Guest Post: A tribute for the late JOHN SINGLETON

TedSaydalavongBanner

On April 29, 2019 director John Singleton passed away after suffering from stroke. He was only 51 years old.

Singleton had a somewhat successful career in Hollywood. Even though he was the youngest film director ever to have been nominated by the Oscars for his first film BOYZ N’ THE HOOD, his career never reached the heights of some of the more well-known directors today (David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and Ang Lee) that started their careers in the late 80s and early 90s. For the last few years before his death, Singleton has been working mostly on TV shows. He’s the creator of one of my current favorite TV shows called SNOWFALL.

As a tribute to his work, I’m listing my favorite films that he directed. In no particular order, here are some of his best work. Just a side-note, I didn’t see two of his films, BABY BOY and ABDUCTION.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Before this film came out, not many films dealt with the tough life in the ghetto of Los Angeles. To many outsiders, it was an eye opener of what life is like living in those rough neighborhoods. The film was a critical and commercial success. Not bad for a filmmaker who was only in his early 20s. The performances by Laurence Fishburn and Cuba Gooding Jr. were pretty great.

Shaft (2000)

After doing a few smaller budget films, Singleton decided to jump into a big budget studio film. A sequel to the 70s Blaxploitation films, it didn’t become the franchise starter the studio had hoped. In fact, the film was more well known for its behind the scenes dramas. According to reports, Singleton and his leading man Samuel L. Jackson constantly argue on the set. Singleton also had disagreements with the film’s producer and writer on the tone and script. So basically, it’s the usual nightmare that many young filmmakers would run into in their first big budget film.

The film opened in the summer of 2000, it did okay at the box office. Despite the difficult shoot, Singleton apparently wanted to do a sequel and tried to convince Sam Jackson to reprise the role. But Jackson was not happy with the film and also with the modest box office returns, Paramount didn’t want to invest their money on the sequel.

Rosewood (1997)

This might be one of the most underrated films of the 90s. A film about the horrific lynch mob attack on an African America community in 1923. For anyone who’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend it. It contains great performances by Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle and Jon Voight. When the film came out in 1997, it received mostly positive reviews but it bombed at the box office. Maybe because of this film’s failure at the box office that Singleton decided to jump into doing big budget studio films such as Shaft and Fast Furious 2.

Poetic Justice

A great performance by Janet Jackson and the late Tupac Shakur. I also loved this film’s soundtrack. This is a film I need to revisit soon since I haven’t seen since it came out over 20 years ago.

Higher Learning (1995)

This film’s about race relation in college campus is probably more relevance in today’s world than many would think back in 1994. I haven’t seen this film since I saw it on opening weekend with my friends back in early 90s, so I don’t remember much about it. I do remember that I liked it but some of the stuff that happened in the film were kind of over the top and a bit cliché. This is another one of Singleton’s work that I need to revisit.

Four Brothers

This was Singleton’s last big-budget production film. A kind of strange action thriller that I still didn’t know how it got green lighted by the studio. The film starred Mark Wahlberg playing Mark Wahlberg. It wasn’t bad, just wasn’t that interesting and the action scenes were pretty lackluster.

John Singleton was not one of my favorite directors but he had enough talents that I thought he can make a big comeback. Sadly, we’ll never know if he could but I appreciate his films.

Rest in Peace Mr. Singleton. 


TedS_post


What are some of YOUR favorite films by John Singleton?

Rental Pick: John Singleton’s SHAFT (2000)

ShaftBnr

New York City police detective John Shaft (nephew of the original 1970s detective) goes on a personal mission to make sure the son of a real estate tycoon is brought to justice after a racially-motivated murder.

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time but I forgot that it’s available on Netflix streaming. As my hubby and I were in the mood for an action flick, this was a good a time as any to finally check it out. One thing I noticed right away was how young Samuel L. Jackson looked here, though this was made only a decade and a half ago. He’s basically playing the same tough guy character as Nick Fury and a bunch of other action roles – same snarky attitude and that cocky swagger.

It’s interesting to see him go after some rich SOB Walter Wade Jr. played by Christian Bale, the same year he also plays another rich psychopath in American Psycho and 5 years before he plays an even richer guy Bruce Wayne, but at least he uses his privilege for good in those Batman films. He’s quite convincing as some racist bastard, you really wants to punch his smug face every time he’s on screen. But he’s actually not the most memorable villain in this flick, that’d be Jeffrey Wright who plays a ghetto drug kingpin Peoples Hernandez. It’s amusing to see an African American actor playing a Hispanic man, he’s definitely the movie’s scene stealer here.

