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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: John Witherspoon

Friday (1995)

I guess the hood ain’t such a bad place to live after all.

Craig (Ice Cube) spends most of his days doing nothing, staying unemployed, and just trying to get by in life, constantly chilling with his boy Smokey (Chris Tucker). However, the day that comes between Thursday and Saturday hits and for some reason, there’s something different about the day that isn’t like every other one.

By the mid-90’s, the hood subgenre of film became a bit of a joke. The themes, the violence, the stereotypes, etc., had all been played-out so much so that by a point, there was even a Wayans spoof on it all. What once had been a reliably sad and effective genre of film-making, soon became a bit of a stale product, that only seemed to get worse with each and every attempt at creating something close to resembling Boyz N the Hood.

Every neighborhood’s got a dude like this.

Which is why, at the time, and of course, now Friday is such a breath of fresh air.

Sure, is it a “hood film”? Yeah, it is, but it’s a different kind of one. It doesn’t really try to lay down some life-altering message about getting out of the hood and making a better future for yourself, nor does it ever seem to try and ever take itself too seriously. If anything, it’s just a smooth, relaxed, and downright silly comedy about one day in the hood, where some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some wacky stuff happens in, of all places, the hood.

And yes, Friday works because of that; it’s a very chilled-out kind of movie that doesn’t rush itself, doesn’t have too much of a plot to really get going with, and it sure as heck isn’t running too long with its barely 90-minute run-time. And none of this is a bad thing, either – most comedies, like John Waters always says, should barely be 90 minutes and Friday works well for that reason. A lot of the gags are so quick and random, that they somehow just work and come together, because the movie doesn’t harp on them too much, just like it doesn’t slow itself down with jokes, either. And it all matters, too, because, well, the jokes are actually pretty funny in and of themselves.

Which is why it’s hard to go on and on about Friday without talking about the one and the only, Chris Tucker.

Gotta get down on….

I think it goes without saying that Tucker makes Friday as funny as it can get. He’s often the scene-stealer, using his high-pitched squeal and delivery to make any joke land, as well as seeming like the funniest guy in the room, amongst a pretty funny crowd. It’s not really known how many of his lines were scripted, or how much everyone involved just trusted him to do his thing, but whatever it was, it works and it’s because of Tucker that even when Friday seems to meander a bit too far away from itself (which it often does), it still comes together in the end.

Which isn’t meant to take away from everyone else here, but yeah, when compared to Tucker, it’s hard not to notice. For instance, Ice Cube plays the straight-man, and seems to be having fun, even though often times, his role seems to just be used as the protagonist we see everything through. John Witherspoon is also a lot of fun as his daddy and kept me laughing every single time he showed up but also provided a lot of insight into how daddy’s usually are with their older, bum-like children. Nia Long is also nice as, once again, the romantic love-interest in a hood flick, while such comedic-greats like Michael Clarke Duncan, Faizon Love, and Tiny Lister, and oh, of course, Bernie Mac, all show up, do their things and remind us why they’re so funny in the first place.

But where Friday doesn’t hold up for me (and granted, I have seen this movie about four-to-five times now), is that it’s direction is a bit sloppy, however, with good reason. At barely 25 years of age, F. Gary Gray took over Friday and seemed like he didn’t have to do all that much, but somehow, the movie is still a bit messy. The best aspect of the movie is how, for the longest time, there’s really no plot and nothing needing to drive it by, but by the end, all of a sudden, there’s a plot, there’s a serious conflict, and there’s a, unfortunately, message that we’re all supposed to learn from. If anything, it feels lame, tired and annoying, and it seemed to only happen because Gray was just getting started and needed to get his foot in somewhere.

Thankfully, he did.

Consensus: Even with a slightly amateurish direction, Friday still works because of its odd gags, relaxed, yet pleasing tone, and of course, the exciting cast, led by a stand-out performance from Tucker.

8.5 / 10

Damn, indeed.

Photos Courtesy of: Filmaholic Reviews

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Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Where would we be without black actors? Maybe no Django? Or maybe not even the Django outrage?

Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) is a young, black male aspiring to be a the “next big thing in Hollywood”. He day dreams about it a lot, talks about it a lot, and even skips his work days just for that a lot, but he soon finds out that it’s a lot harder to be the “next big thing”, especially when race comes into play. Then again though, it’s Hollywood, so what the hell could ya expect when they want you to be the next Denzel, the next Morgan, or the next Sidney?!?

