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Menace II Society [DVD]
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The controversial debut film from the Hughes Brothers. Despite his violent and unsettled upbringing in the poverty-stricken Watts area of Los Angeles, Caine dreams of going to college or moving to Atlanta with his girlfriend Ronnie. However, on a visit to a local grocery store with homeboy O-Dog, Caine becomes involved in a series of brutal killings and his dreams of escaping his violent background evaporate immediately.
Tyrin Turner may not have broken out into stardom as was initially expected, but his work in Menace II Society is one of the more powerful cinematic debuts. The film, from the brother writer-director team of Allen and Albert Hughes, chronicles life in the Los Angeles 'hood. Similar territory was covered in the equally commanding Boyz N the Hood, but what makes this cautionary tale stand out is not only the Hughes brothers' forceful story, (written with their friend, Tyger Williams) and direction, but the naturalness of then-newcomer leads Turner as Caine, Larenz Tate as O-Dog, and Jada Pinkett as Ronnie. They are so credible--occasionally frighteningly so--that the repressive universe of violent ghetto life is captured effectively. Life as portrayed here-and no doubt accurately so--is both figuratively and literally narrow. As a very young boy, Caine witnesses his dad murdered over something inconsequential, and his mom OD. His is a world where respect comes from intimidation, power from violence. Despite his understanding of right and wrong (values passed on by a good friend, his kind grandparents, a caring teacher), his life and its entrapments are too much to overcome. --N.F. Mendoza --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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
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