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Juice: 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Review

Juice (1992) movie poster Juice

Theatrical Release: January 17, 1992 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Ernest Dickerson / Writers: Ernest R. Dickerson (story & screenplay); Gerard Brown (screenplay)

Cast: Omar Epps (Quincy "Q" Powell), Tupac Shakur (Roland Bishop), Jermaine Hopkins (Eric "Steel" Thurman), Khalil Kain (Raheem Porter), Cindy Herron (Yolanda), Vincent Laresca (Radames), Samuel L. Jackson (Trip), George O. Gore (Brian), Grace Garland (Q's Mother), Queen Latifah (Ruffhouse M.C.), Bruklin Harris (Keesha), Victor Campos (Quiles), Eric Payne (Frank), Sharon Cook (Record Store Clerk), Darien Berry (Barnett "Blizzard" Jenkins), Maggie Rush (Myra), Flex Alexander (Contest Auditioner), Donald Faison (Student)

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In death, Tupac Shakur has been beatified by posthumous albums, this summer's hagiographic biopic All Eyez on Me,
and iconic immortality that places him above all other rappers in significance. It has become easy to forget that Shakur was just a talented young man with big time hyphenate potential. Shot dead at 25, Shakur's star really took off just a few years earlier. His debut studio album 2Pacalypse Now was released in November 1991. Two months later, he would make his true acting debut in a little crime film called Juice.

The first of Shakur's lead roles in six films, the final three of which were released after his September 1996 death, Juice remains the piece of acting he is best remembered for a quarter-century later. Just 20, Shakur had only a cameo as part of Digital Underground in Chevy Chase's flop Nothing but Trouble when he was cast as Roland Bishop, the juiciest role of Juice.

In the most memeable moment of "Juice", Roland Bishop (Tupac Shakur) surprises Q by showing up next to his locker.

Bishop is one of four tight-knit teenaged friends getting by in Harlem. The others: Q (Omar Epps), an aspiring DJ; the wise and protective Raheem (Khalil Kain); and the tubby Street Fighter junkie Steel (Jermaine Hopkins). The four, who half-heartedly call themselves the Wrecking Crew, cut school to hang out at an arcade and team up to rob records from a store. When cops try to bust them for truancy and other minor offenses, they run and ditch them.

One day, Q is designated to buy cigarettes from a vending machine in a bar. While he's doing that, he runs into Blizzard (Darien Berry), a recently paroled acquaintance. Blizzard is robbing the joint, or attempting to. Hours after a brief but passionate debate about whether to get involved for a cut of the heist (they sit this one out), the guys learn that Blizzard has been shot dead by police.

While this incident might have discouraged these youths from pursuing crime, instead they plan to perform an armed robbery of a convenience store whose owner they don't like. Scheduling the robbery in between rounds of a major DJing contest that Q has been anticipating, the guys end up with the money but also with that owner dead. This is merely the beginning of serious crime for Bishop, whose actions have him feuding with the three peers who have always had his back. Q finds himself in the middle of this, torn between long-held loyalties and wanting to do the right thing.

In his film debut, a teenaged Omar Epps plays the protagonist of "Juice", aspiring DJ Quincy Powell, known as Q to his friends.

Juice marked the writing and directing debut of Ernest R. Dickerson, who had spent the previous nine years as a cinematographer, most notably on all of Spike Lee's earliest films including Do the Right Thing
and School Daze, but also on television's "Law & Order" and music videos for the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Anita Baker. Dickerson would direct photography on Lee's Malcolm X immediately after, but since then he has worked almost exclusively as a director. Initially, theatrical film opportunities came his way, like the 1996 Adam Sandler/Damon Wayans vehicle Bulletproof. But since 2002, Dickerson has remained very much a television director, albeit on shows as respected as "The Walking Dead", "Dexter", "The Wire", and "ER."

Oddly, Juice marks Dickerson's only writing to date, as he alone is billed with story and shares screenplay credit with the less experienced Gerard Brown, who has almost never worked in Hollywood again. Dickerson's film may not hit you hard with quotable dialogue or break new ground in storytelling. The dialogue often feels improvised or slightly forced and there's only so many ways to frame a story of city youths getting lured into crime.

But the film is compelling and authentic, giving us a slice of life rarely seen in Hollywood films then and still rarely seen to this day. Reigning Best Picture winner Moonlight stood out for focusing on the kind of characters that remain underrepresented in the quarter-century since Juice.

Dickerson's film is notable for being chockfull of '90s hip hop, both on the soundtrack and in the cast. Queen Latifah, still a rapper with street cred (like Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood) and not a safe mainstream movie star (like Ice Cube in Are We There Yet?), plays the MC of the DJing contest. "Yo! MTV Raps" hosts Dr. Dre (not that one) and Ed Lover play the contest's judges. Treach, the lead singer of Naughty by Nature, fills a supporting role after being considered for the part of Bishop. Nearly anyone who was anyone in the early '90s rap scene (from Too Short and Salt-N-Pepa to Cypress Hill, Big Daddy Kane, and the aforementioned Naughty by Nature) wound up on the soundtrack, which would be certified gold in barely two months.

Epps, just 17 during filming, emerged with lots of big movie roles coming his way, from college dramas The Program and Higher Learning to a stint on "ER" to mainstream sequels like Major League II (taking over Wesley Snipes' role) and Scream 2. He's solid in what is the film's protagonist role. But shining even brighter than him is Shakur, who makes a substantial impact as a raw and natural presence. He steals the show with his alluring version of a catalyst antagonist.