It blows that Robert Townsend doesn’t do much nowadays for the sole-purpose that his career started off with so much promise and inspiration, that it was all but obvious that it would eventually fall from grace and put him back down into the unknown league he was in before. Some may not even realize how much of an influence that guy had over some African-Americans back the day, but he really did, just by making a little film himself. Don’t believe me, watch an episode of Chappelle’s Show, then come back to this, and see where the inspiration came from.

See? It all goes together.

Working at a hot dog shack for the rest of your life can't be all that bad. Probably better than playing "drug dealer #4" for the rest of your life.

Working at a hot dog shack for the rest of your life can’t be all that bad. Probably better than playing “drug dealer #4” for the rest of your life.

Back in ’87, Townsend knew that it was hard for a black person to get their own, little film off the ground so he thought the best way would be to just max out all of his credit cards, direct and produce the film himself, ask his buddies for some help, and see how everything played out. It’s a pretty brave move to pull, a move that helped him out along with his buddies, but it’s also so brave because of the film that he actually created here. This is one of those films that is so funny because it makes fun of the right people, in the right ways. It’s obviously shading a gray-area on liberal-Hollywood that’s all about giving black people, roles in movies like drug dealers, pimps, or some sort of trouble-makers. Rarely ever do you see the smart, intelligent black man that went to Harvard, exceeded with flying colors in the real world, and lived a happy, peaceful life. They’re black, so obviously they have to be gang-banging in some way, right? Well, that’s where Townsend seems to be going with this material, and it’s as insightful now, as it was back then because certain things have changed, and certain things haven’t.

However, the film is most funny when Townsend breaks up the story with his random dream-like montages where he makes fun of certain pop-culture by placing black people in the leads. One skit I thought was very funny was Black Acting School 101, where it’s Townsend talking about this acting school where white people teach black people how to act “black”. It’s pretty freakin’ funny and the only reason why it’s so funny as it is and isn’t as offensive as it should be, is because it’s written by black people themselves. Yeah, that’s a bit of a racist statement to make in a way too, but it’s only the truth here. Townsend and his buds obviously know how to write a funny comedy about the culture they live in and see everyday, even if that culture is their own. Always nice to see that some ddues are able to make fun of others, while also being able to point the fingers towards themselves as well. Need that more in Hollywood nowadays.

A lot of what Townsend and Co. do end up satirizing and talking about, are pretty true and I think that’s where this film works the best in. Townsend, apparently, went through a lot of the same shit these characters are going through where numerous casting directors would try to get him to act more…black. Townsend frowns upon this, obviously, and shows exactly why it makes his culture look even dumber but he also puts a nice frown upon certain actors that do take those kind of dumb-ass, black roles (*cough* *cough* Eddie Murphy *cough* *cough*). Townsend doesn’t seem like he’s mad for this or even vengeful for this, he’s just very tongue-in-cheek and proves some very good points about African-American culture that even still sticks, despite an obvious change in where our movies are going with the usage of black actors, and black characters.

However, as brutally honest and sometimes hilarious this film can be, there was something lacking in Townsend’s narrative structure. The original story here, is pretty boring and your usual “young guy wants to be an actor” type of story that is only spiced up whenever the main character starts day-dreaming about different types of “What if…” situations. Some of them are very funny, but others, are funny at first but then start to go on for too long and get a bit too dry for my taste. One skit in particular was when Townsend substituted two black guys for Siskel & Ebert on their own version of the show, which may have started off very funny and full of promise, only began to go downhill, once it hit that seven-minute mark and you realized that they are still constantly going on about how they snuck into the theaters, stole their own snacks, and are about to get caught by the theater stuff. Funny once or twice, but after awhile; it’s the same joke, over-and-over again.

"So, I guess nobody has the time on them?"

“So, I guess nobody has the time on them?”

The cast is filled with a bunch of people we have all seen in tons and tons of random ish throughout the years, but the film’s main charm is through Robert Townsend who actually makes a pretty endearing character as Bobby Taylor. His character as Bobby is a good guy but it’s really impressive to see Townsend go through all of these different types of styles and pull ’em off very well. The guy also does a killer impersonation of Eddie Murphy and it’s a real wonder why this guy didn’t get any more love after this because he had some true talent to show off. Kind of sucks though, especially when you think about how d-heads like these two are somehow still getting in movies, and you’re still waiting for that next, big break to come your way.

