Definitely see this movie – Straw Dogs (1971)

“Heaven and earth are ruthless and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs”   I have ABSOLUTELY no fucking clue what this Chinese proverb means, but for some reason, the term “straw dogs” stuck with producer Daniel Melnick and legendary director Sam Peckinpah. Thus, they named their film “Straw Dogs” instead of “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm”, the name of the book that they adapted. And if you think about it, it’s a really wise decision since the original name is sorta sucky for a film of this magnitude.

Magnitude, I say? Yes, MAGNITUDE! For those unfamiliar with what “Straw Dogs” represents, you would have to go back in time. In 1969, Sam Peckinpah released his western/Vietnam War social commentary “The Wild Bunch” – arguably one of the best movies EVER MADE! However, most people didn’t think so when it first came out. It garnered controversy over its graphic violent content, which at that time, was never seen in a movie before. Two years later, he released “Straw Dogs” and boy, did that film PISS people off. The film itself represented an era in Hollywood where films began to literally “push the envelope” in terms of violence and sex. Two main examples were the dystopic sci-fi satire “A Clockwork Orange” (my second favourite film of all time) and “Dirty Harry” (that starred Clint Eastwood as a bad-ass cop with refuses to play by the rules).

Today, these classic films are praised more for their social commentary and less on their shock value. But it’s this shock value that leaves a permanent “CONTROVERSIAL” label on these films. And “Straw Dogs” is no different. Why did I decide to review this film, you ask? Well….

(a) Hollywood, for some strange fucking reason, decided to remake one of film history’s most controversial movies for a new generation. And I’m still wondering why. I haven’t seen this remake yet, but hopefully if I do, I’ll review it.

(b) I had hoped to view both the original and remake of “Straw Dogs” in a ridiculous attempt to ‘compare’ the two. But I think we all know which is the better film.

But what makes this film about straw dogs so effective and powerful? Well, for one thing, it isn’t about straw, dogs or Chinese philosophy! Confused? I’ll explain.

PLOT

An American mathematician named David Sumner (played by a young Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (played by the attractive Susan George) live in a small English village called Cornwall. Like some guys, David is a timid man who hates violence and tries to stay away from trouble. Like most husbands, David focuses more on his work than on his wife. But this all changes when a group of male townsfolk are assigned to help repair David and Amy’s farmhouse. The guys taunt and tease David, and ogle at Amy. They even go as far as to (spoiler alert) RAPE Amy!  Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the couple become trapped in their own home as a bigger group of male townsfolk, through a series of events, decide to attack them. The result is a final confrontation where David must now face the violence he has sworn to avoid, by becoming violent himself.

CHARACTERS

David Sumner – Dustin Hoffman

Amy Sumner – Susan George

Tom Hedden – Peter Vaughan

Norman Scutt – Ken Hutchinson

Henry Niles – David Warner

MY THOUGHTS: Seeing this film again after all these years made me understand what made it truly effective and powerful, and how it could be easily misunderstood. First and foremost, this film DOES NOT celebrate violence – physical or sexual. But it is VERY DIFFICULT to keep this in mind during the film’s disturbing scenes, especially the notorious rape scene. What made the scene notorious wasn’t the rape itself, but the implication that (GASP!) Amy ENJOYED IT! That scene pissed the hell out of viewers, and as a result, the film was banned in England. HOW IRONIC! But it is the complexities of the characters that makes “Straw Dogs” really work.  These characters are human beings, and susceptible to both good and bad.  This does not mean that we should accept the decisions that they made. There is no true hero or villain in the film. You’re not supposed to feel sympathy for the rapists when they are BRUTALLY killed in the film’s climax, but then again, you’re not supposed to really root for David when he BRUTALLY kills them. I had to put the word “brutally” in capital letters, because the deaths in this film are so shockingly violent (for a 1970s film) that even Macaulay Culkin, ex-child star of the home defense comedy “Home Alone”, would piss his pants! For a Peckinpah film, “Straw Dogs” is well-shot, well-paced, WELL-EDITED and well-acted. But of course, the best performance in the film belongs to Dustin Hoffman. His slow transformation from timid mathematician to bad-ass home defender is both amazing and powerful. And this is the point of the film. Everyone has a breaking point. And anyone, if pushed that far over the edge, can react violently. Yes, YOU TOO!

40 years later, “Straw Dogs” is still a disturbing, intelligent and powerful film. It isn’t meant to be loved. It was meant to be shocking.  It was meant to make you think about it DAYS after you’ve seen it. And it will be the subject of debate for decades to come. If “The Wild Bunch” is Peckinpah’s best film, then “Straw Dogs” arguably deserves second place.

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? Obviously, this is not a film for everyone. But if you want to see a film that entertains (and I use this term loosely), shocks and makes you think, then I highly suggest that you see “Straw Dogs”.  If you LOVE 1970s cinema like I do, then you should see this film. If you think thrillers these days are too reliant on gore and jump scares to truly scare an audience, then you should DEFINITELY see this film. And just so you know, the remake, which maintained the film’s sexual and violent content, was accused for celebrating the very same things it was supposed to demean. Talk about not getting the point!