The rest of the supporting cast was pretty good. Toni Collette is quite memorable here too as the witness Shaft’s trying to convince to testify and rapper Busta Rhymes provides comic relief as Shaft’s frantic driver. I haven’t seen the original Shaft films, but I’m familiar with Richard Roundtree who had a supporting role as Shaft’s uncle. I also like the fact that they didn’t make the beautiful Vanessa Williams to be just the eye candy factor or damsel in distress, in fact she actually saved Shaft in one key scene.

ShaftMovie

The movie itself was pretty entertaining – good pacing, interesting characters and dynamic action scenes. Yet it wasn’t just all about car chases and shootouts, as the story was pretty involving but not overly complicated. John Singleton definitely had style and some of the camera work was pretty cool to watch. It’s also quite violent and there are as many F-bombs flying out as there are bullets, I read on IMDb that there were F-word was used 165 times in this movie, wow! At least the violence wasn’t too gratuitous. The finale also still manages to surprise me, and I remember not having recovered yet from the tense scene between Shaft and Hernandez. Not a bad rental and I’m glad I finally saw this one. I’m actually surprised there isn’t a sequel to this, I’d think that it might’ve been a hit back then.

3halfReels


Have you seen SHAFT? Well, what did you think?

Random Thoughts: What happened to these directors’ (once-promising) career?

TedSaydalavongBanner

DirectorsChairAs a film director wannabe, I tend to follow the careers of professional filmmakers. To me,they’re more interesting than movie stars. Yes, I’m one of the few people who doesn’t really care about stars. Years ago, I met Tom Cruise in person and all I said to him was how much I enjoyed his films and didn’t even ask for his autograph or take a picture with him, even though he’s my favorite actor. But if I ever run into Spielberg, Nolan, Fincher, Tarantino or Scorsese, I’d probably be excited and try to talk to them about their films and the movie-making business.

Movie-making is a tough business to get into and that’s why it’s kind of sad when I see some promising filmmakers career never took off or just go down the toilet. Maybe because they made some bad choices by choosing to direct a certain film or just have bad agents, their career is not once what it used to be. Below are some directors whom I thought had great promise when they burst into the scene but somehow they never became a household name like Nolan or Tarantino.

1. John Singleton

Director_JohnSingletonHe first film was a success, Boyz n the Hood, he’s only in his early 20s when he made it. Not only was he a young successful director but he’s one of the few African American directors working in Hollywood at the time. Instead of jumping into doing big budget production, he decided to stick with small budget dramas for his next few films. Then he made his first big budget film in 2000, a semi-sequel/remake of Shaft.

Apparently he had ran into a lot of problems while shooting the film, he fought with his star Sam Jackson constantly on the set and didn’t agree with tone of the film with producer Scott Rudin. The movie was a mild success and many thought Singleton would keep making big action pictures. Well his next film was another low budget drama, Baby Boy, it didn’t jell with critics or audiences. He decided to jump back into another big budget action film by directing 2 Fast 2 Furious, the worst in the series in my opinion. The film turned out to be his most successful yet at the box office.

After 2 Fast 2 Furious’ success, I thought for sure Singleton would be on his way to becoming one of the A-list directors in Hollywood. Well that never happened, his next film was an action drama, Four Brothers, it’s kind of weird movie that I’m still scratching my head as to why it even got green lighted by the studio and released in the summer time. Now, the film didn’t bomb at the box office but somehow Singleton’s career went downhill fast. During this time, he was attached to direct the long in development Without Remorse, a film based on Tom Clancy’s excellent novel. Of course the film never got made and Singleton’s last film was the atrocious looking, Abduction, an action (comedy?) starring that boy from the Twilight films [Taylor Lautner]. I do hope he makes a comeback someday because I like him as director.

2. Neil Jordan

Director_NeilJordanWhen his film The Crying Game became a hit here in the States, Jordan name was everywhere in Hollywood and he took an offer to direct a big budget adaption of Anne Rice’s popular novel, Interview with a Vampire. The film was a hit at the box office but instead of directing another big budget tentpole type of film, he decided to make a more personal film, Michael Collins. It didn’t click with the critics and not many people went to see it in theater. After Michael Collins, Jordan’s career sort of mellowed out and he didn’t make another big budget film until 2007’s The Brave One, a female version of Death Wish that I thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t see any of his films after The Brave One but I’m curious about Byzantium.

