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"Boyz N the Hood" was a landmark film and certainly is one of the best
movies of the 1990s. This is true but it was too preachy in the execution of
its main themes. Director John Singleton has never matched it (and probably
never will) but has come close with such hard-hitting films as "Higher
Learning", "Rosewood", "Shaft" and "Baby Boy". Don't get me wrong, I love
"Boyz" and I know that Singleton is one of the finest African-American
directors in Hollywood, it is just that I cannot get past the tiring
preachiness that has become common in his films.
Now, you do not see that with the Hughes Brothers. They portray their films in a much more realistic fashion. One thing that has become a main criticism with the Hughes Brothers, is how they portray violence in their films. How else can you show violence in a movie without it looking completely fake? Just look at anything they've done and you notice how frighteningly realistic their subject matter is. Yes in this film, people are shot, beaten, and robbed, but it is done a brutal fashion that is realistic. If you've seen any music video or film that they have directed, you can easily make the claim that they are the best at what they do - portraying life as for what it is.
First look at "Menace II Society". This film upon its release in 1993, was instantly compared to "Boyz N the Hood". What separated the two, was their subject matter. "Boyz" focused on the positive side of living in the Los Angeles ghetto, which was South Central if I'm not mistaking. It also showed us Tre (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who tries to survive, despite his harsh surroundings. He grows up with a caring father (Laurence Fishburne) and it also shows him with his friends, many of whom are doomed to the legacy of street violence. "Menace" shows us the other, darker side of that picture. The story focuses on Caine (brilliantly played by Tyrin Turner) and his life after graduating from high school. It goes without saying that Caine is a criminal, but we come to sympathize with him, even though there is no way we can support his actions. He's a product of drug-pushing/using parents, witnessed murder before he was ten, was orphaned sometime later, and is now living with his God-fearing grandparents. Throughout the film, Caine and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) commit numerous crimes. You may think that the Hughes Brothers are glorifying that criminal image, but in fact, they are condemning it. If they were glorifying Caine and O-Dog's actions, then the Brothers would not show us the consequences of those actions.
Now look at their music videos. I cannot describe any 2Pac videos because I haven't seen any, but I can describe the Korn videos, both "Here To Stay" and "Thoughtless". Now before I go into this, I'll say that I'm a huge fan of rap, but I also enjoy some metal, Korn being the biggest thing metal I listen to. At first I wondered why the Hughes Brothers would direct music videos for a band like Korn, and then I listened to songs on their newest CD, titled "Untouchables". Right there on the first track I realized the connection between Korn and the Hughes Brothers - the Brothers trademark of naturalness of everyday life combined with Jonathan Davis' angst-filled and sometimes violent lyrics, which often describe his childhood in school. In Korn's "Here To Stay" video, we are shown the band (Davis, Brian Welch, James Shaffer, Reginald Arvizu and David Silveria), silhouetted against a huge snowing television screen. Throughout the video, images of the band are intercut with footage of the Gulf War, C-sections being performed, the L.A. riots, the 1986 Challenger explosion, police chases, animals attacking other animals, and at one point during the video, we are shown a police a car with the numbers "666" on the roof. As a grand finale, we are shown a twelve year-old boy sucked into the television screen after coming into contact with it. The relevance here is not the band itself, but the Hughes Brothers direction. The end shows how images of violence and destruction in the news affect our youth, just like in "Menace II Society" with Caine, who was young and was exposed to the same conditions as the boy in the video.
In Korn's "Thoughtless" video, we're shown a seventeen year-old boy who gets revenge on his classmates by showing up at prom with a hooker for a date and ends with him vomiting all over his classmates, while his hooker girlfriend is laughing the entire time. Again, the Brothers are showing us violence in youth, but doesn't show us the consequences of the boy's actions. He wanted revenge, he got it, but is he truly satisfied? The connection with the Brothers here is like in "Menace", showing that there is always consequences and you most likely will suffer. In the case of the boy, he will most likely end up warped and needing psychiatric help.
The Hughes Brothers have come under heavy scrutiny for just about everything they've ever worked on. This is largely because as I've already stated that their work is often very grim, but people often miss the fact that their work is often very optimistic about everything they talk about. Caine could have moved to Atlanta, the boy in the "Here To Stay" video could have simply turned off the television, and the boy in "Thoughtless" could have put everything behind him and start over.
As an African-American person myself from Virginia and living in a middle-class neighborhood no where near any of the areas I've described, I can't say for sure how accurate these films are (nor the music videos), but I can say that the Hughes Brothers, John Singleton and Korn truly bring out a glimpse of what life can be for some people.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm not saying it's a poorly made movie, despite all the continuity
errors, but I can't stand being asked to sympathize with a complete
Mr. Butler: "Being a black man in America isn't easy. The hunt is on, and you're the prey!!! All I'm saying is... All I'm saying is... Survive! All right?"