The Wrecking Crew (Tupac Shakur, Jermaine Hopkins, Omar Epps, and Khalil Kain) calmly stands outside an active crime scene and debates whether to get involved in the pivotal scene of "Juice."

Juice opened in second place behind second week holdover The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and went on to gross a little over $20 million, which is the equivalent of $43 million today adjusted for inflation (almost exactly what the front-loaded All Eyez on Me earned this summer). Only Poetic Justice, which cast him across from Janet Jackson, would gross more among Shakur's output. Juice was part of a brief boom in black urban cinema, which explains why its Wikipedia entry also lists Boyz n the Hood, New Jack City, Colors, and Menace II Society under a section simply called "See also." (Why the 2005 50 Cent movie Get Rich or Die Tryin' is listed among them, I don't know.)

Juice marked the unlikely starting line in the career of David Heyman, a barely 30-year-old Brit who would go on to produce all eight Harry Potter films and other Warner Bros. blockbusters like I Am Legend and Gravity.

Sixteen years after its DVD debut and mere days before the theatrical release of All Eyez on Me, Juice made its Blu-ray debut in this well-equipped 25th Anniversary edition from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Juice: 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $16.99
Also available on DVD ($15.99 SRP) and Amazon Video
Previously released as DVD (January 16, 2001)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

Juice may be 25 years old, but the way you can tell that is from the fashions and slang and music, not in the way the film looks in Paramount's first-rate 1.78:1 Blu-ray presentation. The colors are vibrant, the element is clean and sharp, and there is nothing resembling a serious concern. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix does a fine job of distributing the dialogue and hip hop-laden soundtrack.

Ernest Dickerson recalls his first and still most highly regarded directing credit in a commentary and the new 25th anniversary retrospective featurette "You've Got the Juice Now." Tupac Shakur lets the cast and crew know that he is drinking juice and only juice (Tropicana orange juice, specifically) straight out of the carton in this footage from production seen in "The Wrecking Crew."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with a new audio commentary by director Ernest R. Dickerson. He has much to share about his directorial debut, recalling in great detail specifics of casting, filming, and even marketing (which saw a gun being airbrushed out of the one-sheet at the last minute).
He addresses comparisons that were made to Boyz n the Hood and reveals he's more of a jazz guy than a hip hop fan. He does run out of steam as the track progresses, but dispenses plenty of good information before then.

On the video front, we start with "You've Got the Juice Now" (19:12), which focuses on the film's creation. Dickerson explains what influenced the film and how and why the original ending (which is shown) had to be changed. Also newly interviewed are the three surviving leads and producer David Heyman.

"The Wrecking Crew" (23:44) reflects on the cast, employing a mix of new retrospection from the lead actors, Dickerson, and Heyman and some very entertaining on-set footage from production, such as Shakur announcing to everyone that his carton of Tropicana OJ holds nothing but that kind of juice.

Composer and music supervisor Hank Shocklee of The Bomb Squad proudly shows off his "Juice" baseball cap in "Sip the Juice: The Music." The charismatic Tupac Shakur steals the show in this rooftop 1991 interview of he and his three fellow leads.

"Sip the Juice: The Music" (12:51) mostly relies on an archival interview from Hank and Keith Shocklee, a.k.a. The Bomb Squad, the brothers who scored the movie. They also talk about the artists they tapped to contribute songs to the film's soundtrack, which are excerpted as mentioned.
Their explanation of creating score using the technology available is ripe for parody. We also briefly hear from Cypress Hill and some of the other contributing musicians, many of them rocking Juice baseball caps.

"Stay in the Scene: The Interview" (22:43) sits down the four leads -- Shakur, Epps, Kain, and Hopkins -- for a rooftop chat about the movie. This very playful session gives us a glimpse at the charismatic, down to earth real Shakur, who describes the film as a modern day "Cooley High" while commanding the screen. Beyond discussing their auditions, filming in Harlem, the importance of the story, and the leadership of Dickerson, they repeatedly refer the interviewers to pay the $7 to see the movie instead of having them describe it.

The extras conclude with a photo gallery, which presents 40 stills taken by Adger Cowans, whose biography and credits precede the mix of behind-the-scenes and publicity images.

Juice's original trailer is sadly not included here, nor are trailers for anything else.

The silent main menu adapts the cover art (which actually emphasizes Tupac to a lesser degree than the original poster did) to fill the 16:9 screen. The disc unfortunately does not resume playback.

No inserts accompany the plain blue disc inside the eco-friendly keepcase, which is topped by a catchy, textured slipcover.

For reasons we never know, the Wrecking Crew's convenience store robbery goes further than intended with Bishop (Tupac Shakur) wielding the gun.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Juice holds up as something of a star-making performance for Tupac Shakur, a compelling portrait of urban youth, and an appealing showcase of '90s hip hop. Paramount gives this influential film a highly satisfying 25th anniversary Blu-ray that wins you over with great picture and sound plus a hearty supply of high quality extras. Catalog Blu-rays are few and far between these days, but this one is worth your time and money.

Buy Juice from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Tupac Shakur: Gang Related | Khalil Kain: For Colored Girls | Directed by Ernest Dickerson: The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season
All Eyez on Me Straight Outta Compton Cornbread, Earl and Me Southside with You Moonlight
1990s on Blu-ray: Goodfellas Jackie Brown The Usual Suspects He Got Game Hoop Dreams Slacker

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Reviewed August 19, 2017.



Text copyright 2017 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1992 Paramount Pictures, Island World, Moritz/Heyman Productions, and 2017 Paramount Home Entertainment.
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