene we see is a welcome home party for the two kids. Doughboy is now played by Ice Cube and Chris is now in a wheelchair (and played by someone not famous, or I should say by someone who did not become famous). They're both gang members, both affiliated with the Crips party. (Which probably explains why Chris is paralyzed since he was shot.)

So here's something crazy: Laurence (or "Larry" as he was credited!) Fishburne is only seven years older than Cuba and he's playing his father! Furious is suppose to be a young father as he was seventeen when Tre was born, so when Tre is ten, the age difference makes sense since Furious is suppose to be 27 and Fishburne was 29 when he filmed this. If they did age Fishburne in the time jump (to the ripe old age of 34!), then I didn't notice anything. But you have to remember Fishburne was playing someone older than he actually was and Cuba was playing someone younger than he was as he was around 22 when he filmed this. I can't imagine anyone other than Laurence Fishburne playing Furious, though, he is so good. I read that Eddie Murphy was offered the part or considered for it. Thank God that didn't happen...I can't see that at all!

When I re-watched this, I remembered that one of Tre's friends died at the hands of a gang member and for the longest time I was convinced it was Doughboy (and technically he DOES die, but it's off screen), but as the movie went along, I realized I had remembered wrong and that it was Golden Boy Ricky who gets shot. It's really no secret that Ricky and Doughboy's mother prefers Ricky over Darren. Ricky has gotten the opportunity to get a scholarship to USC to play football and the scene where his mother tells him that if he gets in, then he will be the first person in their family to attend college, that's when I knew he was the one who was going to die. And I was right.

There's a scene earlier in the movie where the four guys are at a street racing event and Ricky gets in a scuffle with a Blood member. (We know he's a Blood member because he and his other cronies are wearing red). The Blood member is walking past Ricky and shoves him and they get into a fight and Doughboy asks the Blood members if there's a problem as he's flashing his gun to them. The Blood members eventually leave them alone, but a few minutes later, the leader shoots his gun in the air, scaring everyone away.

Tre and Ricky drive back home together and on their way back they are pulled over by the cops. The very same cops that came to the Styles house seven years ago when there was an attempted robbery. That racist black cop I mentioned earlier? Still a self-hating racist cop! If Tre recognized him, I couldn't tell. But what are the odds that he would meet up again with the same cop from seven years ago? And they live in South Central L.A. where there must be tons of cops all the time. It seems a little implausible that he would run into the same two cops from his childhood.

The Blood member is still angry at Ricky for confronting them and has somehow found out where he lives and the other boys see their car in their neighborhood and know nothing good can come out of
this. Ricky doesn't think anything of it; he just thinks they're trying to scare him. Um, they're in a gang...they will kill you over anything! It's so can accidentally bump into someone or say the wrong thing to someone and the next moment you're shot dead. Ricky may have been book smart (he did get a high enough SAT score to get into USC), but I don't think he was as street smart as his brother. He's just standing out in the alley scratching some lottery tickets. I'm thinking, get your ass somewhere where you're not out in the open! But like I said, he didn't seem to be too concerned about his safety. Tre sees the Bloods first and yells "RICKY!" to warn his friend, but it's too late and in a very brutal scene he is shot dead. His friends take his body back to his house. Now while his friends' and his girlfriend's reactions were heartbreaking, it was his mother's reaction that really got me. At first, she is confused as to why everyone is screaming and crying and when she sees her son's body on her couch (and thank goodness it had plastic over it!), she breaks down and pleads for him to wake up. Really sad stuff.

Drenched in his friend's blood, Tre goes to his house to get his gun. His girlfriend, Brandi (Nia Long) sees him and pleads for him to tell her what's happened to Ricky but he won't talk to her. Furious tells him he can't leave this house or his life will be over, everything he's worked for to try to get out of this town for a better life. Tre tells him he won't do anything but ends up sneaking out to join Doughboy and the others to get revenge on the guys who killed Ricky. However, Tre realizes his father is right and he doesn't want to go down this path of violence and asks for them to pull the car over so he can get out.

Somehow, Doughboy and the others manage to find the Bloods eating outside a fast food place. (The town they live in must not be that big... or maybe gangs have their favorite hangouts?) They kill all of them in the parking lot and Doughboy personally gets out himself to "finish the job" while the other guys are yelling at him to get back in the car before they get caught. The next day we see a scene with Doughboy talking to Tre saying how he knows his days are numbered since someone will want to seek retaliation for the lives they took...although how would they know it was him since he killed all the people and there are no witnesses? Maybe the one Blood leader took notes. Who knows how this gang stuff works. But he's right and we see text written on the screen that Doughboy was murdered two weeks later. As this is shown, Doughboy is walking across the street after talking to Tre and vanishes. It's another shoutout to Stand By Me when it's mentioned River Phoenix's character dies and we see him disappear. Except I thought Doughboy was suppose to be the Vern!

Tre was able to get out of L.A. when he is accepted to a college in Atlanta along with his girlfriend.

It's a respectable movie for a first time director though things are a little heavy-handed at times. For instance, the very first scene shows a neighborhood and the camera lingers on a stop sign for a few seconds. The message is very blatant! 

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