Well, let's see, he carjacks a poor guy in a fat-food lane, threatening to kill him for not ordering cheese on the burger. He knocks a girl up then treats her like utter garbage. Her cousin comes to defend her honor and this pig stomps on him, and kicks him when he's down. He's dishonorable, a liar, a villain, a fiend, a murderous cad.
But that line above from Mr. Butler makes it sound like we're supposed to pity him. I feel sorry for his grandparents, I feel sorry for the Korean shopkeeper, I feel sorry for Ileana, I feel sorry for her cousin, and I feel sorry for carjacking victim in the fast-food lane... all of which are Caine's victims.
So let's amend the quote to be a little closer to reality: "Being a black man in America isn't easy, but it could be easier. The hunt is on, and you're the predator!! All I'm saying is... All I'm saying is... Let other black people survive! Leave them alone! All right?"
The first ten minutes of one of the most graphically violent films of
1993,the urban drama from the debut directors Allen and Albert Hughes'
"Menace II Society" begins with a teenaged boy named Caine(Tyrin
Turner)watches as his friend and gangbanger O-Dog(Larenz
Tate)coldblooded with no remorse what so ever gunned down a innocent
Korean couple who runs a Liquor Shop in Watts,a suburban part of South
Central Los Angeles,California. Unlike his friend O-Dog,Caine Lawson
wants to leave his way of life,but he can't see a way out of a gang
lifestyle that may either have him send to prison or be killed. Fellow
gang member Sharif(Vonte Sweet)is the son of a teacher,Mr.
Butler(Charles S. Dutton),who lets Caine know that education is one way
out. Another gang member Stacy(Ryan Williams),receives a scholarship to
play football at the University of Kansas,and he asks Caine to go with
him. And Caine's girlfriend,Ronnie(Jada Pinkett-Smith),tries to
persuade Caine to moved to Atlanta with her. Despite these
possibilities,Caine has been worn down by a life filled with guns and
drugs,violence and death. Unsurprisingly,he's fatalistic about his
life,if he ever has a chance to HAVE a future,but if he wants to make a
change in his life is one way out of a hellish world of the ghetto.
The directorial debut of Albert and Allen Hughes,who are twins were only 21 years of age when they made this film. However,the film was a huge success and became a winner in so many ways making their equally compelling follow-up film,1995's "Dead Presidents",again starring Larenz Tate,who became a superstar in his feature film debut in "Menace II Society" and from here gives one of the most shockingly electrifying performances ever displayed in a motion picture. His character of O-Dog was just that....menacing to the point and extremely raw. This movie may audiences squirm in their seats when they went to see this film,due to the huge amount of disturbing images of realistic bloodletting,explicitly graphic content and strong intense violence,and the raging sound of its raw persuasive language which also included scenes of nudity and sexual situations. What makes "Menace II Society" so intense was its deep understanding of each and every character,more than justifies their take-no-prisoners approach to film-making. This was gives the film its sheer intensity that penetrates that insight into the comptemporary society,and this film delivers.
WARNING: The last five to ten minutes of the film is very graphic,and its not for the faint of heart,and when this film came out in 1993,audiences looked at this as one hellva bloodbath!
The directorial debut of twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes, Menace
II Society is a tough, no nonsense look at youthful black life in the
Watts section of Los Angeles. The Hughes Brother's movie charts the
hapless life of Caine (Tyrin Turner) as he seeks to escape the ghetto.
The son of both a drug dealer (Samuel L. Jackson in a potent
appearance) and an addict, Tyrin, surrounded by guns and a machismo
culture, is tied to his friends and the way of life afforded him. Even
as love and a chance of a way out arises with Jada Pinkett's (terrific)
pretty Ronnie, it's doubtful if Tyrin will escape from the revolving
door of death.
Menace II Society had a troubled beginning, refused a video certificate on the grounds of its profane language and brutally violent scenes, it has since gone on to be viewed as one of the finer exponents of anti-violence involving Black Americans. That wasn't always the case though, many critics in the 90s were prone to calling it a film that glamorises the lifestyle of "Hood" gangsters, but offered a saver of sorts by correctly saying it had realism in amongst the harshness. Certainly the dialogue and regional slang was refreshing to hear, thus affording "Menace" and its makers praise for keeping it real, so to speak.
Ineviatbly comparisons were (are) drawn with John Singleton's 1991 film, Boyz n the Hood. But although "Menace" is rawer, uncompromising and more visceral with impact, it lacks the intelligence of Singleton's film. Where "Boyz" had fully rounded characters, character with which to hang your hat on to, "Menace" is just a social group of youths we neither know or care about outside of the group, ego driven dynamic. When lead protagonist Tyrin is trying to deal with his inner conflict, we the audience are treated to standard run of the mill melodrama. The streetwise edginess that the Hughes' began their film with (the opening is nigh on horrific) has long since gone as they try to make a film that touches all the bases of Black Americana.