Consensus: Hollywood Shuffle hits the right moments in terms of what it’s trying to say, how smart it can be, and where it shows our culture headed, if we continue this way, but it doesn’t always work with the loosey-goosey narration, and only shows that Townsend was a little bit inexperienced as a director.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Where DC's been heading as of late, would not be the least bit surprised if they went this direction next.

Where DC’s been heading as of late, would not be the least bit surprised if they went this direction next.

A Thousand Words (2012)

Who’s brilliant idea was it to have a whole film where Eddie Murphy can’t talk?!?

When he learns that his karma will permit him to speak just a thousand more words before he dies, fast-talking agent Jack (Eddie Murphy) must make every syllable count to make peace with his wife, Caroline (Kerry Washington), and his celebrity author client, Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis). But can the man notorious for his idle flattery truly change his ways?

So after sitting on the shelf for over 4 years, I went into this flick expecting nothing but pure and utter crap. I mean with the director of such other Eddie classics like ‘Meet Dave’ and ‘Norbit’, how could one expect anything different?

The premise we have here is one of those high-concept premises where we see an ass of a dude, get flung into a situation that makes him re-think his life and do better for ones around him. That concept does not change here and everything is basically by-the-numbers, which wouldn’t have been so bad if everything weren’t so damn unfunny. I mean I had a chuckle or two but the rest of the film tries so hard to make constant jokes that either don’t hit the mark, or just come off as awkward. The jokes actually seem out-dated (even for a flick that was made in 2008) and sometimes it honestly just seems like the writers are recycling material from past comedies that are in the same air as this (‘Click’, ‘Bruce Almighty’). Basically, this film is not funny in the least bit and is what you would expect from an Eddie comedy of this nature.

Obviously this film goes into some pretty schmaltzy and sympathetic territory but it’s not what you would usually get with these types of comedies because even though all comedies seem to go in this direction and create some life lesson for their protagonist, this film really nails that in. By the last act, the score starts to swoon and there is just constant scene after constant scene where they practically show this guy breaking down and crying to everyone around him telling them how much he loves them and will do right. It’s downright cheesy and is a little too over-dramatic for a “comedy” flick like this, even by its own standards.

What was also pretty weird about this flick too is the audience that it doesn’t really seem to have an audience that it’s reaching out towards which makes a lot more sense for it to be delayed for so long. There’s barely any kiddie stuff in here whatsoever, they say the word “shit” about 20 times also not forgetting the one F-bomb I think heard as well, and on top of that, it’s rated PG-13. It’s definitely not the type of movies that are centered toward the family audience that Murphy has been aiming towards lately, but it’s also not nearly as edgy or dangerous as his older material neither. In a nutshell, this is just a weird film to market considering there is no audience for this flick and that probably makes it a good reason as to why it was number 6 at the box office for the weekend.

As for Eddie Murphy himself, his performance here as Jack is one of his usual hammy, by-the-numbers, and lazy performances that we didn’t think we were going to see much more of ever since ‘Tower Heist’, but sadly, it’s all back. I don’t know why the film decided to have him in a premise where he doesn’t get to talk and use that hilarious voice we all know and love him for, but it’s also no help that his shtick gets old real quick considering he isn’t very known for his physical stuff. It’s a shame because this guy really was one of those comedians that people were afraid of because of how dangerous he could be but now he just does family-oriented junk like this and really starts to lose cred from the very few fans that still think he’s funny. Yes, I am one of them so eff you guys.

As for everybody else, I have no idea why the hell they even decided to even be in this flick and I don’t think they do either when they think about it. Clark Duke is the only funny thing about this flick but also looks embarrassed to be apart of every scene here as Jack’s assistant/little white bitch; Kerry Washington is beautiful and elegant but is given nothing extraordinary here as Jack’s clueless wife and it’s a shame considering she is great actress and is definitely on the high rise; and Ruby Dee has probably one good moment as Jack’s mom, who is starting to lose her mind, and she’s good but is definitely wasted here and could have been used for a far better flick.

Consensus: A Thousand Words is not funny, predictable, and one of those shelved comedies that should have stayed right where it was and released as straight-to-dvd flick, rather than actually making people go out there and have to pay 10 bucks for it. However, that’s why I snuck in. Teehee

1/10=Crapola!!