Tag Archives: Nia Long

Black Directors Feature #9 – Friday (1995)

friday-1995-poster-artwork-ice-cube-chris-tucker-nia-longFriday (1995)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Ice Cube, DJ Pooh
Starring: Ice Cube, Chris Tucker, Nia Long, Tiny Lister, Jr., Regina King, Anna Maria Horsford, Bernie Mac, John Witherspoon

The final film in our Black Directors marathon is another triumph from the American independent film boom of the 1990’s.  F. Gary Gray’s directorial debut Friday was a surprise hit that helped to further push Ice Cube into the mainstream as a multi-talented actor, launched the career of incredibly popular comedic actor Chris Tucker.  Gray would go on to direct future hits like The Negotiator, The Italian Job, Be Cool, Law Abiding Citizen, and most recently the critically acclaimed Straight Outta Compton – he is also attached to direct the upcoming Fast 8.  In regards to helping the careers of three incredibly successful young African American’s in Hollywood, Friday is an absolute triumph.  Luckily for Gray and company, the film was success at far more than just that.  The acclaimed stoner comedy was shot on a budget of just $3.5 million, and went on to earn over $28 million at the box office.  Not only was Friday an unlikely financial success, but it also garnered positive reviews from critics of the time.  It was celebrated by critics for being a consistently funny film with two charming and energetic lead performances from Ice Cube and Chris Tucker – something both men have been praised for over and over through their careers.  Since its initial release in the mid-90’s, Friday has gone on to develop a rabid cult following, mostly due to the film’s nearly-infinite quotability – It also helped lay the groundwork for future successful stoner comedies like Pineapple Express, Dude, Where’s My Car?, and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle among others.  The film’s success led to two sequels being developed (Next Friday in 2000, and Friday After Next in 2002), as well as a very short-lived animated series titled Friday: The Animated Series in 2007.  Both director F. Gary Gray and co-star Chris Tucker would not reprise their roles in future sequels, due to Gray following other passions, and Tucker becoming a born-again Christian.  A fourth film in the series, currently known as Last Friday, is currently in development and could see a release later this year.

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Bernie Mac, Chris Tucker, and Ice Cube in F. Gary Gray’s 1995 stoner cult classic, Friday.

Friday follows a day in the life of best friends Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker), two young men living in South Central Los Angeles.  Craig has just lost his job and only source of expendable income (on his day off, no less), and Smokey is a weed dealer who smokes his supply faster than he can sell it.  Smokey tells his friend that today is the day he’s finally going to get Craig high, as he does not smoke despite the protests of his best friend.  The two friends encounter a wide assortment of characters from around their neighbourhood throughout their day, including Smokey’s intimidating weed supplier Big Worm (Faizon Love), Craig’s crush Debbie (Nia Long), his wealthy neighbour Stanley (Ronn Riser), the adulterous Pastor Clevor (Bernie Mac), and Deebo (Tiny Lister, Jr.), the neighbourhood bully who seemingly gets off on stealing from those weaker than him.  After Big Worm questions Smokey on his lack of his money, the young stoner throws his best friend under the bus, claiming that the two smoked some of his supply to help Craig cope with the recent loss of his job.  After hearing Smokey’s claim, he gives the two young men until 10:00PM that night to either hand over the money, the weed, or both Craig and Smokey will die.  Both men try unsuccessfully to borrow the money from family members and friends throughout the afternoon.  Eventually, Craig’s father Willie (John Witherspoon), finds Craig with a gun and learns about his son’s situation.  Willie tries to talk Craig out of using the gun, telling him instead that using your fists goes just as far, but doesn’t hold all the consequences that using a gun does.  Craig ignores his father’s advice, and he and Smokey desperately continue their search for Big Worm’s money.  Will Craig and Smokey be able to get their dealer his money, or will the two young men suffer the grave consequences?  Find out in F. Gary Gray’s cult stoner comedy, Friday.