Easily the most realistic of all the ghetto films made, in fact the film at times feels like we are on a documentary drive around downtown Watts. Menace II Society, however brutal it clearly is, has loaded the gun and shot the bullet, only to see it narrowly miss the whole target it was aiming for. Still it's one hell of an experience though. 8/10
Ok let me be honest. When I saw this in the theatre I wasn't impressed.
But I couldn't stop going back to see it. And then it dawned on me that
this movie is indeed a great movie.
Compared to all of the other "hood" movies this is the best. It contains a message that indeed hits home. Your actions will come back to haunt you. Tyrin Turner and Larenze Tate played great and believable roles.
Of course everyone won't get this movie. But for those who do watch it I hope you get the message.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"We are being asked to take even larger doses of a medicine that has
proved to be deadly and to undertake commitments that do not solve the
problem, but only temporarily postpone the foretold death of our
economy." - Hieronymos II (head of Greece's Orthodox Church)
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom." - Martin Luther King, Jr
"Austerity is difficult, absolutely, but it's necessary, for rich and poor alike, black and white." - Frank Campbell
"The more things change, the more they stay the same." - Jean Baptiste Karr
Albert and Allen Hughes direct "Dead Presidents" and "Menace 2 Society". Both films purport to be "serious" examinations of the trials and tribulations of post-Vietnam African Americans, but in reality function more as giant exploitation films. The influence here is Scorsese's "Goodfellas", which the young Hughes brothers the perfect age to be seduced by Scorsese's pyrotechnics - attempt to mimic blow for blow. And like Scorsese's film, though absent of his considerable style, the Hughes' work here is thin, melodramatic and sensationalistic, with deaths, screams, headshots, bombast, snorting, swearing and fury schematically rolled out to shock, bludgeon and titillate rather than edify. An entire resurgence in African American film-making would be corrupted in the early 1990s with such films.
"This is how it really was," the brothers would claim in interviews, positing their early films as a response to John Singleton's (underrated) "Boyz n the Hood". Their films, the brothers claimed, portrayed the reality behind Singleton's supposedly "rosy" portrayal of the African American experience. But time has been unkind to their pictures. And as the baseline for what constitutes "realism" constantly moves, today "Dead Presidents" and "Menace to Society", once touted as being a form of "black neorealism" or "black naturalism", seem hilariously overcooked and gratuitous. And as with all these films, there is little understanding of why our cast of African Americans do what they do, behave how they behave or examination of the power structures and psycho-socio-economic forces at work. (Both films essentially boil down to blacks killing for money; but "economics" is itself the cause of "the problem", stretching all the way from Vietnam to the Slave Trade to the Roman Empire)
Still, there are good moments scattered about. "Menace to Society" opens with its best scene, an impromptu robbery/massacre in which a couple of black kids shockingly gun down the Asian shop-workers who insulted them. If disrespect is the root of all violence, we see that here, the larger marginalization of, or systemic disrespect toward, African Americans breeding both feelings of unworthiness and its opposite, a kind of manic need to protect, sometimes violently, brutalized egos. Black culture may have been mocked in the 90s for its "bling", its hysterical materialism, but this, as well as the numerous riots which rocketed across the US in the early 90s, was an understandable "response" to both widespread feelings of neglect and a culture with conflates wealth and worth. One should not have to prove one's humanity, one's worthiness, and when one is constantly forced to do so, pressure builds and one sometimes snaps. What's pertinent about "Menace's" "snaps" is that the victim's of such black aggression are always minorities or other blacks. Meanwhile, white faces are absent from the picture. Society functions in a similar way, Power deflecting hate away from itself "down" the "social hierarchy" - and onto others. Unfortunately the rest of the picture degenerates into gratuitous gore and violence.
Better than "Menace" is "Dead Presidents", which opens in 1968 and attempts to charter the lives of three friends (played by Larenz Tate, Chris Tucker, and Freddy Rodriguez) from the Bronx. They fight in Vietnam, are abandoned by the state, struggle to make a living, battle addiction and are then drawn to a life of crime.
Like "Menance", "Presidents" at time shows traces of political savvy one of the guards killed during the robbery is himself a Vietnam vet - but sensationalism, cynically employed shocks and thriller set pieces eventually undermine claims to earnestness. Blame Scorsese for this. Singleton's "Boyz n the Hood" was released before "Goodfellas" and so is stylistically somewhat different from most "African American" films of the period.
