From South Central to Miami

BoyzNtheHood

I’ll be honest — I’m not really in it for me. This blog is driven by an interest in entertainment news because that’s what I like. There’s a lot I find that appeals to me as a blogger here. After a time, I guess I didn’t expect something to really appeal to me as someone who enjoys television and movies. This coincides with recent news from Deadline, and a thought I had just days ago — I remember the trailers for Abduction two years ago, but where the hell has John Singleton gone?

I couldn’t have asked for a better answer. He’s partnering with Russell Simmons to executive produce, write, and direct an in-development HBO series, Club Life: Miami, which sounds more akin to Singleton’s early work than his later traverses into commercial Hollywood.

There isn’t a great deal of information as of yet, so let’s for now look back on Singleton, staging this show as a return to form (which it may or may not pan out to be).

In the 90s, Singleton was one of the trailblazing independent filmmakers, along with Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith. He had a screenplay coming out of college, and made the risky move to step up and direct it. For his transgressions at an early age he was rewarded with Academy Award nominations in both counts. Today, Boyz N the Hood is remembered as the film that sparked an outpouring of ‘hood’ films in the 90s, among the most prominent being Juice and Menace II Society.

But the debut (right up there with District 9 and The Shawshank Redemption as stellar first-time movies) also demonstrates the filmmaker’s gift for cultivating powerful performances out of actors — working with many first-time actors over his career. Boyz was not only Ice Cube’s first (best, and last) screen performance, but Cuba Gooding Jr.’s. Baby Boy introduced to the cinema Fast and Furious regular Tyrese Gibson.

And speaking of Fast and Furious, following the critical and financial disappointments of dramas like Poetic Justice (one in the preciously small Tupac acting canon) and Higher Learning, Singleton seemed to turn to more mainstream titles like 2 Fast 2 Furious and a reimagining of Shaft (with Christian Bale as the villain).

My recollection of 2 Fast tells me it was an alright movie (greatest title ever), but it’s a disappointing moment for two reasons — the three films opening Singleton’s career, and then Baby Boy in 2001, are clearly very personal stories tackling life in urban America, racism, and coming-of-age (Boyz N the Hood is like — imagine Rebel without a Cause, and now give James Dean an actual reason to be angsty… Having a cop threaten you with a gun and call you a punk for being out at night is a good one).

And of course, Abduction, which was just so random. It was like that time in Alex Proyas’s promising career when he went from I, Robot, a minor but significant departure from the amazing Dark City, to Knowing, a minor and insignificant entry in the Cage Rage canon. Two years isn’t a bad time for turnaround on directors making new movies, but those were two tense years.

If Club Life: Miami, despite its weird VH1/video-game-ish title, manages to bring Singleton back into the spotlight, it’ll prove television as the great refuse for feature filmmakers and stars. It may also be a stepping stone for the great director to pursue more personal projects, and that would be the return of a profound, unique voice.

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