I wasn’t sure at first what to expect going into Friday, seeing as how I’m not a huge fan of the stoner comedy genre, nor am I much of a fan of the more obnoxious aspects of weed culture in general.  Thankfully, Friday ends our Black Directors marathon on a very positive note!  After the disappointment that was Menace II Society (especially following two legitimate modern masterpieces in Boyz n the Hood and Malcolm X), I needed something of a pick-me-up, and Friday did just that.  This film is absolutely hilarious from top to bottom, and somehow manages to be incredibly touching at the end – even though its ending is essentially just an all-out street fight.  The amount of quotes that come from this film –  “Bye Felisha!” and “You got knocked the FUCK out!” in particular – are both incredibly funny in context, but makes me wonder how both of these quotes became part of the semi-regular lexicon of internet culture.  Chris Tucker’s performance in the film is easily the highlight, and it’s absolutely no wonder why he went on to become one of the most popular comedic performers of the 2000’s in the Rush Hour series.  Ice Cube does a very competent job of playing the straight man to Tucker’s eccentric Smokey, but I don’t buy for a second that Cube’s Craig has never smoked pot before.  Speaking of Craig smoking, the scene where he feels the effects of Smokey’s weed is an absolute knockout, even in its incredibly over-the-top nature.  I don’t think I’ve laughed at any recent scene as hard as I did during this one, especially with Ice Cube trying to maintain his composure in front of his crush.  The chemistry between Cube and Tucker can be felt in every minute they share the screen together, and they play off one another perfectly.  It’s a shame Chris Tucker didn’t participate in the film’s sequels, as they might have been worth checking out with his involvement in them.  Another standout in the film is John Witherspoon’s Willie, Craig’s father.  Witherspoon plays a grumpy and somewhat goofy dog catcher, and his interactions with his son are always either hilarious or profound in an odd sort of way.  His constant badgering of his son was something I looked forward to in every scene the two shared, and always got a smirk out of me.  Witherspoon’s highlight is a brief moment when he is watching a television program involving a mailman being chased by an angry dog, while being cuddled up on his bed with a giant and adorable plush dog toy.  The acting is very much the best aspect of Friday, especially since F. Gary Gray’s directional is so subdued and not nearly as energetic as the atmosphere the film gives off.  Though this hurts the film somewhat, it also helps build the chemistry between Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, as the camera isn’t busy constantly moving or searching for other interesting things on screen.

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Craig (Ice Cube) and Debbie (Nia Long) in 1995’s Friday.

Overall, I very much enjoyed what F. Gary Gray’s Friday had to offer.  It’s incredibly sharp and hilarious, and credit is definitely owed to both Ice Cube and DJ Pooh for writing the original screenplay.  You can feel the influence on later films in Friday’s strongest moments, especially those involving smoking pot and dealing with weed dealers and the wacky neighbourhood characters.  The chemistry between Ice Cube and Chris Tucker is far and away the best thing about the film, and I wish they had collaborated on more than just the one film.  Friday caps off our Black Directors marathon on a hilarious note, and becomes the final highlight of the incredibly rewarding month long series.  Friday is highly recommended.  

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Black Directors Feature #6 – Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Boyz_n_the_hood_posterBoyz n the Hood (1991)
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton
Starring: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Nia Long, Angela Bassett, Tyra Ferrell

From the dirty streets of 1970’s New York featuring pimps, prostitutes, dealers, mobs, and crooked cops, to the corruption and confusion of the Senegalese government and its people, we arrive in the hoods of 1990’s South Central L.A., with our first truly modern film of the marathon.  Instead of the complications involving crooked and underage officers of the law, high-scale drug pushing, and complicated governmental affairs, we see young men and women risking their lives on a daily basis, just living from day to day.  Given few opportunities by the leaders of their country and the educational establishments of the time, many of them are forced to take up arms in order to defend themselves and their families from hostiles.  Director John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood was an incredible and unique vision at the time of its release, garnering universal acclaim from critics and audiences.  The film was praised for its terrific lead and supporting performances, the tight and concise screenplay with little wasted moments, and for its down-to-earth and unsentimental look at the urban lives of young black Americans.  Boyz n the Hood would go on to earn over $55 million at the box office in its North American release, all this on a meager $6.5 million budget.  On top of its massive critical and box office success, at just 24 years old John Singleton would become the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, as well as the first ever African-American honored with the nod.  The film earned nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, but lost to the much more popular The Silence of the Lambs and Thelma & Louise, respectively.  Despite not picking up any major awards, Boyz n the Hood and director John Singleton have been honored in other historically significant ways.  The film now sits in the American Library of Congress’ National Film Registration, and has gone on to influence two generations of black filmmakers in America and abroad.  It’s also notable for jump-starting the career of future Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., and served as the big screen debut of N.W.A. rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube.

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Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and Ricky (Morris Chestnut) in 1991’s Boyz n the Hood.