5/10 Worth one viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
it avoids the "we're victims of the man" attitude that most mainstream blaxploitation films spout as some sort of social conscious to paper over the action, this one presents the character and action raw. It reminds me of clockwork orange where you are invited into the private, sick world of the "protagonist", You kind of like him, in spite of the fact that he and his friends are despicable and self centered louts of no redeeming social value. It doesn't fall for the usual socio-rationalizations; these guys didn't have it so bad and they deliberately turned their backs on society and morality. The worse thing about their lives are the role models, most of them despicable but his kind Xtian grandparents, friends and sensible girlfriend make a futile attempt to get him to turn his life around. The men chose the wrong path and were willing to face the consequences. The action was intense and senseless; murders over stupid insults or petty theft. Even KayDee, goes from bad to worse after being the first in his family to graduate high school, as a functionally illiterate drug dealer though. He does a small stretch in county jails then carjacks a man for his car, jewelry and then makes him buy him a burger, at gunpoint. Ole Dog, his murderous og friend, was played by Larenz Tate with a fine fury. The characters are presented as human beings, evil ones, not stereotypes, ones you could sort of care about but never excuse or admire. That alone makes it worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many people see this film as the best of the 'urban' films to come out in the early 90's. I beg to differ. It's hard for me not to see this as simply a film that glamorizes violence, and uses the black 'ghetto' youth to showcase this, like the other films. It got to the point where it was very offending to watch. Where movies like 'Juice' and 'Boyz in the Hood' were sure to bring the positive into the violence portrayed, Menace 2 Society seems to embrace it. It's just SICKENING to me that the only positive character in the 'crew' gets killed when he was trying to escape all the violence around him....and the biggest advocate of the 'gangsta', street life, (Larenz Tate) doesn't. Being an African-American, I didn't like this movie when I first saw it, and my views on it haven't changed 10 years later. Menace 2 Society just seems to be cluttered with this violence and it comes off as exploitive, as if the makers were just trying to be as graphic, stereotypical and violent as possible. I see this film as a tasteless attempt at glamorizing violence and exploiting the struggle of urban youth, with no apparent effort to make a stance on it.
* 1/2 out of **** stars
this no holds barred hood movie that tells a story of choices that you have to make in life (whether to go the right or the wrong way)is a well adapted version of some of the thing s that young teenagers went through around those times in the ghettos of l.a . The great thing about this film other than the great acting is the captivating storyline and the fact that the director do sen't try and glorify violence or crime he portrays it in a way of the youngster Kaydee simply following what he was told from when he was a youngster and not knowing anything better than that.As it shows you when Kaine was younger he did not have a positive role model hes role model was Pynell a street gang banger who gets locked away and then years later when Pynell is locked up and Kaine is older Kaine is right there doing the same thing Pynell done when he was his age . This movie should be shown to every teenager who thinks street life is cool 10 out of 10 for this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is always one light of up in just about any given film, with a
fatal flaw that bogs the quality of it down. In Menace II Society there
*is* none. Or maybe the actors or the direction could have saved it,
but nothing, and I mean nothing, can overshadow the storyline. It's
The film centers on the milestones and many idiotic mistakes of Caine, the main character who lives in a predominantly black area that unfortunately is inhabited by equally morally deprived residents. If you haven't guessed what his fate is from the very beginning, he ends up getting shot, deserving every bullet that penetrates his body. Seriously. Caine, his friend, and nearly all the people in his 'hood minus the little children and Ronnie appear to have no morals whatsoever. They are all caught in a vacuum of moral depravity. Because of this, Caine continuously takes every golden chance to improve his life and throws it away until he finally gets what was coming in the end. Being arrested and even having a baby has done nothing to make him step back and think before he finds himself throwing swings and making yet another fatal action. Because he and many of the characters are so corrupted, there is absolutely no sympathy radiating from me.
The film is not in any way "powerful." Maybe in a bizarre world where the more violence there is in a film, the better the message comes across. If you look past the scenes that are supposed to have a strong message (for instance, the end where Caine is shot at least eight times), you realize that this boy had EVERY bullet coming! I don't believe it takes that many mistakes to realize that one has to clean up his act. The story had some potential, but if the writers injected just a bit of morality into the main character, and directed him so that he was more of a dynamic character, then I would have had sympathy for him. Halfway through the film, there's no other action to take but to throw in the towel on Caine; the boy will never learn.
I decided to review this years after it was released, after various attempts to appreciate this film for its critical acclaim and its attempt to show that throwing away every chance life gives you is deadly. After years of trying to see what made this film so popular, I still don't know why some people even put it a mark above Boyz N The Hood. I still say that the graphic violence, which appears almost glamorized in this film, tricked people into thinking Menace was up a notch from Boyz.
I stand by my opinion, this is an overrated dud.
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