O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti
F. Gary Gray
Considering that core N.W.A. members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are producers of the film about the band that made them superstars, it will surprise no one to discover that “Straight Outta Compton” delivers an almost laughably squeaky-clean version of their life stories between 1986 and 1995. There is no mention of Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s assault of Dee Barnes (he tried to throw her down a flight of stairs, but not before slamming her into a brick wall), and while they show Eric “Eazy-E” Wright responding with, “But I ain’t no faggot,” upon hearing the news that he has AIDS, they do not mention that Eazy-E in fact issued a statement days before his death, making sure that the world knew that he in fact wasn’t no faggot, and that he contracted the virus the way God intended him to: through heterosexual intercourse, as if there is some nobility in that. We get it, Eazy – you’re not gay. But you’re still dead.
In spite of this whitewashing (it seems vaguely racist to use that phrase to describe a bunch of African-Americans), “Compton” is a highly entertaining film. The concert and studio sequences are intoxicating, and the performance of Ice Cube – by Cube’s oldest son, for crying out loud – is mesmerizing. It’s no reinvention of the musical biopic wheel by any means, but there is an adrenaline rush that comes with a film about a bunch of dirt-poor kids from Compton banding together, compromising nothing, and bending the rest of the world to their will.
The movie begins in 1986, giving the audience brief back stories of the five core members of N.W.A., while making no mention of any previous band affiliations the members had (of which there are several). Andre Young was a dreamer, a supreme DJ talent under pressure to make bank and take care of his baby. O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson was the main brain, equal parts poet and instigator. Eazy-E was the hustler who had the cash to make a recording happen. That recording was the Cube-penned “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” rapped by Eazy (who, if the movie is to be believed, couldn’t rap worth a damn at first) and was a massive hit out of the box. The song attracted the attention of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who used his contacts to land Eazy’s indie label Ruthless Records a distribution deal with Priority Records.
Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Snoop Dogg
If you sit and think about “Turbo” for even half a second, it’s difficult not to notice what’s wrong with it, from the formulaic story to its blatant disregard for the rules of auto racing (spoken by a man who doesn’t follow auto racing; that’s how egregious the oversights were). Luckily for the film, it has several other things working in its favor, namely some inspired voice casting, gorgeous design, and smarter than average dialogue. “Turbo” rises above its familiarity and makes for a charming, if predictable, experience.
Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is a snail who, along with his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), works in the garden outside a suburban southern California house. At night, Theo watches video tapes of race car driver Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), and dreams of being fast like him, a racer named Turbo. One night, while watching the cars on the 101 from an overpass, Theo inadvertently winds up taking part in a street race and ingesting nitrous oxide, which rewrites his DNA and gives him incredible speed. (Warning to children: drinking nitrous oxide will not give you superhuman speed. If anything, it will put you to sleep.) Soon after, Theo and Chet are captured by Tito (Michael Pena), who co-owns a taco truck in a run-down strip mall, and races snails for fun with his fellow mall employees. Once they realize that Theo is actually fast, Tito begins raising money to enter him into the Indianapolis 500, and his new crew of racing snail buddies, led by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), provides support.
On paper, the marriage of cult film director David Cronenberg and cult novelist Don DeLillo is no doubt an ideal one, but movies require bringing dozens or even hundreds of other random factors into the mix, and it’s the director’s job to bring all of it together into one cohesive vision. “Cosmopolis” should have been a masterpiece, and bubbling away beneath its immensely flawed surface, one can see that masterpiece lurking. Unfortunately, the film is painted wall to wall with an uninspired, thoughtless and flat performance from Robert Pattinson that drags the entire affair down to nearly unwatchable. He is in every scene and the entire picture revolves around him. Understand, I’ve nothing against Pattinson. Being largely unfamiliar with his work, I went into “Cosmopolis” assuming that Cronenberg would work cinematic legerdemain with the actor, as he has done countless times before with dozens of players. He did not.
People will argue that Pattinson’s billionaire Eric Packer is supposed to be dreary and lifeless, jaded about life as he is, and desperately keen to feel something – anything – as he takes his epic limo ride from one side of the city to the other just to get a haircut. I would argue back that it takes an actor with far greater chops and insight into his craft to achieve the performance necessary to make this movie work. It needed a young James Spader perhaps, or a Christian Bale, who already played a version of Packer in “American Psycho.” Allegedly, Colin Farrell was cast as Packer, but had to drop out due to conflicts with “Total Recall,” which is a big shame for film as an art form. It’s too bad, too, because “Cosmopolis” surrounds Pattinson with people like Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti, all of whom attempt brave, inspired work that’s ultimately all for naught, since Pattinson’s like a giant pillow suffocating everyone and everything he comes into contact with. Sadly, there is no movie for this writer to review or discuss beyond this massive, fatal flaw. Perhaps you will be able to see it differently than I, and with all due reverence to both Cronenberg and DeLillo, I urge you to at least give it a shot.
The Blu-ray includes a commentary track from Cronenberg, a featurette on the film, and interviews with the cast and crew.
As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…
North Hollywood (2001)
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.
Saddle Rash (2002)
Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.