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Straight Outta Compton Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Straight Outta Compton (2015) movie poster Straight Outta Compton

Theatrical Release: August 14, 2015 / Running Time: 147 Minutes (theatrical), 167 Minutes (director's) / Rating: R (theatrical), Unrated (director's)

Director: F. Gary Gray / Writers: Andrea Berloff (screenplay & story); Jonathan Herman (screenplay); S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus (story)

Cast: O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube/O'Shea Jackson), Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre/Andre Young), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E/Eric Wright), Neil Brown, Jr. (DJ Yella/Antoine Carraby), Aldis Hodge (MC Ren/Lorenzo Patterson), Paul Giamatti (Jerry Heller), R. Marcus Taylor (Suge Knight), Lakeith Lee Stanfield (Snoop Doggy Dogg/Calvin Broadus), Carra Patterson (Tomica Woods), Elena Goode (Nicole), Alexandra Shipp (Kim Woodruff), Tate Ellington (Bryan Turner), Corey Reynolds (Lonzo Williams), Sheldon A. Smith (Warren G), Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (Chuck D), Marlon Yates, Jr. (The D.O.C./Tracy Lynn Curry), Marcc Rose (2Pac/Tupac Shakur)

Buy Straight Outta Compton from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD / Instant Video: Theatrical Director's Cut

There is an unwritten but widely upheld rule that says some time must pass before making a musician biopic.
The time is needed to allow the impact and influence of the dramatized musicians to take shape. Though it may surprise those who grew up with the music seemingly not all that long ago, the rap group N.W.A has transitioned from contemporary to historical. That makes Straight Outta Compton an aptly-timed reflection on the origins and evolution of a group with lasting effects on both hip hop and what we call pop music.

The film opens in 1986 in the city of Compton, California with Eric Wright (Jason Mitchell, the standout in a uniformly good cast), Eazy-E to his friends, showing up at a drug house to collect money he is owed. A 40-ounce bottle is offered in lieu of payment, guns are drawn, threats are issued, and Eazy-E winds up narrowly escaping when a police battering ram comes tearing through the home's walls.

Eazy-E will go from slinging dope to making music with his contemporaries: Andre Young (Corey Hawkins), better known as Dr. Dre, a student of music who is kicked out of his house and living on relatives' couches, and O'Shea Jackson (O'Shea Jackson Jr., no joke), alias Ice Cube, who has been writing rhymes in a notebook while attending high school. Eazy-E comes up with the name Ruthless Records and puts up the money for the guys to record their profane, angry, and socially charged raps, when another group bows out.

"Straight Outta Compton" tells the story of influential California rap group N.W.A.

Their single attracts the attention of middle-aged Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who becomes the group's manager and helps them land a deal at Priority Records, the home of the California Raisins. The edgy, inventive music sells, but that doesn't stop the young black artists from habitually being harassed, targeted, and roughed up by police, whom they rage against in one of their most popular songs.

N.W.A receives a threat from the FBI equating that song with inciting violence against law enforcement. Local police at a Detroit concert voice similar concerns and try to censor the group, arresting them on stage the moment they begin performing the song in defiance of their orders. The unrest between Los Angeles police and the black community is a thread the film follows, as the videotaped 1991 Rodney King beating sparks riots and that explicit, challenged N.W.A song becomes the rallying anthem of a cause that even unites rival gangs.

The group doesn't just have community concerns to grapple with. Contract signings drives Ice Cube to split from the others. Diss tracks ensue from both directions and then Dr. Dre goes his own way with Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor), an influential presence who doesn't always seem to have Dre's best interests at heart. To launch Death Row Records, Suge and his enforcers use brute force to try to free Dre and others from their Ruthless Records contracts.

Paul Giamatti is not someone you want to trust to manage your money in a 2015 musician biopic.

Biopics are common enough to recognize and lament their formulas. Musician biopics are enough of a Hollywood staple to have lent to the pitch-perfect parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story back in 2007.
Fortunately, Straight Outta Compton distinguishes itself from others by being set in the not-so-distant past and populated by young people whose rags-to-riches rise cannot be overstated.

The film is well-directed by F. Gary Gray, a 20-year veteran whose career began appropriately enough with Dre and Ice Cube music videos and the Ice Cube comedy Friday. Despite having helmed the hit 2003 remake The Italian Job, Gray is neither a household name nor an obvious choice with whom to entrust a major project. Maybe that will change now. Gray, who was born in New York but attended college in LA, knows these individuals and the world from which they come (he's a month younger than Ice Cube).

Armed with a sharp, newly Academy Award-nominated screenplay by newcomer Jonathan Herman and World Trade Center's Andrea Berloff, Gray has the vision to tell this story right, giving it scope and social resonance. Sure, there are a couple of scenes of these young men partying with anonymous women with guns on hand that makes you wonder if these are figures worthy of celebration. Upon release, the film was criticized for ignoring Dr. Dre's history of abusing women, hardly a character trait you like to see in a future billionaire. But while such content and lack thereof may give you pause, the film is not dumb enough to submit a one-track glorification of these rappers and the lives they lead. It is more interested in how success changes individuals and challenges friendships. There is much to process in a film that runs nearly 2 hours in its theatrical cut without simply depicting the genesis of iconic tunes. The bittersweet ending arrives somewhat abruptly and yet at just the right time in 1995, to have already met collaborators like 2Pac and Snoop Dogg, and to know that this strand of music will lead to everything from Eminem to Beats headphones, as a fitting closing montage demonstrates.