MY RATING – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

– Matthew

See this movie – Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)

After doing my first music review based on my friend Mizzter J’s rap mixtape “BreadCrumbz”, I was compelled to do a review about this film. I mean, it’s about A Tribe Called Quest, my favourite rap group of all time! Why would I not do a review about a documentary directed by Michael Rapaport (Gary from “Friends”) about my favourite rap group of all time?! But seriously, I could spend the rest of this review talking about how awesome they are, but I won’t. Instead, I will tell you about this movie. But first, let me give you this history lesson about A Tribe Called Quest (cue National Geographic theme song here).

In 1988, during the pre-Afrocentric era of hip hop culture, a rap group from New York burst onto the rap scene. They were….yes, that’s correct….A Tribe Called Quest which consisted of four members: Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White.  In 1990, they released their first album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”.  It was a minor success, due to the simple lyrics, sleepy beats and experimental production. However, it did spawn one of their greatest hits – “Bonita Applebum”, a laid-back song where Q-Tip expresses his love to a girl with a big ass. I know it sounds sleazy, ladies, but it’s REALLY a nice song. I’m just saying.

One year later, ATCQ decided to let go of the experimental bullshit and kick some serious ass! The result was “The Low End Theory”. With its hard-hitting jazzy beats and sharp, intelligent lyricism from both Q-Tip and Phife Dawg (who proved here that he had skills on the fucking mic), this album was a huge success. It spawned the hits “Check the Rhime” , “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and “Scenario”. It should be noted that “Scenario” is one of the greatest posse cuts EVER and a stepping stone for the manic lyricism of Busta Rhymes whose last verse is still fucking awesome up to this day!

But it was their third album “Midnight Marauders” that made me a die-hard ATCQ fan. Ironically enough, this was the first album I ever heard from the group and it still remains my all-time favourite. Released in 1993, this was A Tribe Called Quest at their prime. The production, the beats, the lyricism…..EVERYTHING was on point in this album! More commercial than the first two albums, “Midnight Marauders” spawned the classic songs “Award Tour”, ‘Oh My God” and “Electric Relaxation” (a.k.a. the Season 1 theme song of “The Wayans Brothers” – you know, the song they were playing when the old woman got knocked by a bus – and lives, God forbid – with Marlon and Shawn Wayans in the back? Yeah, THAT SHIT!)

But things turned dark for the Tribesters after the monumental success of “Midnight Marauders”. Jarobi and Ali had left the group already, and there was resentment between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. This tension was reflected in their fourth, and darkest (in terms of mood and beats), album “Beats, Rhymes and Life”. HEY, THAT’S THE NAME OF THE MOVIE! As one of the many ATCQ fans worldwide, I must admit that this is my least favourite album in their discography, but it is still a good album nevertheless. Times were changing as a result of the East Coast-West Coast rap feud, and their album reflected that dark period in hip hop. In 1998, they released their fifth album “The Love Movement”, a much-more fun-spirited album than its predecessor.  It only spawned one hit: the still-catchy “Find a Way”.  This would be ATCQ’s last album, and after its release, the group was disbanded, much to the shock and sadness of the hip hop community.

Which leads us to this film. “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” gives us a candid look into the history of this influential rap group. Through interviews, rare footage and snippets of classic ATCQ music videos, we see the birth, maturity, death and (spoiler alert) REBIRTH of the group. But was it really a good movie, or am I just saying it is because I’m a die-hard ATCQ fan? Let’s see, shall we?

PLOT

Read history lesson (with National Geographic theme song) above.

CHARACTERS

Read the first part of the history lesson (with National Geographic theme song) above.

MY THOUGHTS: The use of the “Midnight Marauders” track “8 Million Stories” ( a song about Phife Dawg’s problems and stress) that opens the film sets the direction that it would eventually go. This film is not only about the creation of a legendary rap group, but the situations that led to its disbandment, preferably the troubled friendship between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. The bickering between the two is the film’s high point, where one is accused of being self-centered while the other is accused of being ungrateful. The group did indeed reunite , but it’s the event that led to the group coming back together which adds an emotional level to the film. Generally, “Beats, Rhymes and Life” is highly entertaining and well-directed. But it’s the soundtrack that truly makes film work.  Throughout the film, we hear ATCQ’s greatest hits from “Bonita Applebum” to “Find a Way”. We also get to see Q-Tip’s skills as a music producer as he takes samples from vinyl records to make really dope beats. He also shows how he made the “Midnight Marauders” track “Lyrics to Go” which is possibly one of the greatest ATCQ songs ever fucking made! Period! Yes, it’s that great a song, that great a sequence and ultimately, that great a movie!

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM?  If you’re a fan of A Tribe Called Quest, then you NEED TO SEE THIS FILM! If you want to see a great  documentary about rap music, SEE THIS FILM! If you don’t give a fuck about A Tribe Called Quest, and your rap icons are Soulja Boy, Waka Flocka Flame and Bangs (that Afro-Australian motherfucker who recorded the YouTube sensation”Take U To Da Movies”), you should be SHOT! And instead of flowers, someone should place all 5 ATCQ albums in front of your tombstone! Speaking of which, if you’re a ATCQ fan, you should have all 5 albums that I mentioned in the “history lesson”. If not, you should really stop sticking! “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” delivered what I expected from a documentary about the greatest rap group of all time, and more! In a year of movies about giant robots, drunk pirates and fast cars, this film really stood out to me. And it’s a documentary, of all things. Imagine that. Hmmmm.

Now go watch the “Bonita Applebum” video already! It’s still a great song and video, goddammit!

MY RATING – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

– Matthew