Boyz n the Hood follows the life of young Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who we see grow up from a potentially troubled but intelligent young man, to a responsible young man with the successes of adulthood within his line of sight, and all the potential needed to become something truly great.  After getting into a fight at school and disobeying the rules set by his intellectual mother, Tre is sent to live with his somewhat estranged father Jason (or “Furious”) Styles (Larry Fishburne) in order to have a responsible and influential male figure in his life.  The downside to living with his intelligent and responsible father is now having to grow up in the ghettos of the Crenshaw district of South Central Los Angeles.  Tre grows up with friends Doughboy (Ice Cube), his step-brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut), and Chris (Redge Green), and the four of them regularly see and hear things like shooting, drug dealers, gangs, and burnouts.  After establishing our principle cast and the neighbourhood these boys are living in, we jump seven years into the future.  We come to find out that Doughboy has just recently been released from prison, and is now a member of the Crips, Tre’s friend Chris is in a wheelchair after complications from a gunshot wound, and Doughboy’s brother Ricky has a young son and is being scouted for a scholarship by a local university.  The four of them reconnect in many ways, but all parties involved know just how different they all are from each other, and just how much hood life has affected their lives.  Eventually, Tre and Ricky are put in immediate danger after inadvertently getting involved in business between Doughboy and his Crip friends, and Ferris (Raymond Turner) and his gang, members of the rival Bloods.  Can Tre and Ricky live up to the potential that their family and friends see in them, or will the violent and complicated hood lifestyle of South Central L.A. ruin their chances at a truly good life?  Find out in John Singleton’s Oscar-nominated Boyz n the Hood.

After hearing about this film for years and often unfairly dismissing it as just another dated 1990’s social issue movie, I’m so incredibly glad to say that I couldn’t have been further away from the truth.  Boyz n the Hood is hard-hitting, emotional but never hackneyed, and features an incredible cast and crew of people who should have had far more successful careers than they’ve had to date.  This is a truly memorable and heavy experience, which is something I never expected to see – especially from a first time director and a cast of young and relatively inexperienced actors.  The real shining beacon here is John Singleton, who both wrote and directed the film.  His script has incredible weight to it, but is never afraid to use comedy and lighter moments to develop its world and the characters living in it.  Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy all feel like three-dimensional character, and it helps the film’s heavier moments feel that much more impactful.  Recurring themes like the aggressive and racist police officer reminds the audience that little changes in this neighborhood, and creates a sense of hopelessness and despair.  You want so badly to see these young men and the people in their lives succeed, but you can very clearly see how much of an uphill battle it is.  Singleton’s direction is far more restrained than most first time directors have ever been, never afraid to linger on a scene for a few extra frames in order to get a point across.  The acting is another commendable aspect of the film, especially in performances from Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Tre, and Ice Cube as Doughboy.  Both men are starring in their first leading roles on screen, but have the presence and command of far more experienced actors.  It’s a shame that Cuba’s career went so downhill after his Oscar win for Jerry Maguire, because he’s incredibly talented as both a dramatic and comedic actor.  It’s so easy to get behind Tre as somebody with a great deal of potential trapped in a confusing world, mostly because Cuba plays him perfectly as a brave and idealistic young man.  Ice Cube’s performance as Doughboy made me long for more dramatic roles from the former rapper, because his performance steals the show in the film’s climax.  You can see the pain in his eyes in every scene, especially in moments where he interacts with his more successful younger brother, and his mother who is clearly playing favorites.  He quickly goes from being an unlikeable character to somebody you desperately hope can escape from the lifestyle he’s made for himself.  Another standout supporting player is Larry Fishburne, who plays Furious, Tre’s father.  Furious is the most positive influence these young men have in their lives, and he does everything in his power to make sure that his young son doesn’t end up like so many others in the neighborhood have.  Fishburne brings his wealth of talent and experience to the role, and perfectly suits the wise young father-figure who watches over the neighborhood, damning the community for their constant infighting.  His passion and frustration is clear in every single scene Fishburne is involved in, and his scenes in the final act help remind us just how much is at stake here.

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Larry Fishburne as Furious in John Singleton’s classic Boyz n the Hood.

If you can’t tell from reading this, I loved every minute of John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood.  It has an incredible message that still rings true to this day, and is a subtle and touching look at the lives of relatable young people in a perilous situation.  While it’s undeniably full of social commentary, every second of it is handled gently.  It’s a film that should still be shown to young people around the world, as it’s a damning condemnation against violence and hatred, especially within America’s black community.  Boyz n the Hood is masterfully written and directed by a filmmaker who I hope has a resurgence someday, because his work on this movie is truly remarkable.  The acting from the entire cast is incredible, especially in its highly emotional final act.  It’s a relevant and entertaining look at a lifestyle that is often ignored in Hollywood, and is absolutely an essential film from its time period.  John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood gets my highest recommendation.

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