Though its prospects might have seemed uncertain on the page (the $28 million budget was only a bit less than what the 2009 Biggie/2Pac biopic Notorious grossed), Straight Outta Compton was one of Universal's many 2015 hits. The film opened in first place with a powerhouse $60 million opening weekend, held onto the top slot for three weeks, and finished with a total of $161.2 million domestic, giving it one of the year's best returns on investments, even if it wasn't a huge player in foreign markets (where it grossed only $39.2 M). Well-received by both critics and moviegoers, the film hits home video next week amidst some awards attention, most significantly the aforementioned Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and a nomination for the Screen Actors Guild's Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award. It was likely one of the top four runners-up for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, too.

Universal's Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack presents the film in two edits on Blu-ray: its substantial 147-minute theatrical cut and an extended, unrated director's cut running exactly 20 minutes longer. It is achieved with seamless branching, with the audio commentary pointing out many of the reinserted scenes.

Straight Outta Compton: Unrated Director's Cut Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (Spanish, French)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
All: Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video: Theatrical Cut, Director's Cut

VIDEO and AUDIO

Nicely and artistically photographed, Straight Outta Compton looks terrific on Blu-ray, with the 2.40:1 presentation showing nothing unintended. The default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is robust, with music performances blasting loudly.

Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) gets a jailhouse visit from his girlfriend in this longest deleted scene. Though new to filmmaking, producer Dr. Dre has some suggestions for director F. Gary Gray.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's many, short all-HD video extras begin with six brief deleted scenes (5:41).
These include a glimpse of the funeral of Dr. Dre's brother, a scene of Dre being visited in jail by his girlfriend (Elena Goode), who also shows up to pick him up upon release and give him a call on a photo shoot set. Unfortunately but not unusually, deleted scenes restored for the extended director's cut are sadly not viewable on their own here.

Next up comes a deleted song performance (1:28), which finds the group performing "Compton's 'N the House" at a concert.

"N.W.A The Origins" (3:49) collects remarks from the real rappers and those dramatizing them, as kind of a behind-the-scenes of the Dooto's scene.

"Impact" (1:35) gathers some retrospection from the surviving members of N.W.A.

"Director's Journey" (3:22) lets us look at the filming of the L.A. riots, from the view of not just Gray but others.

Wearing his pride for California sports teams just like his subjects, director F. Gary Gray is hyped to be "Filming in Compton." Eazy-E rocks a Los Angeles Raiders hat on the Straight Outta Compton DVD main menu.

"The Streets: Filming in Compton" (6:03) lives up to its title
with looks at the filming on the actual streets of Compton.

"N.W.A Performs in Detroit" (4:54) allows the group to recall their experience of being arrested in concert and supplies looks at the incident being recreated by th e production with thousands of extras.

"Becoming N.W.A" (8:30) lets Dre and Cube reflect on their history and shows it being respected with still more making-of footage and thoughts on casting and views of the Skateland performance.

Finally, we get an audio commentary by director F. Gary Gray, which can be heard over either cut of the film. He is expectedly passionate and vocal, throughout, offering a mix of screen-specific and big picture remarks. He points out bits that were missing from the theatrical cut, explaining why, and also shares the reasoning behind various choices. He defends the group against misogyny accusations and generally displays the interest and investment that made him a good choice for the job.

The DVD includes nearly everything that the Blu-ray does. Its only omissions are the deleted scenes, the deleted song performance, "Becoming N.W.A", and, of course, the extended director's cut. The disc is filled close to capacity, so it's not as if the studio is trying to bilk those still not buying into Blu-ray.

The discs open with short promos for the Straight Outta Compton soundtrack, Jarhead 3: The Siege, Everest, Steve Jobs, Race, and Legend. These are not accessible by menu and Compton's trailer is not included at all.

Holding a Digital HD insert/ad alongside the two discs, the standard blue keepcase is topped by an embossed cardboard slipcover featuring the same artwork below.

Like other Universal Blu-rays, the menu simply applies a side bar of listings to a montage of clips. (The DVD uses the same montage, but places listings below.) The disc comes equipped with a screensaver feature presumably designed to prevent burn-in, though it could have the opposite effect.

O'Shea Jackson Jr. plays his father O'Shea Jackson, better known as rapper-actor Ice Cube, in "Straight Outta Compton."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Straight Outta Compton avoids falling into the formulaic traps
of other musician biopics with a raw energy and contemporary relevance. With theatrical and extended cuts plus some substantial if brisk bonus material, Universal's combo pack will not disappoint the many who appreciate the film.

Buy Straight Outta Compton from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video: Theatrical Director's Cut


Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed January 16, 2016.



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