I really like Jordan’s directing style and wish he’d tackle other genre, like sci-fi or action/espionage. I don’t know if he’ll ever make a comeback and reach the status as he did with The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. I sure hope so because the man is very talented.

3. Curtis Hanson

Director_CurtisHansonHanson has been in the movie business for a long time but he didn’t get any recognition until he made L.A. Confidential in 1997. The movie scored big with critics, got a lot of Oscar nominations and was a hit at the box office. After the film’s success, Hanson’s name was everywhere in Hollywood and he got offer to do a lot of big films but he decided to make a small drama, Wonder Boys, as his next film. It’s a very underrated movie, I really enjoyed it but somehow it never garner the attention like L.A. Confidential.

A couple of years later he made a huge come back with 8 Mile starring the then hugely popular rapper Eminem. Now I think the film’s success was mostly because of Eminem’s popularity, not because of Hanson’s work. But the film was good and I though Hanson did a great job with the material. He then tried his hands at romantic/comedy in In Her Shoes, the film got some good reviews but it didn’t click with the audience.

His next film may have been his downfall, the romantic/drama Lucky You was supposed to be his next big hit. But after some bad test screenings, the studio kept pushing the release date back. Finally they decided to open it on the same day as Spider-man 3 and of course it got crushed. His last film, Chasing Mavericks, was another dud starring the king of romantic/comedy bombs, Gerard Butler. I’m not sure if Hanson will ever make a comeback again, the kind of films he likes to direct aren’t popular anymore at the box office, unless he tries his hands at popular genre like sci-fi, action/spy or comic book, he may never gain the attention like he used to back in the late 90s.

4. Walter Hill

Director_WalterHillHill is one of my favorite directors, here’s a man who was responsible for some of the great action films of the late 70s and early 80s. The Warriors, The Driver (if you’re a fan of Drive, you’ll like this one), The Long Riders, 48Hrs, Extreme Prejudice and Southern Comfort are some of his best work. He was on his way to becoming an A-list director but a film called Streets of Fire put a stop to that. The film was a big budget (for its time) rock ‘n roll action adventure that studio hoped would spawn many sequels. Unfortunately it tanked at the box office and Hill’s career never really recover. He continued to make action films throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s but none of them were hits.

To be fair, some of the films he made were pretty bad, Wild Bill, Last Man Standing and Supernova were some good examples. Don’t waste your time on those films. I haven’t seen his last film, Bullet to the Head, but from what I read it’s another one of his bad films. Not many people know this but he’s one of the producers of the Alien franchise and at one point he’s going to direct Alien 3 before David Fincher was hired. I’m not sure if Hill will ever make another great film, seems to me he sort of gotten lazy and don’t care about his work anymore.

5. Mimi Leder

Director_MimiLederLeder’s been doing TV work for a while and then got a chance of lifetime by directing Dreamworks’ studio first big action film, The Peacemaker. Apparently Spielberg was so impressed with her work on the TV show E.R. that he personally offered her the gig. The film wasn’t a big hit but it got her to direct another big film, 1998’s Deep Impact, it’s one of the biggest hits of the summer. After Deep Impact‘s success, I thought for sure she’s be doing more tent pole type of films. But she decided to do a drama, Pay It Forward, it was ravaged by critics and many people hated it, especially the downer of an ending. After this film’s failure, she went back and only work on TV series.

It’s a shame that Leder never got a chance to make more action movies since she’s one of the few female directors in Hollywood and she knows how to shoot good action scenes. That climax in The Peacemaker was one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen.

Honorable mention:

Director_MNightI didn’t want to put him on the list because it’s too obvious but M. Night Shyamalan‘s career has been on the downhill slide ever since TIME magazine put him on the cover and called him the next Steven Spielberg. Well as we all know that statement turned out to be WRONG! After I saw The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I thought he’s one of the great young directors at the time. I didn’t mind Signs like some people did, but then he made the atrocious The Village followed by an even more atrocious film, Lady in the Water. I skipped The Happening and The Last Airbender because they looked so bad and I already gave up on him. He’s now on my list of hack directors working in Hollywood today. His newest film, After Earth, doesn’t look too appealing to me and [surprise, surprise] it underperformed again at the box office.

Is there any hope for M. Night to make another good movie? I don’t know, he’s still relatively young and obviously Hollywood studios don’t mind footing the bills for his films. But I think he needs to work with some good writers and only handle the directing part.

TedS_post


What do you think folks? Are you a fan of any of the directors I mentioned? Feel free to comment below.