Before I move on from reviewing hood films, to other areas of black cinema, culture, and history a bit of a palate cleanser is necessary. Oh, hello Don’t Be a Menace in South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, I didn’t see you there on Netflix! Don’t Be a Menace... if you didn’t already guess, is a satirical parody of the very hood films I’ve been reviewing thus far. The movie was panned upon its release and currently has a 29% rating on rotten tomatoes. Despite the negative reception, at its core Don't Be a Menace... is a wildly outrageous and funny movie, with a sharp eye and understanding of the material it's mocking.
Menace II Society is a savage film. If Boyz n the Hood was the ying, Menace would be the yang, its dark reflection. Menace takes the groundwork laid by Boyz and pushes it to a dark nihilistic fatalism. Menace claims to depict what life on the streets of Watts, California was truly like in the early 1990’s. This is the Hughes Brothers directorial debut and their greatest triumph; full of the no nonsense-in your face grittiness that would define their later films (Dead Presidents, From Hell, The Book of Eli). Menace is not only one of the best “hood films”, equaling the high bar set by Boyz, it's one of the best films of the 1990’s. The narrative is extremely tight and focused, and there are few if any extraneous shots in this bleak drama. The story focuses on Kaydee “Caine” Lawson (Tyrin Turner) and his core group of friends during one summer in Watts, California as he ascends to adulthood.
Juice is a 1992 hood thriller that marks the directorial debut of Spike Lee’s cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson (also co-writer). The film’s narrative follows four aimless black teenagers in early 90’s Harlem, and how one act of senseless violence quickly devolves into a horrific nightmare. The film's themes are strong and blatant--violence is perpetuated by readily obtainable weapons, and gives perceived power to the powerless. That power is the ‘Juice’. It's unfortunate that the film meanders around a silly D.J. plot and relies on a cartoonish evil villain to propel the film.
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Boyz n the Hood is the archetypal hood film. John Singleton’s 1991 directorial debut is the progenitor for a decade of films that would be defined as “hood films”. Spike Lee may have sparked the independent black movement with Do The Right Thing in 1989, but few movies have set the tone for an entire genre like Boyz n The Hood. The best part? It is a genre defining film in every sense of the word. The film tells the tale of a young black man Tre, who is raised in a tough California neighborhood in the mid-eighties through early nineties. The film touches on almost every aspect of the young black male psyche growing up in the LA ghettos, and is meticulously detailed because the writer and director, John Singleton, grew up on these very streets.
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